Friday 27 March 2015

None Of that Hoppy S***e

Possibly not for some drinkers
A customer goes into a pub and scans the pumpclips. He doesn't see anything he recognises.  Eventually, he asks for a pint of something called "Best". But first, he seeks reassurance from the barmaid - " It's not that hoppy s***e, is it?"

It seems that the idea of "hop-forward" beer has reached the average drinker, but in a possibly negative way.  Surprising as it may seem, a lot of beer drinkers don't actually like the taste of hops all that much.  They must like the bitterness, otherwise they wouldn't be drinking beer. But the floral/grapefruit aroma hopped beers probably put off as many people as they attract.

So, are Hopfucks the greatest and most pure expression of beer, or are they the malt beverage equivalent of the arthouse film, enjoyed by an elitist cognoscenti, but alienating and unapproachable to the rest?

I think, for a lot of people, beer is a means to an end rather than an "experience" to be sought out. Your milage may vary, of course.  Both approaches are equally valid. But it's something to bear in mind when you find yourself looking down on somebody else's choice of beer.

Sunday 22 March 2015

The Keg-Only Pub

It's a quiet Sunday afternoon in Preston.  For once, the sun is out, and people have found better things to do than sit inside a pub. Not me. As usual, I'm in the Moorbrook drinking the latest silly craft IPA IBU nonsense.

There was a couple walking behind me down Garstang Road, and they followed me into the pub. Not for them the immediate drinks order on being greeted by the landlord. No. The most important thing they want to know is "What time's the football on here?" Needless to say, the Moorbrook doesn't have Sky Sports.

After a brief conferral between them, and old boy sat at the bar piped up and told them that the game was being shown in a pub 200 yards away - The Wellfield on Adelphi Street. Formerly a Greenall Whitley house, this is now a Sports Bar, catering to, shall-we-say, Preston's more down-to-earth element. It is keg only.

While I am of course sat here drinking keg beer, this IPA is not the sort of thing served at the Welly.  Lager, Smooth and Guinness rule there. I have never been, as such things would attract comment from both the existing patrons and everyone who knows me and my usual tastes.

I remember a discussion about this on Twitter the other day. How many, it was asked, pubs are keg-only (the non-craft type, that is).  For all their many and myriad faults, CAMRA Central Lancashire helpfully provide a list for our perusal on their website.  Many of those listed as having "No Real Ale" are student/fun pub places (Popwold, Beachcomber, Oblivion); others are chain theme pubs (O'Neill's, Roper Hall). These places would never do Real Ale, as either it's not what the company does, or it's aimed-for clientele would never buy enough of it to make it worthwhile.

This leaves the old-fashioned keg pubs.  The places for whom the Real Ale and Craft revolution has somehow passed by.  They are either terrifying (The Bears Paw, The Golden Cross) or dumps in an endlessly repeating open-close cycle (The Black-a-Moor Head, The Tithebarn).  I'd say these types comprise of about 10% of Preston's pubs.

The keg-only pub is reckoned to be the kind that has suffered most over the last 15 years, as it's traditional drinker has either been seduced by cheaper supermarket beer, or put off by the smoking ban (the working classes are statistically far more likely to be smokers even now).  That any are left at all is suprising. None are highly regarded. Not by the middle classes, who see them as hotspots of drunkenness, lassitude and criminality. And neither by the discerning beer drinker, who regard them as dens of crap beer being sold to idiots.

I'm probably just as guilty of this, as I'd never be seem dead in The Wellfield or The Moor Park. But it can't be denied that a certain sector of the drinking population feel more comfortable in them than in a CAMRA or Crafty pub. What for them when the traditional keg-only pub finally disappears?

Thursday 19 March 2015

News in Brief #15

Only need one 14 times as big!

Landlords Celebrate Beer Duty Reduction

George Osborne's budget which, amongst other things, reduced the tax on beer by 1p was greeted with mass jubilation by pub proprietors across the nation. Already, they are planning their next move.

Landlord stereotype Barry Shortmeasure extolled this decision to the hills to us. "This is absolutely wonderful? The government has listened to us and gone a long way to making the pub trade more viable, and preserved an important community institution."

"Of course, I won't be passing the saving on. I'm going to introduce a Caffe Nero-style loyalty card. Buy one pint and get a stamp. With 330 stamps on it, you get a free pint"

"I could use this tax cut to improve the lot of the customer, but I'm sure that's not what George meant."
You could eat your food off it

Hipster 'Dining Experience' Has Roof Replaced

The Procrastinating Weasel, a hangout for obscurantists whom you know are better than you, you mainstream idiot, has finally had it's ongoing refurbishment completed.  "We know it's not even what our oh-so-hip clientele are expecting!" blabbered owner Crispin Sleevetattoo.

"Our roof has been slatted with 850 fine China plates, which are held in place by the finest vintage stainless steel Sheffield cutlery.  We even insisted on the air vents being made of Formica teatrays for extra edginess!"

"Of course," he continued with barely concealed mock-sadness "this means our diners will have to eat face first off the floor, but that's all part of the experience. Man."
Average shop, yesterday

Craft Beer Now Bought By Apparently Everyone

The Office Of National Statistics has produced it's Average Shopping Basket to depict what the average British consumer is buying.  For the first time, Craft Beer is included.

"It's true a lot of craft beer was bought by the people we got the stats from," exclaimed entirely-necessary statistician Tarquin Policywonk "we can't think how this could have happened as so-called mainstream beer outsells the craft at least 4-to-1 in most areas."

In other news, trendy London dwellers Chris Hall and Matt Curtis, who allegedly buy little else but Craft Beer, deny influencing or skewing any statistics whatsoever, honest guv.

Monday 9 March 2015

Pubco Craft

Available soon from a "Craft" bar near you

As you may or may not have noticed, "craft beer" is becoming popular. If only because the stereotypical consumer of the products has a large disposable income and the profit margin on them is really good.

If you have noticed, you're not the only one. Greene King for one are busy rolling out their "craft concept", The Grain Store in Cambridge. Looking their beer list, it appears to be be 'Craft by Numbers'. Typical stuff, plus the brands they have distribution rights too (Goose Island etc.)

This is the problem with pub companies approaching the concept of Craft Beer by the numbers. Install a design aesthetic in a bar (brick walls, girders, exposed pipes, slate, concrete); put in the beers from your surreptitious "craft" offshoot; order a bottle selection from James Clay; and base your draught selection on whoever has the most distressed looking pumpclips.

One pub of my acquaintance opened as a " Craft Beer Shrine" in 2012.  As said, it's owned by a pubco (not a big one, around 100 outlets), and they noticed the bandwagon going past and decided to jump on it before it got too far away. It started off with the best of intentions. But a slow drift and decay eventually took hold.

The craft lager was replaced with Amstel (because people would recognise the brand better). Then the Veltins (hardly the craftiest of German beers, but reasonably unusual) was replaced with Peroni. Because they could charge more. Then the bottle fridge mysteriously morphed into what James Clay were getting rid of cheap. It certainly was "craft", but "craft" as it was thought of in 2009.

The last straw was when I walked in one day and found Bombardier on the pumps. Apparently, Wells had told the pubco it was a 'premium beer'. They were also supplied with a pumpclip that had the ABV wrong, but that's by-the-by.

And such is the problem with Craft- by-numbers. The pubco doesn't care what is or isn't decent beer. They've just seen a potentially good GP. And if the "craft" doesn't meet expectations, then it will be ditched for the regular stuff you can get anywhere. Because that's what a pubco think people want. They have the figures from their other pubs to "prove" it.

Once the "craft fad' dies down, such places will disappear, as the Sports Bars and Fun Pubs before them did. There will always be places to get decent craft beer, but they'll be independents rather than a pubco producing a "concept".

Avoid the faux-craft places. They're not as good as you like to think. They have no regard for the beer, just the money they think they can make from it.

Sunday 8 March 2015

News in Brief #14

Potteries Proclaimed Next Beer Destination

Formerly appalling postindustrial hellhole Stoke-on-Trent has become the new place to go for exciting beer times, or so says local brewery owner, Titanic's Keith Bott.

"We have the money here to support Craft beer in Stoke. I hear there are at least two people in Hartshill who earn more then £15,000 a year. Are they C1s or C2s? Who knows?  What with cheap property prices, the hipsters will soon be here with their beards and tattoos as well."  

With increasingly desperation Bott continued "Fenton even has a Wetherspoons, you know.  I think they do craft.  We've asked the local free houses to put in a keg font for our nitro stout. That should start the Craft revolution here."

When told about this former pot bank transfer-applier Arnold Bloor muttered over his half of Ansell's Mild "Craft? Nee nayd to get a reet cob on, duck."
"Oooh! I hide my wine in the baby's bottle too!"

Starbucks To Start Serving Coffee

With the recent news that Tax Avoidance/Beverage company Starbucks is to start serving alcoholic drinks at its establishments, further range expansion plans have been revealed.

"I know people will be surprised by this move," wittered CEO Roger Dodd-Pigott "by from May we will be serving 'coffee'.  Apparently, it's a new thing that people have been adding to their frothy warm milk every morning.   Anecdotal evidence suggests that this infusion of ground beans gives the drinker the energy needed to get through a day of tedious nonsense.  As someone who spends my day with tax accountants and HMRC, I myself can see the advantages."

We asked around at a Starbucks about the anticipated success of 'coffee'. "We can't see it catching on here." said twin pushchair mover Artemisia Floraldress.

"I think we'll stick to Pinot Grigio for breakfast like we always have."
They're here, they're loud, and their GP prospects are poor

Working Class Person Enters Pub

The impossible was achieved yesterday when both CAMRA and the Crafty Hipster community agreed on something. Namely the problem of working class people in pubs.

"Whereas my colleague and I disagree on almost everything about beer and pubs," said local CAMRA branch treasurer Greg Steakbake "neither us want poor people cluttering up our favoured places swilling down pints of yellow fizz."

Nineteenth-century woodsman appearance affecter Josh Fixedgear continued "It's true. If you let these people in and allow them to consume macro lager, then who knows what will happen. They'll probably start laughing and shouting and singing. We won't be able to hear our delightfully obscure playlist."

Steakbake tipsily rambled on "The sooner these people are priced out with £3.50 real ale (" And £6 craft keg!" interrupted Fixedgear) the better, before our favoured watering holes become a morass of earrings and tracksuit bottoms."

The working classes were unavailable for comment, as they were watching Sky Sports at home with a slab of Carling.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Events, Dear Boy, Events

A fine establishment, I'm sure
As everyone who knows me even slightly will have ascertained, I'm a miserable bastard. I go to the pub alone, I drink alone, and engage in conversation there only when compulsory. I deal with enough people and their nonsense during the week, and I don't need it during my precious time off.

Other people, though, are not like this. They like crowds and noise, and this is what they demand from their local licenced establishment.  Pubcos and Free House Landlords know this, and try to cater to them, knowing that "just going out for a drink" is something most people profess not to want in the 21st Century.

The pub I'm in at the moment has a full week planned.  Jazz night on Tuesday, Quiz night on Thursday, and Irish Music night on Sunday.  I know. It's plastered on at least two blackboards in my immediate vicinity.  And it's good for me, at least, to know these things. Because then I know when NOT to go to the pub.

As we know (and if you don't, Mudgie will no doubt tell you), just going out for a drink these days is frowned upon in polite society.  So, if the pub is doing a quiz or music night, you can always tell people you're going for the Event rather than the Drink. Honest guv.

Such things don't matter to me, as I'm secure of my place (or otherwise) in society. But normal people don't want to be seen drinking for the sake of drinking. As such "Event" nights in pubs are usually busy. In the old days, such thing were left to Clubs, but even in the North West these have died a death.

If Events get people into pubs during otherwise quiet times, than it's probably a good thing. If nothing else, it keeps the place viable so it's open during the quieter times I prefer. But one hopes that Theme Nights don't take over.  What place for a quiet drink then?