Monday 29 June 2015

Bizarre Times at Spoons


Remember last year? I'm sure you do, as I'm certain you don't drink as much as I do, and I can remember it easily. JD Wetherspoon going craft? Remember that? Yes, you do.

If I'm being honest, today I was poised to write a post saying Spoons Craft selection has been a failure, and they're ditching it now they've disrupted the market with cheap Vedett and Adnams Crystal Rye IPA.  But I'm no longer that sure about it.

The whole thing started about six weeks ago, when a sign proclaiming BrewDog This.Is.Lager was reduced to £1.99 on a "Manager's Special". " Oh," spake the Crafties "this means Timbo Martin's ditching it due to poor sales". And that did seem plausible, as, if like my local Spoons, it had seven other lagers on already.

Then last week, several other lines were displayed on the " Manager's Special" board at £1.49 each, including the Crystal Rye, Vedett cans, Rogue IPA and Sagres Lager. So, conclusive evidence that the concept of "Craft" has been a failure at Spoons.

Meanwhile, the Devils Backbone maintained its usual price at £2.99/£3.10, depending on your location.

So, to get to the point (finally), I went into my local Wetherspoons today expecting to at least pick up some cheap stuff before it vanishes forever. But what had vanished in reality was the "Manager's Special" board. Replaced instead with a picture framed beer menu displaying the same prices as before this started.  Death of Craft? Hmm.

What I think has happened is Spoons had ordered a large amount of stock that they'd ordered when the whole "Craftwork" thing started last year. After all, the more you order, the cheaper per unit it will be. But eventually, some will reach it's "Best Before" date. And 9 months is about right for bottled beer.
Still on sale at Spoons, contrary to predictions

So, as they shift the old stock and get the new stock into the fridge, the price can be put back up, per pub depending on how much they had to offload.  You may be doubtful about this, but remember the Sixpoint cans last year. Exactly the same happened with those last year. And have they gone?

Occasionally in business such things happened. Sometimes too much will be ordered and will have to be cleared before it becomes a dead stock problem. I had to do this with a load of bottles of Camden Hells last week. It doesn't mean the concept of Craft Beer is a failure in the location, just that supply has exceeded sales.

I'm welcome to be proved wrong on this, and no doubt some people will get back to me saying that their local Wetherspoons now only sells Fosters, Ruddles and Doom Bar etc. But I doubt there will be many

Monday 22 June 2015


Notice the absence of "brewed by"

So, the alleged best selling cask ale turns out to have it's bottle equivalent brewed far, far away from where drinkers assumed? Colour me surprised, as they say.

Doom Bar, as any person with even reasonable discernment knows, is crap. But it has traded on being "Cornish", so those places that have flogged the bottles on this premise are a bit miffed.  It's really no different from what Thwaites have done with Wainwright, but Blackburn (a less romantic location than Rock, it has to be said) isn't plastered over the packaging in a similar way.

There's a long history of such duplicity in the drinks industry. Whisky is the drink with the most notorious reputation for it. Now, Scotch is always distilled and matured (for 3 years in an oak cask) in Scotland. By law it has to be. But with every other aspect, anything goes.

Take the whisky in front of me at this minute, Black Bottle. Now, this is a mid-range blend. It proclaims it's made to an old family recipe on the bottle. Now, I know that it uses a lot less peated malt in the blend than it did 5 years ago (their source of sufficiently cheap Islay has been cut off, presumably) . How old is this family recipe, I wonder?

The whisky industry is run on myth and legend, and it tries it's damnedest to hide the truth about itself in it's marketing material. The truth is that it's made industrially, by a very small workforce compared to even 40 years ago.  I went on the Aberlour tour in 2011, and there were more tour guides and shop staff than whisky makers (as I recall, it was one bloke next to the washbacks sat at a computer). One Islay distillery, Caol Ila, can apparently be run without a single person onsite.
Caution : Pay no attention to the industry behind this image

The whisky industry is 75% owned by 2 companies, Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Even those distileries that are not, and proclaim their independence are owned by companies based in places like Trinidad (Bunnahabhain), Japan (Bowmore) or Thailand (Old Pulteney).  One hitherto furiously independent Islay distillery, Bruichladdich, soon accepted a big enough offer from the French drinks giant Remy-Cointreau.

All the stuff about tradition, age old methods and heritage is bullshit. The reason the truth is never mentioned is because it destroys the image the Scotch industry has spent decades promoting.

That such things have reached the beer industry is no surprise. The only thing that's odd is that it's taken 2 years for Molson Coors/Sharp's antics to be made public.  Even the truth behind whisky is easily discovered if you care to look.  Beer, with it's more diverse locations and history of names being shuttled about between brewers, finds these things easier to hide it seems.

Enjoy your drinks, or even dislike them if appropriate. But don't think too hard about the actual provenance of the marketing behind them. You will, more than likely, be disappointed.

Wednesday 17 June 2015

News in Brief #22

"But this shouldn't happen to people like me!"

First Craft Beer Hangover Reported

In shocking news this week, microbrewery brewed beer has been reported by a group of drinkers to cause ill-effects the morning after.

Flat white and moustache wax Emporium owner Luke Lumberjack-Shirt entered his local artisan hipster joint, The Prevaricating Ocelot for his regular Friday night tasting session as normal, but as he told us in between heaves "I woke up this next morning with a raging thirst, a headache and extreme nausea.  I can't understand how this happened.  I drink beer for the taste, not the effects."

"If I'd drunk macro lager, Guinness or Cheeky Vimtos, I could understand. But I only had 17 thirds of IPAs and Imperial Stouts at 6% and above.  At first I assumed the pulled pork in my baguette had been cooked for an insufficient amount of days, but the barman told me nobody else had reported any symptoms from that "

"I thought only poor people who binge drank got hangovers. My experience will change Craft Beer drinking forever."
Ban This Sick Filth

Dissident CAMRA Members Demand Rebate

A rebel group of youthful CAMRA activists have called the Central Committee to account about the money allocated to local branches for certain activities.

Mike Malcontent, 41, the spokesman for the group complained "I was in my local pub last Thursday night, when the Branch Chairman dropped off the latest edition of the local magazine. Being curious, naturally I flicked through it to see what the money was being spent on."

"I was horrified.  There were accounts of the Treasurer's piss-ups nearby towns, shoddy design and layouts and mildly sexist comic strips.   On glossy paper too. It must cost a fortune"

His drinking partner Miranda Unrealism continued "Of course, we're not the kind of people who would do content for this publication, but we certainly do not approve.  We've written to Colin Valentine to ask for a refund on our memberships of the money given to produce this...thing. Terrible."

Treasurer Greg Steakbake upon hearing this told us "Well, I can't find their membership details in my database, so I'm ignoring them."
Compatible with more people than AB positive

National Blood Service and Beer Industry Team Up

Following DarkStar Brewing's successful "Get free pint with every donation" scheme, the NBS have gone a step further in addressing the shortage in the blood stocks.

"We've decided to use Real Ale in transfusions and operations in place of blood." triumphalised NBS Head of Donor Services Bob Nosferatu. "Our labs have looked into it, and it seems ideal for our purposes."

"We got a sample from our local, and we could tell just by looking it that it was really thick, cloudy and flat.  It had a very high iron content too. Apparently it had been sat in the lines for two weeks."

But surely that amount of alcohol isn't safe in a healthcare situation. "Well, probably not." said Nosferatu "But frankly the NHS is in such a state that we reckoned the patients would prefer to be hammered when they woke up."

"If nothing else, it's take their minds off the dismal surroundings. Works for most pubs, apparently"

Saturday 13 June 2015

The Staff

Possibly also idealised depiction

So, why do people keep going back to certain pubs. There are basically two schools of thought on this.

Number One is what I call the Beard Reason - a slowly rotating supply of the same 5 or 6 Best Bitters. Enough to stop a CAMRA member getting bored,  but not enough to disconcert people with novelty. Large amounts of brown paint, bench seats and moody cats helps, of course.

Number Two is what I call the Crafty Reason.  Here, you are virtually guaranteed to see something different on every visit.  There will always be a beer you've never seen from a brewery you've never heard of. Even if their ultra-hopped Keg IPAs taste alarmingly similar to each other, it'll be "different".

Laudable these reasons undoubtedly are, they discount the reason why most people go to a pub and, more to the point, keep going back with enough frequency to become a "regular". The people who serve you.

Now, if all those Beards and Crafties out there dismiss this as unimportant, I will ask them this - Imagine your most frequented pub, and you walk in one evening and don't recognise ANY of the staff who serve you that night. And the next time you go in, the same happens again. And again. What would you be thinking, even if both the beer and decor were to your taste?

No, the staff make a pub. They control everything that happens and even whether you get a drink or not. Thankfully, pub staff are usually hired on people skills, so it's easier than it otherwise would be for them. Someone like me, for example, would be utterly useless at it. But if someone can be friendly by default and firm when required then a pub will be a pleasurable place to be.

Surprising as it may seem, the beer isn't everything.

Wednesday 10 June 2015

News in Brief #21


Beer Blogger Dislikes New Limited Edition

This week, Random Brick Brewery unveiled their new special edition beer, Here Come The Bees, a honey and goji berry imperial saison. In a typical effort to drum up viral publicity, they sent cans of it out to various favoured bloggers.

One recipient was 26-year-old craft maniac Alanis Hash-Tagge who announced on Twitter the time she was going to pour her beer out for a live tasting. "I waited, like, hours for my can to reach optimum temperature in the fridge. I used to time to source the exact right glass for this beer. I went for my thin-stemmed quarter pint chalice"

She continued "When I finally opened it up, I instagrammed and Facebooked two dozen photos of the bubbles progressing up the glass. Then I bombarded Twitter with #herecomethebees to make everyone, like, aware. Made sure I put my vlog of the whole thing on YouTube too."

"After I'd taken two hours to do that, I tasted the beer. But it was, like,  warm and flat.  Not what they said at the brewery it was like."

"Still gave it a positive review though, as I did PPE at Oxford with the brewer and didn't want to upset him."

"After this runs out, it's the John Smiths, I suppose"

Primatologists Observe Alcohol Consumption

Scientists from the University of Warwick this month filed their latest field report on primate behaviour to the Royal Society, namely on the subject of drinking booze in the wild.

"It was 8am when it started." reported Dr. PG Tipps "A large group of the biggest, hairiest, and most pot-bellied individuals scooped up their drinks and began imbibing in massive quantities"

"This wasn't a drink as you or I would know it. Rather it was a primitive brown brew, varying between 3% and 7% abv. After a couple of litres were drunk, the observed individuals started exhibiting the signs of inebriation. They began screeching, beating their chests and urinating involuntarily. After they had a massive fight to work out the dominance hierarchy of the group, they collapsed into a comatose slumber."

"But by this time it was 11am, and we had to leave the Heathrow Wetherspoons in order to catch the plane to Africa to study some chimps."
Soooo different

CAMRA Pub Changes Beer Lineup

The South East Grizedale CAMRA branch has been up in arms this week after their favoured local switched beer supplier.

Greg Steakbake, Branch Treasurer exclaimed to us in an email "It's true the Pewter Tankard doesn't have the best selection of cask ale. In fact it has only one handpump. But CAMRA members do get £1.20 discount on a pint. Won Pub Of The Year since 1999, oddly enough."

"Anyway," he went on "last Tuesday we went for our Committee meeting and found found the Thwaites Original had been changed for Moorhouse's Black Cat."

"Our Chairman told the barman it was an outrage, and the members would be confused and scared by change.  The fact that beer could taste different to bitter could make reality collapse before our eyes."

"It was awful. We had to have the Guinness in the end. It was either that or go to another pub. But we'd already given them the POTY for 2015. We did negotiate our discount though."

"Don't tell anyone we drank the keg. Please."

Monday 8 June 2015

The Important Service

Possibly idealised depiction

A pub is many things. Most people just see it as a place to buy alcoholic beverages more expensively yet more socially acceptable than the local Tesco. Many people reading this would also say that it's where you go to get that beer you've heard about served in the manner it's supposed to be, on draught or handpump.  Some would even say that it's where desperate alcoholics go so their body is found when their liver finally catastrophically fails.

But no, all these reasons, while important, are ultimately incidental.

Imagine - you're somewhat socially inept. (You may not think you are, but research has shown people overestimate their abilities in pretty much every field). You want to figure out how to deal more easily with people but lack an obvious outlet. At work, everyone is busy. Looking at cat videos online if not at actual work, anyway. Coffee shops are more relaxed, but everyone there is permanently ensconced in their own personal latte bubble.

So, where else but the pub? Small locals during early afternoons are best, and as a bonus they serve stuff that, in small quantities, can relieve immediate anxiety. There's usually at least two or three people there, so you don't feel either massively exposed or horribly crowded. And the barperson can hear your drink order too.

Don't expect miracles on your first visit. They won't know you from a casual coming in for a quick pint. It usually takes seven or eight visits for them to know both your face and your name simultaneously.  At this point, you can joke about the drinks offering that the pubco insists they sell in preference to better stuff. It's a cheap laugh, but it breaks the ice.

Here's the important bit. Always keep it light. Never get too deep about personal issues or politics. This is where disagreement or awkwardness can occur. Going to the pub is meant to be fun and relaxing, so make sure to avoid anything that can make things difficult. Don't get too close to "people down the pub". That defeats the object.

Imagine it like The Sims. You have a Social Bar that goes up and down with good or bad social interaction. The trick is to keep it up to a reasonable level without it going to far, and ending up doing something that exceeds your level of social skills. If you do so, things will go badly wrong very quickly, and you'll have to start from scratch somewhere else.

The mantra of this blog, as I'm sure you know by now is " Beer and Pubs are meant to be fun". Don't think too deeply about either your drinks or your fellow patrons. Go with the flow. Don't work too hard. You will be accepted if you don't go over the boundaries. So keep well away from them.

A few pints and light conversation. It's what pubs were meant for.