An artisanally crafted blog curated by Cooking Lager for discerning readers of beer bloggery

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Brewing Beers Like Your Dad Used To Buy



One of the great joys of being a cheap skate is that it leads to places you can be “educated” into believing are rather naff if you are the type of person that cares what others think is naff, all in search of a bargain. A bargain is a wonderful feeling. Getting something for less and sticking one on those that believe in paying top dollar. It can lead you from Wetherspoons pubs, along the aisle of Aldi, along market stalls or even into charity shops and it is in a charity shop I found my latest bargain.

Don’t be fooled into thinking charity shops have anything to do with charity, that’s just a con. Most established charities spend more on there underfunded pension arrangements and paying the head honcho a “going market rate” than they do on whatever unfortunates they purport to benefit. A charity shop has only the following functions and that is to give old biddies the idea that they are still useful and somewhere they can stay warm and have a cup of tea with other old biddies whilst talking to each other in a manner they don’t believe is racist as it was by all accounts acceptable to talk about black people in that manner in 1950. That means it is perfectly morally acceptable to pick up an old second hand book, ask the price and when told it is 50p say “I’ll give you 20p for it, it’s quite tatty”

“Brewing beers like those you buy” by Dave Line is a fascinating book and worth every penny of that 20p. It is clearly a book of the 70’s and all the more fascinating for it. The book offers the home brewer the opportunity to brew a beer like their favourite brand. It doesn’t offer an exact formulation of commercial brews, but a recipe and method to enable the creation of a beer similar to the brand mentioned, using equipment available to the home brewer.

The book being a little dated is a little weak on equipment, advising the reuse of plastic pins that you might have bought ale in, when these days you can get plastic kegs of all sizes from a homebrew shop. Much of the equipment is arguably just as relevant as the process of brewing hasn’t changed, even if brand names have. Dave Line takes you through the equipment, ingredients and brewing process not just as a step by step guide but with an explanation in a well written format that leaves the reader really informed not just on what to do, but with all the whys and wherefores. Many of the illustrations are his own doodles but even so, they are clear and understandable. The book takes you through brewing a Guinness Extra Stout to get you started and contains recipes involving adapting a malt extract brew kit with hop tea and additional sugars, to full grain mashing. It’s a fascinating book, I love the detail including the idea that if a brewer has a beer with sediment in it, you can feed the sediment to reactivate the yeast and have a living example of that brewery yeast to add to your version of the grog. The book is packed with knowledge.

The recipes are firmly rooted in the brands of the 70’s which makes the book more of a “brewing beers like your Dad used to be able to buy”, but even so many contemporary brands are present. There is a recipe for Carling Black Label under the brewer “Bass Charrington”, alongside Carlsberg, Skol, Tuborg & Harp. Many real ales are present that you can still buy including Fullers London Pride, alongside some you can’t. Interestingly the book has recipes for long forgotten Keg beers like Double Diamond and recipes for global brands like American Budweiser, Pilsner Urquell, and Chimay. The recipe for Foster’s sits in the beers of the world section indicating the beer presumably was a specialist import of the day rather than a familiar brand and the Original Gravity of the recipe suggests a stronger strength than the beer is sold at in the UK. Dave’s description of Stella as “beautifully brewed” is sublime. I love this guy. The back of the book informs me he died in 1979. The beer world lost a gent of sanity and reason.

There are a number of features of the book that I have fallen in love with. Firstly the book makes no judgement on any of the beers in it. There is no “crap” beer. The author clearly loves his beer and loves it all and is interested in helping the reader create the brand the reader likes rather than impose his own likes. If the reader likes a Keg Bitter, here’s the recipe and the author thinks it’s a lovely hoppy brew. If it’s a real ale the author is as equally positive as a keg lager. You the drinker get to like what you like without someone telling you what to like.

Second off I like the authors obvious enthusiasm for saving a few bob. The clear intent of the book is to allow the reader to brew something decent at home and not have to pay pub prices. Interestingly people in the 70’s thought pubs a rip off too. It makes me realise the love of cheap grog is a universal one that transcends generations.

Maybe you didn’t have supermarkets pilling slabs of cheap lout high and flogging it cheap back in the days of power cuts, flares & union power. No fear, you can make your own. Maybe you couldn’t drive to France and fill up the car with cheap lager either. The ingenuity of man finds a way to achieve cheap grog whatever the market conditions and that I find heart-warming. There is a genuine philosophical connection between the home brewing in Dave’s book to the growing cooking lager enthusiasm of the 21st century. This isn’t home brewing to knock up an innovative black IPA with an unsavoury IBU; it’s knocking out cheap neckable grog.

I’m going to have a go at one of the recipes too. The recipe for San Miguel looks simple enough. It’s a lager kit with brewing sugar (dried malt extract) instead of white granulated sugar with an added hop tea. Looks simple, requires the least equipment, and reads quite tasty. Handy as well if the joyless that campaign for minimum alcohol pricing get their way, the path of cheap lout can continue unabated with Dave Line as an inspiration and Godfather.

A cracking beer book, if a new contemporary edition came out I’d pay full whack for it, and I have no higher praise for anything than saying I’d pay full whack for it.



Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Happy Birthday CAMRA

From This
To This
and this

Today is CAMRA’s 40th Birthday. Happy Birthday and congrats to the very campaign that inspired CAMCL, The Campaign for Cooking Lager. No CAMRA bashing today, CAMCL officially wish CAMRA a happy 40th Birthday. If you have a beard stroke it, if you have sandals wear them and if you have a tankard wave it!

Today is a day all cooking lager enthusiasts can crack open a cheap can of lager in front of the telly and toast our bearded sandal wearing, Guardian reading, tankard waving, dark pungent vinegar from panda pops bottles drinking brothers in beer! Happy Birthday beardies, here’s to the next 40 years!



Monday, 14 March 2011

Beer Ticking Competition


Congrats to Stoph McBride, Beer blogger with his beer blog here, for winning an old second hand beer ticking DVD that I decided to give away because it wasn't worth keeping. I wrote everyones name on a piece of paper, put them into a pint pot and the lovely squeeze selected one from it. Send us a postal address to cookinglager@hotmail.co.uk and I’ll post the rubbish to you. Enjoy. Soon, Stoph, you'll be have your own collection of panda pops bottles filled with mysterious dark pungent vinegary liquid and this DVD will teach you all you need to know.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

You drink ‘em, then you tick ‘em


“Shall we watch this?” I enquired of the squeeze as I showed her the exciting and interesting DVD I’d bought? “No” came the reply “Beertickers? Why on earth have you bought a DVD about beer? Can’t you watch it on your own? Do I have to see it?” With that I pottered upstairs, DVD in one hand, can of Carling (with giant wine glass) in the other anticipating the excitement of discovering all about the thrilling world of Beer Ticking. The film has been knocking around for a while but I’ve only just got around to watching it. I guess whiling away a boring day in the office by reading beer blogs isn’t enough for me. I’m guessing I need beer geekery in my home life too.

In the shortish (some might say not short enough) film amiable film maker Phil Parkin takes us on a guided tour of beer geekery & beer ticking meeting along the way a series of unusual odd balls engaged in the hobby. Phil explains the rules to us as “You drink ‘em, then you tick ‘em” sets himself the task of ticking 500 beers and on the way we get to meet characters such as Dave Unpronounceable, Gazza Prescott, Mick the Tick & Brian the Champ.

On the way there are some peculiar diversions involving Phil interviewing such beer luminaries as a thinner than he looks now Pete Brown & a bang tidy looking Melissa Cole. I say peculiar because these bits appear to have little to do with beer ticking and shoe horned in. Pete informs us of the important role beer has within the history of our sceptred isle on a five minute walk round of Burton on Trent’s brewing museum and Melissa informs us that drinking beer is great and it’s those wine drinkers with their 250ml of 14% grog that are the problem. An argument that falls over later on in the film where we get to see that an important part of beer ticking is indeed getting pissed as that's what happens if you “tick” 13 different beers. Not to mention the 250ml glass of wine being entirely a development from pubs and bars and not a reflection of typical home drinking. It’s as if Phil Parking decided upon a documentary on beer, asked a few well known faces to take part, got a response of “yes”, filmed a short interview entirely unrelated to the topic and slotted it in regardless because like heh, these people are beer celebs.

Where the film really works is in the contributions from some actual beer tickers. These people are portrayed sympathetically and the impression you get is one of a decent bunch of chaps with an unusual but entirely harmless hobby. Phil falls in love with his topic and rather than maintain an objective distance from it, he wholeheartedly engages in it. This results in a fair insight into the hobby including the rules that you have to neck a half before it’s a tick and the peculiar activity of bottling. This involves pouring your half into an empty 250ml panda pops bottle to tick later in the event of their being more that needs ticking than you are able to do. I mean I’m no expert but that can’t be a way to actually enjoy the beer, can it? Necking old stale beer from panda pops bottles? We are informed by a chap called Gazza Prescott that “scoopers” appreciate the beer and tickers just need to tick it off.

The lack of objective distance results in the documentary being a little thin on detail and as a viewer watching it the questions I had were not answered. Are the hobbyists suffering from an obsessive compulsive disorder in the sense of what is a diagnosis of an actual doctor? What are the lives of the tickers outside ticking? Do these men have wives, girlfriends, children, hold down jobs? Are they in any way regular chaps with an odd hobby or do they live at home with their elderly mother never talking to girls and holding down a boring admin role at the local council on the lowest pay grade? Do these chaps have other obsessive compulsions? Do they like World of Warcraft? How much do they spend on their hobby and does it result in forgoing other pleasures as the hobby dominates their lives or is the hobby part of an otherwise balanced life? All this went unanswered. Interesting asides were not pressed by Phil Parkin in favour of maintaining bonhomie with his subject. I’d have loved to know why Dave Unpronounceable and Gazza Prescott got banned from a local pub they are choosing to boycott, especially if it was related to their hobby.

A feature of the documentary not all will like is that one aspect of Phil Parkins love of real ale paints a picture not that beer ticking is a minority sport within the ranks of CAMRA members and beer enthusiasts but that beer ticking is a central plank and activity. You do get the impression that beer enthusiast = Beer Ticker, though Phil’s enthusiasm and general chappish likability do add greatly to the journey he takes you on.

One feature of the closeness to his subject that does work is the insight the beer tickers afford him. We get to see Brian the Champ pull out a massive folder of the nearly 40,000 beers he has ticked and start cross referencing it with the beer menu at the Great British Beer Festival as he hunts for his 40,000th tick. They all have massive folders, except the younger ones (by younger I mean middle aged) who have electronic PDA’s.

One aside works well in that Phil Parkin creates his own tick by brewing a Thornbridge Jaipur variant on a brewery visit, nicely connecting the visit with the theme of ticking.

I was left with the impression that the tickers at least enjoy their hobby and are not necessarily the weirdoes you might assume if someone were to simply explain the activity to you. At least the ones in the documentary. That they enjoy drinking and ticking is an activity that enhances their drinking pleasure rather than detracts from it. I cannot think of a less fun thing to do whilst having a pint than to note it down in a book (Brewer, Beer Name, ABV), but whatever gets you through the night is alright. The DVD extras are worth viewing if you need a bit more beer geekery than the 70 minutes of the documentary and as an overall personal view I liked the piece. Worth watching.

Will that in mind I offer the DVD to you, dear reader, by way of a prize. You can win this exciting now second hand DVD by posting “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme” in the responses below. If more than one people respond I draw a name out of a hat to choose the winner. On announcing the winner I will then ask for an address to post it to. It’s only a DVD, I can nick a jiffy bag from the stationary cabinet at work and don’t mind whether the postage is UK, Europe or beyond. The DVD is all regions but English Language only. I attach but one condition to the prize. Once watched you have to pass it on with the same condition that they pass it on. Pass it about and let anyone interested see it. You have to see it to the end to see whether Phil ticks 500 and reaches his goal.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Rough Pubs II


Unfortunately there are pubs around that are not rough pubs. These types of pubs think they can tell me what to wear and think they are doing people a favour by allowing people in to spend their own hard earned money.

My employer has a right to tell me what to wear on the basis of paying me a not ungenerous annual stipend for my services. I don’t particularly want to wear a whistle and flute but am willing to do so for the financial generosity of paying me to do not a lot and giving me a desk with the internet on. If he asked me to wear a gimp mask I would decline and seek employment elsewhere or at least ask for a pay rise. My lady squeeze sort of gets to strongly suggest what I wear on the basis I am having sex with her on a regular basis. She happens to be a lady of taste and I don’t mind not wearing the same tatty t-shirt & tracksuit bottoms all weekend and instead adopting a more metro sexual smartish look if it makes her happy.

However, if I wish to wear a football shirt or a hat in my own time I will do so. As it happens I don’t, but I don’t wish to be told that I can’t wear what I like by a publican. I don’t actually own a football shirt. I own a baseball cap. I don’t want to pay £40 for a nylon t-shirt advertising a betting company. I do want, in fact I demand, the right to buy one and wear one if I wish. If the urge ever strikes me I will. I will wear what the fuck I like on my day off.

As it happens I am not a scruffy bugger and frequent places that by and large are not full of other scruffy buggers, but I don’t wish to be told that I can’t be a scruffy bugger. I reserve the right to choose that for myself.

I may be over 21 but the legal drinking age is 18. By all means ask for ID and ask with a smile, but I no more wish to drink in a place that bars 18-21 year olds any more than I would wish to stay in a guest house that bars blacks, Irish or homosexuals. I’m not a member of those 3 groups either, but if that’s your policy you can stick my custom up your arse.

The ban on work wear is a peculiar one considering another sign advertises the place is ideal for business lunches. My work wear is a suit. Do they wish me to take that off if I go for a “business lunch”? Am I offended by the presence of a working man in overalls stood at the bar having a pint after work? Not at all, and I wouldn’t expect him to be offended by the sight of me in my cheap suit. The only people that offend me in pubs are bearded types telling me the pongy ale “is drinking well” when what I want is to sink an ice cold pint of fizz.

You might be unsurprised to find out I have never stepped foot in the boozer that puts that sign outside its premises. It is deeply unappealing. It doesn’t tell me the place is smart, it tells me the place is trying too hard, is restrictive and thinks it’s doing me a favour. It is a place trying to keep “the wrong sort” out. It’s like the Daily Mail set up their own pub just for Daily Mail readers. Well “the wrong sort” happen to be my fellow man. I mean, good god, the pub sells meals 2 for a tenner.

Thank freedom and democracy that publicans haven’t got a monopoly. Thank freedom and democracy for competition, whether from other pubs, restaurants, bars or supermarkets. Here’s to the freedom to see such signs and say “fuck that”

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The Rough Pub Guide


When it comes to books on beer and pubs it is fair to say I have sometimes been a little less than kind. I mean what is the point? A guide book to pubs and/or beer? Wondering what a beer is like? Buy one and drink it. You don’t need a book. Decide for yourself whether it is any good or not by way of your own personal opinion after you’ve had a swig. Same goes with pub guides. Good god, what is the point? See a pub and unsure whether you like it or not? Walk in, if you like it stay, if you don’t walk out. Job’s a good ‘un. Who on gods earth needs a guide? Doesn’t seem to stop people knocking them out though.

Occasionally a beer book comes your way, changes your opinion and knocks your socks off and “The Rough Pub Guide” does that in spades.

A call to arms to save the great British boozer and a celebration of all that is true about pubs. Namely that pubs are dumpy shit holes full of reprobates and criminals getting pissed and having fights. A true honest to goodness celebration of pubs without crap about “responsible controlled environments”. I love it to bits.

The book is a few years old and looking on Amazon appears to be out of print. I found this one in a charity shop where I was looking for a dead man’s suit. A bit of googling and by all accounts the author had a blog going regarding his book but again that does not appear to have been updated in a while. Pity, as both the book and blog are a decent read. One can only assume there will not be another edition as I suspect the dumpy pubs detailed in the book are gone now, never to return. If they are not they ought to be.

I’ve never really got the maudlin sadness at the decline of the pub industry, but the sheer joy of this book is infectious. To read through it is to get a real taste of boozers I suspect you really wouldn’t wish to go in unless you were happy to risk life and limb, a trip to A&E, the loss of ears, permanent disfigurement and loss of either sight or hearing.

But even so the book communicates a joy of pubs I’ve not encountered elsewhere. Not for this book a list of crappy pubs selected on criteria of the pongyness of the ale and joyless lack of a football on TV or music and aimed at middle class, middle aged tosspots. Not for this book a list of crappy gentrified pubs known more for pretentious posh nosh that fighting in the car park. Nope a list of pubs you suspect you’d quite enjoy if you survived unscathed. This book distils the essence of a true pub, how awful they are; why you are wise to avoid them and at the same time instils sadness in their passing.

Arguably if this type of rhetoric were more common rather than the bollocks of “responsible and controlled environments” I would be more inclined to support a “save our pubs” campaign, though no more inclined to visit one. I would want them saved for the reprobates that use them by way of ensuring such types were off the street and away from decent law abiding folk.

I love this book; it almost makes me wish to walk into a pub, and then scares me slightly off doing so.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Product Placement


I want to ask a question. Is booze so evil and bad that it has to be excluded as an acceptable product in the new rules that make product placement acceptable in UK TV?

With ITV dying on its arse as we all click series record on our Freeview recorder boxes and skip through the adverts it’s no surprise that commercial TV needs to find in-programme advertising revenue, but why exclude booze?

A feature of UK TV that has long amused me are the made up brands that often appear in UK dramas. From the Stellaberg lager that Frank Gallagher drinks in the TV show Shameless to the well known Newton and Ridley fictional northern regional brewery whose ales are sold in the Rover’s Return pub in Coronation Street. Drinking is a normal form of behaviour in TV drama. In fact the behaviour is more than a little contrived. No one really goes to the pub with the regularity of TV characters, but the fictional pub provides a social setting for characters to interact, a requirement of drama. Arguably one of the more ridiculous elements isn’t the frequency of pub going but the number of characters in the soap EastEnders that use the local laundrette with a regularity that suggests they either do not possess washing machines or they have all bought ones that break down on a weekly basis.

Within these drama’s the characters are constructed by the writers in such a manner that part of the character description usually specifies what they drink in the local fictional pub as part of a character profile. Elderly businessmen can be counted on to order a scotch, elderly working class types, half a bitter or mild, young fellas, pint of lager or bottle of lager, rough lairy women that work in the factory all drink pints, the sophisticated ones drink wine or spritzers and old girls like a G&T . Any casual watcher of these dramas quickly picks up the formulas’ used and no amount of pointing out to the lady in your life that it is all the same storylines repeated ad infinitum (I'm waiting for a love triangle that involves the family dog) seems to reduce a requirement to watch them all.

As amusing as “Stellaberg” is, what is the problem with Frank Gallagher just having a pint of Stella? That example might be a bit ropey. Inbev are more likely to pay money so Frank Gallagher doesn’t drink Stella than any lout brewer pay money so he does, but even so drinking is a normal legal activity.

Why shouldn’t we see the Rover’s Return filled with people drinking Carling lager or the beer of any local northern regional brewer?

The first beer brands I became aware of were due no doubt to product placement in American movies put on UK TV. Coors for me is the beer Burt Reynolds transported across America with Smokey on his tale. Budweiser is the beer he drank when he was a drunk at the start of the sequel where they transported an Elephant. These brands looked exotic, exciting and representative of an American culture I much admired as a teenager. Maybe putting Hydes Bitter on in the Rovers Return wouldn’t have had the same effect but arguably neither option is an encouragement to drink. Drinking is a normal adult activity I was always going to have a go at regardless of what Curly Watts drank alongside having sex, driving and getting a credit card, and none of it so far has done me any harm and my intention is to keep going because I quite enjoy it. Especially the drinking and having sex bit.