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

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to anyone still bothering to read this tosh. 

Beyonce drinking beer, what's not to like?

News of the week is the Camden buy out, which every beer blogger worth their salt will be opining on. Two of the better ones are the perspective of an industry shill having his invoices paid, the notable writer Dredge here. Don’t blame you Dredge. Any company that’s ever given me owt for nowt or paid one of my invoices has my loyalty and I wouldn’t bite the hand that feeds. We all need to make a coin. Every company I ever worked for is great. Even the shit ones.

From the other side, weeping fan boy Curtis here, at his passive aggressive best. He isn’t hurt, just disappointed. Like your Dad was when you were 12 and the Headmaster of your school contacted him about you necking cider and fingering girls on school premises instead of going to woodwork class. But Dad, what’s the point of woodwork; I got an A in maths? I’m disappointed in you son. Ouch that stings. Love it, Curtis. It’s a cracker. Always worth a read. You're chomping at Dredges heels and in 2016 I want to see a Curtis beer book on the book shop shelf I can ignore and not buy. Set to it, fella.

Do I have an opinion? Of course I do. Lager is worth about 50p a can. Its great stuff, you should enjoy it. It beats rip off bitter in pubs. When mugs start thinking it’s worth £5 a can and start buying it at that because they erm “support craft brewing” or some such tosh, the brewery churning out grog made of commodity barley (as they all are without exception) and retailing at such implausible prices becomes worth a lot of loot and the nice lads with rich Dads invariably called Jasper or Toby that started it up will cash their chips in before the market corrects. Of course they will. So would you. Only you would buy something vulgar with it because you are not as posh. They will buy something tasteful. So that’s all right then.

If you can think of any commodity that you can convince mugs to shell out premium prices for, you’ve got a brand building business you can cash in because you have figured out the holy grail of “added value”. Of taking something, doing something to it (designing a nice logo and calling it punk beer?)  to ”add value” and flogging said improved commodity. It’s why tables are worth more than trees, why cars are worth more than metal, why cleaned and chopped vegetables are worth more than dirty ones, why breakfast cereal is worth more than corn, why beer is worth more than barley and why “craft” beer is worth more than beer.

I only wish I could think of something to crowd fund and sell out on. I’d buy a big tasteless vulgar villa in Spain with a pool and giant statues of tits everywhere with all the loot and sit in the sun with a cold lager rather than hawk my computer talents about in a cold country where it pisses down constantly and it’s always dark and they expect me to start before lunchtime.

I’m sure nothing will change at Camden, not even when the grog is churned out of the Magor brewery they churn Stella out of. Nothing’s changed with that premium authentic Belgian lager has it?

I have no Golden pints other than to say LAGER is golden. Neck as much of it as you can as cheaply as you can.

My beer blog of the year is this post from Matt Johnson, not because it’s any good. It’s just made me laugh with its brass neck. He’s special you see. He’s a regular. That means he gets a glass and you don’t. Regulars are special. It is arguably one of the great achievements in life becoming a regular. It involves going to the same pub a lot, over and over again without them telling you to go away. It nails what human endeavour and achievement truly is. It isn’t brilliance or intelligence or talent. It’s perseverance. It’s keeping at it until you achieve it or people give you money to stop you doing it because it bothers them. It’s not giving up. I like beer blogs that reflect a fundamental human truth rather than just bang on about beer. That’s how you achieve anything in life. Then you achieve the coveted status and get a glass to drink your beer from. No greater prize hath man ever won. Then you too can be special. Marvellous stuff. Keep it coming, Matt.

I may never achieve this status and may forever be that new face you see only the once, ever. But I have noticed it’s the time of year for people banging on about pub amateurs ruining it for the pub regulars (or alkies as they are more commonly known). Oh get over yourselves. I have an axe to grind here because at Xmas there are 2 types of people, hosts and guests. Hosts provide seasonal hospitality and guests appreciate it. My sister is host this year so we are all piling into to her big house to eat her food and neck her grog. I am a guest. We all have the grace to be grateful and be polite guests. If I go to the pub on Xmas day it will be in a pub near her I have never been in before. I will stump up for a round as it’s the least I can do as I’m not be preparing anything and if the locals that keep the place going all year don’t like interlopers like me they can naff off like the miserable bastards they are. I shall elbow my way to the front and get served first too. Damn right.

Merry Christmas, all the joy of the season to you and your family.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Verschränkung & The CAMRA Pub Crawl & Quantum Mechanics

Slagging off CAMRA is in my view one of the most entertaining aspects of beer bloggery. It tends to elicit plenty of comments from those inclined to defend the venerable organisation from every slight, as well as those that have what is usually a justified beef with what the organisation is up to either locally to them, or nationally.

It’s been a while since I’ve bearded it, and will unfortunately not be bearding it for a while yet. See, I miss it and want to return to it. My current world of German industrial lager may no longer be enough for me. It once was. I actually want brown pongy bitter in my life. Oh how times change. One recent criticism I heard thoroughly entertained me as an example of both sides of an argument being correct, both points of view entirely valid and both diametrically opposed. That of a CAMRA pub crawl being structured so that one pack leader tastes and approves the beer before all others pile into the bar. True or false? Going back a bit I recall a rather robust discussion on this on someone’s blog, if you have that to hand please post it in the comments.

Here I examine my own experience and consider it to fall into the realms of quantum mechanics and akin to the thought experiment of Schrödinger’s cat which while the box remains unopened and unobserved is simultaneously dead and alive at the same time. Like the cat, each perspective is true and false at the same time. First the usual preamble before I laboriously get to the point.

Over the past couple of years I have encountered CAMRA branches within the counties of Merseyside to Yorkshire and taking in Cheshire and Lancashire and joined them for an evening of whatever they happened to be up to whilst I happened to be in the town on a work assignment. My intention is not to put you off socially engaging with your local CAMRA branch. I have found the exercise to be largely an enjoyably worthwhile endeavour and a nice change from watching the TV darts in my hotel room. I commend CAMRA activities to you if you are in an unfamiliar town, seeking drinking companions.

Not really the sort of people you can expect to meet.

Many of these evenings have been the CAMRA pub crawl. A CAMRA pub crawl is a peculiar beast. Some can be a fun traipse along a series of pubs. Some can be quite a joyless march of military timing and precision that manage to actually strip the fun and enjoyment entirely from going out and having a drink. Both open your eyes, so give in to it and try one. The difference between these two is rarely the quality of pubs involved, more the mentality of those doing it. When a pub crawl is approached as a social event, a good time is more often than not had. It’s a nice drink in nice company. Decent blokes and it is all blokes. If you want to pull, try a smile and mild flirtation with the office receptionist on your client site and go from there if reciprocated. Though that will involve Italian restaurants, wine and the hopeful purchasing of prophylactics and not a drop of pongy bitter.

The sort of people you can expect to meet. Though usually there is no cake.

When a pub crawl is approached as a mission to survey a defined set of pubs over the course of an evening, the participants are those doing their campaigning duty and duty comes before the frivolity of pleasure. Lots of sniffing and holding beer up to the light. Connoisseurs at work. It is to my eyes the joyless swift necking of indifferent halves of bitter, but heh ho. You are better off excusing yourself and returning to the hotel via the fridge section of a nearby off licence. Though this is not the matter at hand.

So are CAMRA pub crawls structured so that one pack leader tastes the beer, declares it fit for human consumption or not and then the rest of the party either avail themselves of the pubs wares or spin a 180 and march to the next pub to do that again?

One truth is to say No. This has not been the official policy on any CAMRA pub crawl I have been on. Therefore those that would dispute this notion and declare it false are technically from their own perspective correct. So it doesn’t happen right?

Human behaviour is a funny thing, especially when you place it in group dynamics. The group on a CAMRA pub crawl tends to be a loose collection of individuals. Within this group some consider each other friends and others consider each other acquaintances and some are strangers. The basis of any given relationship in this group is mutual interest, common purpose and common world view. This often denotes the closeness or otherwise of people within it, regardless of how long they may have been acquainted. What is important to every individual in the group however is fitting in and being respected by one’s peers. Hence any surveying occurring is largely poorly done. The desire for consensus will see you witness someone taste a beer, claim to like it, but survey it poorly if that is the group consensus. Or the opposite. The desire to fit in and not be seen as ignorant and accept a group view supplanting their own direct experience. Also and of more relevance to the subject, some pubs on this crawl are better than others. In some pubs the group may linger over a pint, and in others a swift half and off is all the pub warrants, job done as quickly and painlessly as possible.

If the pub is a crap pub, you know that is a pub the group will only stop in for a half. A crap pub is one with one pump of Greene King IPA and sod all people in the pub drinking it. A pub where you know by first glance, the lager is your safest bet. We have all been in such a gaff. You cannot have a lager, not in this company. In this pub would you stride to the bar and be the first to buy your half? We are all aware of the technique of the round shy tight wad to hang back when entering a pub or stride forward to buy a round if the pub is known to be cheap, but in this group buying rounds are not the norm. What is your best strategy?

If you stride forward you get your beer first but so what? If the beer is undrinkable it must be returned. You may when not in this company merely leave it undrunk and leave. But you are in the company of campaigners. It must be returned. Leave it to someone with a more forthright personality to complain, and they will of that you are assured, you will have been the one that accepted a poor drink or didn’t notice or care it was off. This, therefore, is a poor gambit without an upside.

If you hang back you leave it to the poor sap at the front and then the hassle is on his shoulders. Rest assured many in the group are thinking along similar lines. In this scenario you only have to buy your half after others are already drinking theirs. If the beer is vinegary piss, you don’t even have to bother, you 180 and off to the next gaff with those that like you have played it right. It is up to the poor sap at the front of the queue to get their money back and follow.

Therefore what is happening is that one person is effectively tasting the ale, others are hanging back, including me, and only buying a beer once the guy at the front has declared it fit for human consumption.

So the truth is also Yes. The truth is that one guy is tasting the beer before the rest of the group chance it. The guy sat at the table drinking a pint of lager and seeing 10-15 blokes pile in and go through this rigmarole before all individually buying halves of bitter is pretty sure of what he has seen before his very eyes. He has seen the local CAMRA posse pile into the pub and one test it before the others buy it.

So both opposing positions are true, at the same time. Your opinion will be down entirely to your point of view. If you are in the group, it is false. If you are observing from the outside it is true. Even better than this, there are no cats locked in boxes and no cats dying under any circumstance, unlike that bastard Schrödinger who clearly does not consider animal welfare in his thought experiments.

Unless of course one of the fatter CAMRA posse sit on the pub cat by mistake, then you hear a squeal followed by “Jesus Christ, he’s killed the cat” then the most sincere profuse middle class apology you will ever in your life hear. You will witness horror and dismay and chaos. There will be cat blood. You will hear the precise squelch of dead cat under millets trousered fat arse. You may even buy a second half of indifferent bitter and a bag of crisps and settle in to watch it all unfold. You will be glad you didn’t stay in the hotel. You would not have missed this for the world.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Pub Sheds

Britain is a fascinating place of eccentricity and sub cultures. One aspect fascinated me for a while and appeared vaguely related to beer geekery but quite detached. That of the Pub Shed. Yep, you got that right. Turning your garden shed into a mini private pub themed bar you can sit in and have a drink. Or even building a shed for that purpose if you don’t have one. I like to study beer geekery, comment and occasionally mock its idiosyncrasies, its occasional lack of self-awareness, and it’s detachment from the “normal” but in truth there is no such thing as “normal”.

I am increasingly convinced that Britain is a place where there is no such thing as “normal”. Everything is in some ways not normal. The best classification may be “harmless” or “dangerous” rather than “normal” and “not normal”. Having an interest in pubs, beer and drinking may not be normal but by and large I guess for most it is harmless. Unless you start on it every day at 8am, lose your job and your wife and end up in the gutter covered in piss, then it’s dangerous. Keeping ladies locked up in a cellar you have converted into a sex dungeon like Joseph Fritzl is dangerous. Traveling on buses and trains to visit obscure grotty pubs is harmless. Flashing at old ladies at bus stops is dangerous. Collecting beer mats or any pub tat is harmless. Having a folder full of the names of all the beers you have tried is harmless. Wearing an anorak, standing on a platform and writing down the numbers of trains in a book is harmless. Wearing your girlfriends’ knickers is harmless (as I keep telling her). Turning your garden shed into a faux pub then sitting in it and having a can of lager is harmless.

Reading the book, The Pub Shed Guide UK A-Z, I delved into the world of people that sit in their sheds drinking cans of lager, rather than sit in their living rooms, hoping to discover why? I didn’t discover why, the book isn’t the anthropological study I had hoped for. Though I did get the occasional glimpse and read a series of tales, some dull and some charming, regarding the sheds that sit in the back gardens of Britain.

The book is a list. A list of people’s pub sheds. In a book. Yes, someone has written a book with a list of sheds in it. That’s not the oddest part. The oddest part is I bought that book and read it. That is odd. Though I like to think, harmless. The photo quality is a bit of a let-down and doesn’t really do the sheds justice. Some of the written descriptions are quite nice. I liked the reasons often given for the pub names. The chap that named his pub shed after his deceased mother in law because she was a nice lady that liked a drink. I liked the pride taken in their construction. The collections of pub tat that decorated the sheds to make them look like pubs was something I found appealing. The fetishization of pub paraphernalia shows that the commercial art of pub and beer branding is arguably a genuine art form that people enjoy, wish to display and like to look at. A Guinness mirror has an artistic merit on a par with “proper art in galleries”. I liked that the sheds were a reflection of their owners, telling a story about their lives, their travels and represented an ideal. A dream, in shed form.

The book has a Facebook group here, and a twitter feed here. Both of these are better than the book as the picture quality of the sheds shows them in far more glory than the book. There is even a pub shed of the year, here.

Pub shed of the year 2015

Some of the nicer pictures were not just pub tat fetishism but of friends and families having parties in these sheds. Nice times being had. Whether that is a typical night in the pub shed or just one of the better evenings I would suspect the latter. Surely every night is not party night for the pub shed owner? I would guess most evenings are not spent in the shed. They are places to have a party when friends and family come round.

Much of the iconography would not be appealing to your common or garden middle class beer and pub geek. There are a lot of Union Flags being displayed and a lot of people wearing football replica shirts. It is the world of the British working class, a world often derided by the educated middle class. This is worth comment as it reveals to a degree my own middle class snobbery and prejudice.

A pub draped in the national flag is somewhere I would avoid entering. I’d make assumptions about the place being a bit rough. I’d make assumptions about the far right and politics I find abhorrent. I like down to earth working class boozers. I prefer them to the more gentrified middle class pubs that seem to dominate CAMRA type awards and appeal to beer enthusiasts. I quite like watching the football on Sky sports. A lot of national flags, though, puts me off. I associate it with nationalism rather than patriotism, I guess, and in that case I am likely the one in the wrong. I got no indication that people that liked to put up the union flag in there pub shed were anything other than decent patriotic working class people sticking up a flag they considered a source of pride. Part of the iconography of the tribe they belong to. A flag I should no doubt take more pride in and when it is reclaimed by decent people like these I should applaud.

A feature that fascinated me was the appearance of beer fonts and hand pulls in many of the sheds. I could understand wiring up the shed to power light fittings, a glass fronted fridge but draught beer? I gathered most were there for show rather than operational but some had them operational for special occasions if not all the time. A cask or keg of beer is a lot to get through, costly and not practical unless enough use is made of it. Further, many of the pubs are replete with TV’s and pub gaming machines. EBay is a source of paraphernalia as are many of the actual pubs that are shutting across the land. I gathered many pub shed owners had acquired some of the more impressive stuff off the landlords of recently closed pubs, getting rid of the pin ball machine and such like.

There is an element of the "man cave" about such outbuildings. The idea that the family home is the preserve of the wife and children and the man of the house likes pottering in his shed. What is a man to do if he does not want to make things in his shed, but just sit and have a drink? Invite his mates over but leave the living room to the family. Though most of the pictures do show that whilst the man of the house has decided upon building the pub shed, it is a place he shares with his wife. They do not appear the sole preserve of men. The absence of children and presence of spare rooms in my own home afford a home office full of computer related tat and possibly negate my need for a man shed. What would I do if kids filled all the rooms? Then, maybe I would feel the need for my own shed. A place to pretend to fix the lawnmower whilst drinking cans of lager.

A while back, me old cocker Mudgie was prone to bang on about the pub smoking ban and mention a concept called “smoky drinky” where people congregated to smoke whilst they had a drink. Not an unlicensed pub, but more I thought a series of on-going house parties among social groups of people, former pub customers that had abandoned their local pubs. There was no indication that this was a factor for most of the owners. Maybe for some, but not the overriding reason to build a pub shed. After all, you can just have a fag in your living room if so inclined.

Nope, I think the reasoning is more pedestrian than that. Like beer geekery has strong parallels with train spotting, this has parallels with caravanning.

I’ve never understood caravanning. Why buy a costly pokey box to drag around with you so you can have substandard holidays? Isn’t the money better spent on nice holidays in nice hotels where people cook for you and bring you stuff? Who on earth would spend that sort of money to sit on a camping chair or cook from a small camping stove and shit in a chemical toilet?

Life may very well be just a short series of experiences. The time between birth and death. Acquiring property may very well be futile as it’s all just stuff you cannot take with you. The universe may very well be one of entropy and decay and constant inevitable change. That doesn’t stop people wanting things. People wanting their own caravan or their own mini back garden pub. People valuing things more than experiences.

I don’t think I’m ready yet to sit in my own shed pub and only invite people I know to sit in it with me. To be a sheddie. For now I’ll continue to neck lager in my living room or go out to a pub containing people I don’t know. Most recently that was a grotty Irish pub in Hamburg where I talked to 2 retired prostitutes who told me their only ever visit to England was to film a bukkake scene for an English pornographic movie. I apologized for not having seen it as only an Englishman would do. They liked England, fish and chips and English tea. I liked the ice cold glass of Astra lager I was necking and pleased to be practicing my German language skills on people. Pubs are strange places with strange people in them. I like that. So long as you don’t get knifed, they are not dangerous. Harmless, even. You don’t get to hear the word bukkake in the middle of a German sentence often and learn the same word is used in German and English for the same thing. You don’t get that in a shed in the back of your garden. I might visit a nicer pub, next, mind.

p.s. don't google the word bukkake if on your work computer, or google it at all, for that matter. If it is not a term you are familiar with, then consider that to the good and leave it that way

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Beer Tax

One of the more interesting beer stories of the week was a chap called Tim Dewey (nope, me neither) of Timothy Taylor Landord bitter (Oh yeh, now I’ve heard of it, that’s that overpriced bitter you see in posh pubs that jenga the chips and charge £20 for a burger) saying “craft” had made beer prices “dangerously low”. Now this appeared to get much derision on Twitter because as we all know, craft is proper expensive innit? Its pricey grog drank by fools and snobs. That and the only “danger” in low beer prices is that you might end up behind the bins of a Wetherspoons with a lady larger than you usually consider attractive. Not me, though, I’m a good boy; I don’t do that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, behind the bins at Wetherpoons........

I made the mistake of reading the article, however, and you know what? I think the fella has a point. His point isn’t about retail prices, it’s about wholesale prices and specifically it’s about small brewery relief (SBR), the mechanism by which smaller breweries pay less duty on their produce.

SBR is something most beery geeks like. It’s a tax break on small producers which they tend to prefer. A lot of beer geekery is about preferring the small producer over the big producer and they tend to get upset when big brewers make things they like, are quality products, and encapsulate the history and tradition of a beer style more effectively than a bearded middle class man under a railway arch. Much of beer geekery is the middle class preference for “small”, from beer to the cheese in a farmers market. Big bad. Small good.

The ostensible reason for SBR, as far as I can make out, is that smaller brewers have fixed costs and barriers to market entry that make competing with large oligopoly brewing difficult. Or at least that was the reason when it started. Now there are more breweries than ever and from the retail prices round my way it’s clear that a micro-brewery can produce a cask of indifferent bitter cheaper than the local regional brewery can produce a cask of indifferent bitter, and the reason for that is tax. I can think of 2 northern regional brewers, Hydes and Robinsons that have reduced capacity. The former specifically to qualify for SBR. I know that because I heard a man from the brewery say so at a beard club talk.

So let’s get this straight, a tax system that encourages firms not to grow beyond a certain size and encourages firms above that size to shrink down?

In what other industry would we do this? What else do we manufacture that we would want the industry to be structured as thousands of cottage industry sized businesses? What industry would we actively discourage businesses to grow to a size where they export their produce? If British beer is a world beater why is the import beer of most countries likely to be a Dutch or German lager, and not a bottle of British Ale? Maybe a really big British brewer exporting beer isn’t a bad thing? Maybe that’s good for us? I quite like a bottle of Becks or Heineken, myself and I’ve never encountered a German complaining they have large corporations exporting to the world. They appear quite proud of it.

It seems to me there are currently 2 purposes of the tax system. The original being to raise money for the crown to spend on things. Your personal politics will make judgements on the relative importance of the defence of the realm, the NHS or even £300 trainers for poor London kids but revenue to do that was the original point. Of more recent times, “creating desirable outcomes” has become a function. Stopping you smoking, drinking or even restructuring a brewing industry that was uncompetitive & oligopolistic and forced Watneys Red Barrel down your unwilling throat. You may not like that, but tax can and does determine behaviour because we want to pay less of it. Does this tax break result in more or less revenue? I would guess at less as the costs of collection are higher over a distributed base, the duty is lower and beer volumes are declining even if number of producers are increasing.

Taxing a product like micro brewed beer, enjoyed by a primarily middle class consumer base, less than beers enjoyed by primarily working class consumers is even applying a regressive tax. Should the middle class pay less tax on their beer? Should the middle class pay less tax on the 4x4 they take little Toby and Clarissa to school in than the small car the old retired lady is going down the shops in? Should the middle class get a tax break on the artisanal crafted handmade bit of carpentry they put in their kitchen, whilst all those that go to IKEA for mass produced stuff pay full whack?

The idea of SBR, a tax break on small producers, looks ludicrous when applied to other industries.

I know you like SBR; it’s one of the reasons I would guess why the multi beer free houses charge 50p a pint less than the regional brewery tied houses for the indiscriminate brown bitter they all flog. I know beer geeks like their brown bitter to have a different name for each pint, despite it all tasting and smelling the same. I know you like having lots of small producers and think they deserve a tax break.

But what if a more efficient brewing industry with fewer cottage industry shed and railways arch producers resulted in more tax in treasury coffers and that resulted in less personal tax on you or a few more schools and hospitals? Maybe beardy shed man should be asked to cough up more by way of tax? Just saying.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Drinking for Chaps

Most beer bloggery type book reviews come out of a few simple routes. Established beer writer knocks up book, the fans buy it, read it, praise it. Beer Blogger gets an actual paid gig, knocks up book, sends some out free to other bloggers, it gets read and praised. This is a tad different as it’s not beer writers, bloggers and I actually bought the damn thing with cash because I thought it might be entertaining.

Drinking for Chaps is a book spin off from The Chap magazine, a satirical magazine all about applying the values of the past to the present through the mechanism of dressing up in tweed, smoking a pipe and doffing your trilby hat at ladies. Website here and if you read nothing of it, do check out the chap manifesto, it’s delightful. All of it harmless enough. I occasionally read the magazine myself when the like of Steve McQueen or Cary Grant appear on the cover, as despite being a T-shirt and jeans scruff I do admire these style icons of a previous age.  I’d love to be arsed to wear a suit but unfortunately cannot afford a butler, is of a generation were your girl doesn’t iron your shirts, and can’t be much arsed to do it myself. If I did I would want to pull off the mid-atlantic style of either of those 2, combining the sartorial elegance of British tailoring with the whiff of French panache and American modernism. Steve and Cary nailed it. Unfortunately all I muster is a Marks and Spencer whistle recently dry cleaned for a job interview.

Steve McQueen in arguably the most erotic scene in cinema, ever.

I do occasionally see these vintage fairs knocking about, where people dress up in old clobber and see it could be a harmless bit of fun and enjoyably different way of getting pissed. A mint julep whilst wearing a trilby being a nice change from a can of lout on the sofa in my underpants. Harmless for those that like to wear tweed or allied WW2 uniforms. I have my doubts about the ones dressed up as Nazis. As stylish as a bit of black leather and Hugo Boss is, surely that’s not on?

One of the themes of chapism as far as I can make out is that a gentleman wears nice clobber, has an eye for the ladies, has impeccable manners and likes a drink. On two of those I qualify, take your pick which.

But the book? The book is a guide to getting sloshed in style for the modern man. Knowing the importance of intellectualizing drinking as an actual hobby to make it respectable and differentiate yourself from the common park bench cider drunk, the book guides you through different categories of booze.

It takes in Cocktails, Champagne, Wines, Spirits, Liqueurs and of course the most important thing, BEER!

For a book written to amuse, it contains a lot of actual informative stuff. I found myself learning stuff as I laughed along. Ironic snobbery is the main basis of the humour, suggesting the social situations and clothes most appropriate for each drink. The book breezes along with a joy of life, a joy of drinking and a joy of getting pissed that it is impossible not to love and I found myself wishing I was an actual chap that does such stuff.

Some of the jokes are better than others, and you will have heard most of them before, but the joy with which many are retold elicits a chuckle. The 3 types of people that drink beer are youthful hipsters, potbellied CAMRA types & Australians. Drum roll. Their description of the British pub is wistful enough to wish their description true rather than the reality of the modern Wetherspoons. I want to go there in tweed.

I loved the book, loved every bit of it, learned a surprising amount about booze I didn’t know before and went out afterwards to see whether the supermarket had mint leaves with which to make a mint julep from the bottle of Jim Beam I have in the cupboard.

Written no doubt as Christmas stocking filling tat, the book is better than the genre within which it sits and better than most beer books that most beer writers have knocked up recently. I commend it to you.

ps. yes I bought it, and not from a charity shop, and no one has paid me to recommend it, in cash or in kind.

Monday, 12 October 2015

On volunteering

These ladies have volunteered their own time to serve you a beer, be grateful.

As the Indy Man beer “conference” concludes my thoughts have turned to the nature, reasons and motivation of people that volunteer for things. I did think of why they might prefer the nomenclature conference to festival. The former brings up memories of a naff hotel, wearing a suit with a badge on with my name and company, rubbery food, free pens and having a married middle aged lass trying to seduce me in the hotel bar. The latter brings up memories of getting pissed, having a laugh and dancing with a girls knickers on my head. I know which I’d prefer, but that would be a short blog, being just what’s written there.

Who would volunteer to work at such a thing as a beer festival and why? I mean volunteer, not get paid to do a job of work, which is quite logical. We all need basic things like a roof over our head, food, clothes, a big telly and fridge full of cheap cans of lager. It is obvious that in a society where such things cost money, some of us go out into the world to work for it. You can either work for money or have money work for you. Most accept the former, as we don’t have enough of a stash for the latter. We do things for the money we want and need. Some of us do things we enjoy, some don’t, but we all get paid.

So why work for nothing? Why go serve beer at a beer festival on a Saturday afternoon and not get paid?

In my time I have encountered people in the voluntary or charity sector, they tended to fall into 3 camps. Young people after a reference, middling aged people looking for a social life and older people looking to use their time meaningfully and productively. I say none of this to be disrespectful but I would put everyone I encountered as people engaged in enlightened self-interest rather than naked altruism.

Sometimes the politics of this world is framed in terms of left or right, or selflessness versus selfishness. It negates how 90% of people go about life. That is enlightened self-interest. They are by and large out for themselves but not at the expense of others or to the detriment of society and recognise that to get something you have to give something and by giving something you get your reward in this life, not the next.

It could be considered a good thing for all concerned if the school leaver struggling to find an opportunity did a bit of charity work and picked up a decent reference and bit of work experience that helped them in that first step in life? It was what most people 18 or under doing this work were after and what they give is useful to the community charity they give it. Something to be respected, not derided. A self-starting young person improving their own CV. Good on them, even if they have a nose ring.

Is there anything wrong with a 40 year old single woman, whose friends have all married and procreated expanding her social circle via going along with a local charity on a day trip taking disabled kids out in a mini bus? Sure, she’s hoping at least one of the other volunteers is a decent looking employed none drunk unmarried male equivalent of herself worth going on a date with, but that’s not a problem is it? The kids get enough people to help out; the volunteers have a nice time getting to know each other. There’s nothing wrong with singletons mingling, it’s how the next generation comes about existing. Everyone wins here?

Retirement can be tough on some. Some don’t take the transition from responsibility and having a job that confers purpose and meaning to yourself and others to being someone that watches the Rockford Files on daytime telly and goes out on the piss in the afternoon like Tandleman or Stonch. They still need to be needed and have useful skills they want to use. So why not go help those disabled kids at the local swimming baths? Offer to drive the minibus? Get involved and see what you can do for the community? The old timers I have seen do this seem to live longer. They remain active well into their 70’s. They don’t give up. They appear to be coherent right up till they kick the bucket.

So I get the whole giving up your time for nothing shtick and understand there might be a circumstance when I am, let’s say, as old as someone really old, like Mudgie, that I might put my hand up and volunteer to help my community.

So why volunteer for a beer festival? Well it might surprise you to know but in the time I spent out of blogging I volunteered for a few, both beardy CAMRA and “community” festivals and here are my thoughts.

The organisers have very different reasons from the volunteers. For the organisers there is a very definite and defined loyalty to the organisation they proscribe to. There is a strong “for the good of”, whether that be CAMRA or a local community project or charity the proceeds are going to. It isn’t a piss up. The event is to raise money for such and such. Now my opinion is that the community/charity ones had more of my sympathy here. I started off with a kind of bias based on my own values. I kind of think giving up a Saturday to raise money for blind kids is more my style than raise money to send off to campaign to increase the price of Tesco lager but for those organising it, their own organisation is the ultimate worthy cause. This is just observation, mind.

I had more of a view of my fellow volunteer and found a different purpose. I was the only traveller doing it to find out what it was all about. Having drank at enough of these things, why not experience a few as a volunteer and compare the experience? Maybe if I did it I would understand why people do it through my own desire to do it again?

I found the single main motivation was social. That people wanted to be part of something. There were old hands for whom the event is something they do every year. This is where they meet up with friends they haven’t seen since the last one and won’t see until the next. There were new hands that appeared to want to be part of something and connect with others that might become the friends they then looked forward to seeing at the next one.

There was of course, the presence of the slightly socially awkward type. These appear to be given jobs as stewards or as back room staff. The more socially engaging appear front of house. This appears entirely self-selected. Nobody is putting the weirdoes out of sight; the odd balls presumably opt for the jobs they prefer. Even they wanted to feel part of it, even if they remained alone.

Upon asking my fellow volunteer how they ended up doing this or why they do this every year, the answer I got was almost always social (or they didn't really know, or their partner got them into it). It was something they enjoyed; they were part of something bigger than themselves. The CAMRA volunteers appeared a little more beer focused than the charity festival volunteers but neither was doing it for any “For the good of beer” or to convert people to beer or any campaigning purpose you might think of.

It was entirely about being part of a community. Either a local community that’s raising money or a community of beer enthusiasts. It was the community more than any other factor. You were part of this in a meaningful way.

Those I met that did a lot of festivals seemed to want more of that community. For them, this was their hobby and they met up with their friends once a month, around the country, doing beer festivals. They were as surprised by people not wanting to do that as others are surprised they would want to do so many beer festivals.

What surprised me most, it wasn’t about free beer or T shirts. Sure they liked them, and some considered it a form or payment in kind, but by and large they were not working for beer. Seems a stupid thing to do anyway. Any job earns you more pints or more t shirts than volunteering for any festival. When I say it wasn’t about this, that’s not to say this wasn’t important. The t shirt was a souvenir. Something they intended to wear on their day off to say “I did this”. Likewise the free beer was something they noticed if this year’s allocation was stingier than last years.

From my own experience, I enjoyed myself. I walked around in the T Shirt. Served some beer, helped out on a stall or two, talked to many people. All appeared decent people. I drank my free beer and blagged more free beer once my tokens were used. I learnt to ask for a “staff half” rather than half when using a half pint token as this is nearer a pint. Can’t complain that I had a miserable time, I enjoyed myself. Not sure I worked that much, I am by my nature a skiver. Prone to chat and swig beer rather than help lift stuff and lug it about. Not sure I enjoyed it enough to be a regular habit but I’m pleased I gave it enough of a go, at a range of events, to form an opinion, and my view was of either a fun day or weekend.

That opinion in summary is that’s it’s all about being part of a community of people but who gets the money at the end is something you have to be happy with. For me money towards blind kids, kids in wheelchairs are all things I’m happy with. Beardy people wanting to hike the price of lager or craft wankers building business empires they intend to profit from I have more difficulty with in justifying my time. But it’s a free country. You take your own choice and to be honest the better choice is going along as a punter to these things, spend a quid, get pissed, run about with someones knickers on your head, all considered. They also need customers or else they wouldn’t consider it a success.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

On price, on value.

These discerning ladies understand the value of what they hold.

Of course the main point in writing a few blogs is getting some stuff off my chest; it’s not hoping that some of you might start offering me free stuff again. But heh, if you want to, I love free stuff and will always write up that the free grog you send me is fantastic.

This one started off as a rant about price. Then I binned it. Some of it was worth repeating as an introduction to why I think some value beer more than others.

The rant began with the old adage that price is what you pay, value is what you get. Something I first heard as an undergraduate student. The idea gained more clarity after a kindly boss gave me a book called The Intelligent Investor by Ben Graham, with the comment “This is pretty much all you need to know in life, grasshopper”, a statement that is almost actually true. If not all, it’s a hell of a start. Two stints at university, going through the motions and my education began after I got a job.

It is not relevant but this boss was a kindly soul that saw me as a younger version of himself, a bright(ish) working class kid figuring out how to pretend to be a professional middle class man and have all that material bollocks even people that say they don’t want actually do. He bought me many pints and taught me how to fiddle my expenses and taught me the single most important lesson of the job we were doing. That was, keep the missus sweet and you can pretty much get away with anything you like. A true Zen master to a young impressionable lad.

This books main point is that there is a difference between price and value. That a notional Mr Market will daily ask you to trade at a given price and never be offended by refusal. Your job in the game is to calculate value and buy when price is below value and sell when price is above value. Including margin of error. Then you reply to Mr Market. The book is about stocks, shares, equities, whatever your preferred nomenclature but can be applied to pretty much any commodity. Despite being a book from the 1930’s it really is a corker. Never read it? Do you no harm, grasshopper.

This was my basis of an argument on price. That price is what it is and you and me as punters only get to figure out value. We can be in the market to get value, or simply to trade our stake higher. As most of us buy grog to drink, we seek value. Apart from that capitalist Arfur Scargill, who buys to trade.

To me good value may be a six pack of Steinhauser lager in Aldi for £3.99. A tasty drop of lout that suits me and comes in at a price I consider far below value. To the beer geek seeking that elusive and exclusive taste of something few others will ever taste, a £10, £20, £50, £100 bottle of beer is actually of a value above the price. To them, if not to me. So a market will exist for that sort of crap. Even if I don’t get personally why people would do that.

To me, beer gets better at smaller price increments. Pay a little more, you can get better beer. The difference between a 50p bottle of beer and a £1 bottle of beer may very well be worth the extra 50p or 100%. (not always, sometimes) Sometimes I might go for that and buy beers that cost a couple of quid each. I am still buying something I think of as value being greater than price. But that’s how I see value. At higher increments of price, say a £12 bottle of 12% abv grog in a fancy bottle, please forgive me, but I drink it and don’t often actually like it. I gag slightly and think, what is this crap? The value falls way below price. But heh, I’m an undiscerning commodity drinker without your sophistication. I like most of the cheap stuff, even if there is cheap stuff I think has no value.

Like a bottle of scotch, I think a £20 bottle of malt is better than a £10 blended, and might buy either depending on pocket or what I want to do with it. Sip it or mix it. I might even see a £30 one as something to give a go to. I’m not sure where the value lies in a £100 one as I’m not an enthusiast seeking out obscurantist experiences, flavours I can write about, people to impress, or a wider community of enthusiasts to engage with. The £100 bottle to me lacks value justifying the price, but to others clearly doesn’t.

So the question for me comes down to what is the value others clearly see that I don’t? I can mock people for paying through the nose for beer or I can seek to understand why they do.

As far as I can make out it is a combination of many different motivations. For some it is a genuine enthusiasm for new tastes and experiences. For others I think it’s a collection exercise, albeit more expensive than nicking beer mats or my hobby of nicking beer glasses. I think there are those that enjoy the exclusivity, those that want kudos and to impress their fellow geek. For a price you can be more discerning than others. Snobbery is part of this if not a factor for all, certainly for some. The value is more than the taste of the liquid in the glass.

In my time of mixing with beer enthusiasts I’ve met people that seem to genuinely love their hobby, spend a lot of money on it, have a right laugh but never look down their noses at those that don’t share their obvious passion. I’ve met others that appear to get less fun out of it and do look down their noses at people for whom price is a factor in their choice of beer or pub. Simply buying pricey beer is not a factor, more the type of person they are that they bring to their hobby. People that say “people who only drink to get drunk” types to describe the regular drinker.

I think the bigger question isn’t so much why some beer costs more; it’s more what value those that pay it get from it. For sure there will be piss taking brewers creating artificial scarcity to milk a captive market of enthusiasts with fat wallets. The really interesting question is what motivates someone to think a bottle of beer has a value worth a £100 price tag.

That’s the question I throw back at you.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Craftwork. The Craft Beer of Spoons.

A couple of years back the exciting issue of the beer blogosphere wasn’t murkey beer or mocking the self-interested brewers attempting to stop other brewers calling their grog “craft beer”, or even attempting to define craft beer without coming across as a bit of a snob or dick. It was the momentous news that much loved or much derided (depending on whether your nearest one was quite nice or a bit of a dump or maybe just your level of fear of regular working class people) pub chain had started to flog craft beer.

This, it was deemed, was craft beer going mainstream. Around the same time they shook up a few other offerings like the mainstream keg lager and cask beer but neither of these got noticed. Though the addition of pulled pork to the menu, did. Spoons change things regularly. Giving new lines a go and dropping lines that shift slowly. It's like they are running a business or something.

Then 6 months later something else happened that beer bloggers decided was the death of craft beer at Spoons. The cans of craft beer got knocked down in price. Reports of 1.99, 1.49 an even 99p were all indications, if you believe the nonsense beer bloggers come out with, that craft beer at Spoons had failed. They were getting shut of the stock and that would be that. Not that they were discovering what effect price cuts had on volume shifted.

I attach the latest in Spoons craft offering. You can decide for yourself whether they are actually craft beers as many are the craft brand variants of more mainstream UK brewers. Spoons have handily defined craft beer for you if you see the top right hand corner. Brewdog and the like, take note, if you are still looking for that elusive definition.

The craft beer offering appears to have evolved away from lagers. Brewdogs This is lager has gone, as has the Budvar and Vedett. A beardy pub I quite like are pleased about this as they are flogging the latter 2 at £4 and Spoons had the cans on at £1.49. There are still a fair few lagers on the list, though.

The much loved Sixpoint cans are still there, albeit a choice of 2 rather than 3. The better 2.  The much renowned Dutch lager, Meantime is there.

3 decent industrial German beers are on. As much as the crafties like to mock industrial beer, our Teutonic cousins do manage to produce high quality products through mass production, and better than the copies many UK self defined craft brewers do. The last time I got pissed on German beer, it tasted great, didn’t give me a hangover but I did fart a lot. Expect another emission scandal to rock German industry, the truth will out.

The ciders look interesting and nicer than that warm flat muck CAMRA insist is “real”

The pricing is more in line with the mainstream products rather than attempting for a premium. Lots are written about the types of people Spoons attracts, but in my observation that’s “allsorts”. I suspect the pricing and the branding would attract the students that can drink a brewdog IPA for £1.99 rather than be stung in a brewdog bar.

The Devils backbone is at the top end of the draught, with the Guinness, though the Shipyard is pence more than the cask beers. A few pence more for ice cold reliable hoppy pale ale? I like the stuff.

You wanna know when I think craft beer will disappear from Spoons? When the fashions change and what is cool today is naff tomorrow. Then Spoons will drop it in favour of whatever is the next trend. The stuff that is actually good will remain. For now, though, I like this stuff. Most of it is nice beer, for buttons. Consistent and not the gamble the beardies seem to like.

The craft definition too, seems the best one anyone has come with yet.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Lager,I think, maybe

Returning to the theme of revitalising beer bloggery, renowned and accomplished beer writer Pedro Broon has finally submitted his contribution. Better late than never, but I gather he prefers doing shit for people that pay him.Well known for writing books and stuff, all about pubs and beer, which you can read if you want and in truth are no worse than other books about pubs and beer if that interests you, Pedro enlightens us on the subject of lager, I think, maybe.

* The political views expressed are those of Pedro, not Cooking Lager, who is a Tory Bastard on account of having a job and wanting to keep his hard earned for stuff like lager, a new car and the new kitchen the lass wants and not give it to the government to piss away.

Tory Bastard with a beer instead of the usual Hi Viz jacket.

Lager is an often derided drink in the UK but arguably, Sorry I have to stop. Tory bastards. BASTARDS, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards. There I think it’s out of my system. What was I saying? Oh yeh. Lager.

Lager is a pale, crisp and refreshing beer style. Sorry, no. Tory bastards The bastards, The Tory fucking bastards. BASTARDS, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards. Okay. I think I’m okay now. Lager that was it.

What about lager? Well Fosters may be shit but lager’s like well popular in Germany and stuff and isn’t at all bad in that neck of the woods. Argggggggggghhhhhhh. Tory bastards. BASTARDS, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards, bastards. The bastards. The Tory bastards.

That Dave fucking Cameron will probably drink lager with Angela Merkel when he’s stitching us all up like kippers. The bastard. The lager drinking bastard.

Yeh lager. Bastard fucking Tories.

That enough words cookie?

Friday, 1 May 2015

A love letter to CAMRA part 2

Disappointingly I never discovered this sort of thing the first time I went to a CAMRA festival

The second part of my love letter to CAMRA concerns beer festivals and  was in part inspired by this tweet regarding a private run festival charging £50 entry, piss takingly asking people to work it for nowt as that appears the business model of festivals, free labour and the profits going god knows where.

Beer festivals are to my mind 90% of what the national treasure known as CAMRA appear to be about. Sure they do other stuff, but basically it’s a beer festival club of running them, working them or getting pissed at them. The other 10% is about convincing you not to be a punter and get pissed at one but to come along and work for nowt at one. Should you choose to do so they’d rather you didn’t get pissed at it, or so I gather.

The first time I ever heard of CAMRA I was 19 years old. I had been playing a game called “dart” in a shit hole pub in the northeast town of Saltburn after figuring out how to ride the local trains during the day without a ticket. The game of dart is similar to darts in all respects except you play it when the dumpy pub you are wasting an afternoon in does not have 3 darts as two of them have been lost in violent incidents, so you play dart with 1 dart. On the suggestion of my housemate we got the train back to Middlesbrough to go to the town hall and visit a beer festival. Different from his usual suggestion of a trip to the bookies. He never suggested we go to college and attend the course we had enrolled in which was a degree in business started out of a desire not to get a job but a realisation that such a certificate might come in when the day arrived that I had to grow up and get one, and not really having much of an interest in anything apart from lasses and drinking it appeared a course that might make me suitable for employment in a few years. My suggestions tended to involve playing the arcade game Outrun or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in the arcade down by the seafront and seeing if there were any jailbait teenage girls bunking off school to chat up.

Middlesbrough town hall was not to my distant recollection a particularly salubrious venue but I think the cost of entry was 50p and the beer prices slightly below pub prices. I have no recollection of how many beers they had on though it would have been more than most pubs which tended to be two. Bitter or lager. Vaux bitter or XXXX lager, if my memory serves. At this “festival” there was no lager, just lots of different bitter, some of it 9% and run by something called CAMRA. Spelt different from a device used to take photographs. CAMRA appeared to be a bunch old fellas who fitted what I didn’t know at the time was a stereotype but nevertheless appeared quite friendly if a little over enthusiastic about the bitter. It wasn’t the beards or sandals I remember but the waistcoat fishing jackets with lots of pockets and badges that had me wondering why anyone needed so many pockets or indeed badges. It was an age before the mobile phone so your keys and wallet were all you needed a pocket for and as I was skint most of the time, usually just the keys. I was young and naive enough to talk to people back then and talked to a few of these CAMRA types. As I said, I though them friendly, helpful sorts if a bit obsessed by the bitter so to speak. I mean, it’s only a pint of bitter which you only drink really because it’s cheaper than lager, I thought. It’s not a religion, though had you asked me about religion you’d have got a similar response of not understanding why people make a fuss about that either. They asked us to join but at the time there were no spoons tokens as there were no spoons. At least not everywhere like there is now. We said we’d think about it which really meant no.

As a festival it wasn’t much of an actual festival. There was no Ferris wheel, dodgems, candy floss, clowns, hot dogs or general gaiety. It was just a dark room full of barrels of beer and people pottering around drinking them and talking about how one bitter was apparently different from another. A little ernest, really. I got stuck in with my newly acquired half pint tankard and whilst I had my free programme I had no idea what I was drinking or what to drink. Luckily they had the ABVs on the grog so I could work out the best bang per buck which was the 9% stuff which tasted a bit sweet and sickly and took a bit of perseverance to get used to. But persevere I did and stuck in was what I got.

In a short period of time I was truly plastered and upon waking the next morning found I had acquired a new festival t shirt, slightly soiled the Middlesbrough FC replica shirt I was still wearing and had kept the half pint tankard which was stuck to the carpet by my bed next to a half-eaten box of KFC. My hangover was hellish and I had no idea how I’d gotten home or even leaving the festival. I remember starting a conga near a band playing folk music which stretched to about 20 odd people but not much after that so I must have had fun. I’ve never started a conga since nor done that before but I have joined a conga and as a matter of principle I always like to join a conga out of respect for the person who thought it a good idea to start one. I think that important. If someone has the balls to start one, I should have the balls to support it. I do not like to think of a person failing in an attempt to start a conga and I think it is that fear of failure is why I have never started one since. Still, I always join one.

I found my housemate sipping tea and in a similar green state in the living room watching The Rockford Files on afternoon telly with the sound off and subtitles on. Our conversation was conducted in a whisper. He remembered a little more than me including the fact that we had left the festival in good spirits but been thrown out of and barred from the KFC. It was not our fault he insisted, just a misunderstanding and had occurred after I got my food and he was waiting for his. Apparently some other customers had objected to our dishevelled slurring state and upon being politely asked to leave he had demanded his “fucking chicken” and told them to “fuck the fucking fuck off” There had been some pushing and he had dropped and broken his souvenir glass. We were not apparently welcome back at Middlesbrough’s finest establishment of southern fried franchise battery farm produced chicken and would henceforth have to procure our drunk or stoned  munchies via an unfranchised independent chicken outlet.

Of more concern he felt he had blown it with a lass he liked that saw the kerfuffle from across the street. As she had repeatedly been uninterested in the SU bar we regularly drank in because it was cheap and had bands on I thought it an unlikely bet anyway and no real loss as I sipped my sweat tea and read what Jim Rockford was saying on the telly. I had no idea of the world I had discovered nor that one day that world would be my world and I would be a part of it. It would be a couple of years until I next encountered CAMRA in the city of Leicester and discovered that beer was so much more than piss fuel. It was a hobby, a way of life. At least to some, though not yet me. CAMRA would always be there on that journey, doing its thing in the background as I grew from boy to man and in the next episode the love letter continues as I meet them again to stand in a room full of different types of bitter and get inappropriately pissed on it and embarrass a sweet natured girl I had convinced to go out with me. As for the festival glass. It stayed with me for many years and travelled with me to many parts of Europe to be used to drink many things but was dropped and broken 6 months ago on my kitchen floor. A little bit of me died that day for death is not a singular event but a series of little events, most of which we do not notice. I noticed my own mortality that day and had to drink my Vimto cordial out of a more recent beard club glass from one of Tandlemans beardy piss ups

Thursday, 30 April 2015

I love CAMRA too

I have 2 competing streams of thought to get off my chest, one about CAMRA and one about beer festivals (not necessarily about CAMRA but obviously related considering most beer festivals are by our erstwhile national treasure) First things first.

To join in the love in about CAMRA kicked off by the Borg collective here, and miserable old Mudgie here, one thing struck me about their recent AGM, and it was this bit of news.

You think these nice ladies will have a dance with you if you denigrate their lager?

Now my first response was to laugh. If CAMRA actually did this, then my whole Cooking Lager persona goes right down the toilet. The whole character is a reaction against the utter bizarreness of some of their more outspoken members who are fond of referring to beer they don’t personally like as chemical fizz and the people that drink them as ignorami. (check out the CAMRA forums). The creation of someone with the same weird view but directed at the fizzy grog they despise. A reaction against the rudeness and snobbery inherent in going beyond promoting something you like out of enlightened self-interest to try and force it on people by insulting them. My first reaction was please God Nooooo!!!!!!!!

Don’t slap down the nutters. The nutters are the most entertaining thing about the beard club. Without the nutters there is nothing to take the piss out of and without that I’m utterly lost. My enjoyment of beer and beer geekery is much diminished without the cask ale die hards. I for one, love them, and think we will miss them if they ever go. They bring a gaiety to proceedings. Don’t kill off the Real Ale Twats, please!

But you’ve got to hand it to them. It may have taken 40 odd years, but maybe they have figured out that more people are likely to give a pint of pongy ale a go and like it (as I often do) if it’s hawked in a reasonably respectful manner to the people you want to swallow it. People that like a drink and are happy to add a pint of decent pongy ale to the list of grog they regularly have a crack at. Saving or promoting British traditions doesn’t require a small group of odd balls with a pathological desire to drink nowt but pongy grog if a majority of normal folk can be convinced to neck one or two once in a while.

However, as I thought about it, one idea kept propping up. It is the realisation of why it needs stating. Surely a self-evident truth is just that. It doesn’t need mentioning. This is being passed because it does need stating. One set of beardies that consider themselves a tad more enlightened (are they? maybe, maybe not) wish to reign in fellow members they consider to be detrimental to their cause. Otherwise, why mention it?

It reminded me of a controversial comedy skit from the 90’s. “Chris Rock - Black People VS. Niggaz (Bring the Pain 1996)” viewable here. Less offensive details here. This sketch can be considered offensive so if offended don’t click on the links.

The Chris Rock comedy routine is to my understanding a none racist use of racist language to make a point about race using the power of comedy to make his point. The point being that as an African American he wants other African Americans to have better life expectations and succeed and not be victims in the society he lives in. I think it’s one of the best comedy sketches ever performed. It’s not comfortable to watch, and Chris Rock no longer performs it because he realised his language gave licence to racists.

Which is why there are links rather than embedded in the blog. It’s there if you want to see the original source material, but you don’t have to click. But I’m gonna paraphrase some it to make this

“Beards always want credit for some shit they supposed to do. A beard will brag about some shit a normal man just does. A beard will say some shit like, “I don’t denigrate other drinker’s choices.” You’re not supposed to, you dumb motherfucker! What kind of ignorant shit is that? “I’m more enlightened because I’m not rude about the mainstream lagers regular people drink” What do you want, a cookie?! You’re not supposed to be rude, you low-expectation-having motherfucker!”

Really? You’ve decided to stop bashing drinkers in a free country where people are free to spend their own money on what they want? For fucks sake. You want a round of applause for what you should have been doing for the last 40 years?

Welcome back to the human race, beards. Glad you rejoined us. Hope you like the world the rest of us live in, now come join us in normal pubs and bars and have a game of darts and watch the footie. Chuffed you’ve decided to no longer be twats but simply deciding to be decent human beings isn’t worth praise. It’s just expected of you. Now get them in, mines a pint of cold fizz, I’ll rack up the pool table and when you get back we’re talking about that busty lass in accounts or the champions league and not what fucking hops are in your beer.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The first noble truth

As someone that has made the transition from “Normal” to “Beer Geek” the question I am asked most is “How does one become a beer geek, cookie?” In fact that’s a lie, no one ever asks it. The question I am asked most is “If there is this underground civilization at the center of the Earth you insist is real and that’s where the UFO’s come from, how come they are not members of FIFA then?” But that’s not relevant, and a harder question to answer and one I’ve not got an immediate explanation for, because let’s face it they are bound to play football. Every country does. That’s why football has a proper world cup and other sports don’t. You can only have a world cup if the world plays. Baseball world series? Rugby or Cricket world cups? What? Nah, sorry pal, it may be an enjoyable tournament and a suitable sort of football for posh fat lads that can’t run but it ain’t a world cup. Maybe it’s because the underground people are Nazis or something but who really knows? Beer geekery is a question I can have a stab at so I shall and that is the crux of how to become a beer geek. 

Because rule Number 1 is:

Beer is the single most important thing in the world ever.

That’s in a big font because it’s a big rule, what with being rule number 1. Rule number one tends to be the biggest rule in most things that have rules. You’ve heard of the axiom “Life is suffering” right? Well that’s the first noble truth of Buddhism. It’s actually “All existence is dukkha”, but no one knows what dukkha is, even the guy that made the word up,  so it got translated as ‘suffering’, ‘anguish’, ‘pain’, or ‘unsatisfactoriness’.  Them truths are not really rules but kind of sort of rules if you, like me, like to stretch things a bit and think a rule is kind of a law and a law represents some sort of truth. There are by all accounts 4 noble truths. You know what the 4th one is? Nope? Don’t sweat it, neither do I. In fact no one does. Not even Buddhists and they are down with that sort of stuff. You don’t need to know the whole gubbins, just enough to sound clever. So the 1st rule by and large is the only one worth doing.

So how’s this different to how Normals see things? Well, when I was “normal” I used to think the rule was

Beer is like a product you drink and it gets you a bit pissed and makes you go to the toilet.

To make the transition from that to the 1st noble truth of beer geekery is all about understanding that beer is so much more than just a product and is the single most important thing in the world ever.

What else might you initially think are important? Your girlfriend/wife/kids? Your relationships? Your family? Your job? Your friends? Whether your trainers match your jacket? Whether your toilet is clean enough for visitors to pop round? Deleting your browser history before your girlfriend gets back from work and flushing the pile of Kleenex next to the teapot in your home office/ spare room?

Well, you have to accept however important that is, it’s less important than beer. You need to lower the relevance of this and elevate beer.

The type of thing you might look at on the internet when the girlfriend is at work.

Beer is something that should consume every waking moment of your existence and occupy your dreams. What beer are you drinking? What beer is next? Where are you drinking it? What are others drinking? What is the history of beer mats in the 1930s? What is an authentic porter beer? Should you say hello to a pretty lass in a pub if you’re single or enough of a cad to pretend to be and she makes eye contact and smiles and might be up for a bit of how’s your father or should you respect her feminist right to concentrate totally on the beer she is necking and not be bothered brushing you off if she’s not up for it? Do proper pubs have karaoke nights? Is this beer acceptable to the wider community of beer geekery or macro pisswater? What size is the brewery and is the brewer a celebrity like a footballer and its news if they sign for a new team? What weird ingredient makes this beer taste of your dads’ socks? Is pink beer a way to get ladies off the white wine and necking beer? What price is too much for a pint? Is a weak unfunny sexist beer advert just lame banter for insecure men that feel modern society emasculates them and think maybe everyone else has a bigger knob than them (they do, sorry) or is it a vile crime on a par with murder against ladies that like to drink beer and want to be respected for being people that like beer and not sex objects to leer at? What time does the pub open? Should a pub ploughman’s lunch have a pork pie in it? Should cask beer be served with a sparkler? Should people be allowed to drink craft beer if they don’t know who John Kimmich is? When should you stop tweeting about your hangover after a crazy night on the pop and start tweeting photos of your overpriced grog on twitter? Why should everyone in the world care about beer? Is every dish you knock up in your kitchen improved by the addition of beer?

These my friends are the questions. There are more, but let that be your discovery. The answer to these should be your goal. Not mundane stuff like fixing the wobbly curtain rail your girlfriend has been banging on about since Christmas.

Once you re engineer your life to the first noble truth of beer geekery you begin to walk the path towards beer geekery and eventually you, like me, can be a beer geek and talk to other beer geeks in pubs and on twitter and what not.

Now in truth all beer geeks are somewhere on the path, few have obtained total beer nirvana. Even many of the most proficient beer geeks appear to sometimes consider other things, but that’s only because they are still on the path, still on the journey and not yet quite there.

At the beginning of the journey beer may be only one of a number of important things like cultivating an appearance.

Take your modern day craft beer hipster. Obviously getting pissed up on obscure peculiarly tasting grog is pretty important but clearly they also care about their appearance. Not to worry, they are on the journey. Currently they think that spending £200 on a pair of ill-fitting trousers to go with a daft hat is a thing they want to do. Soon they will walk through the local Aldi, beer gut bursting out of them trousers and wearing an unwashed CAMRA festival T shirt and see a pair of cords reduced from £10 to £8 and figure, why not? One day skinny jeans and appearance will not matter, only beer. Then the journey will be nearing completion and beer enlightenment only a fleeting whisper away.

Mudge (left) and Me (right) have progressed on the journey and now beer matters more than appearance and we have not even noticed the beer feminist in the center and not bothered her.

But the journey begins with accepting the first noble truth. Rule 1.

Beer is the single most important thing in the world ever.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Fifth Beatle

The British pub is a rich and diverse place and at its best can include all social classes present in the British Isles. Certainly some are quite narrow in the range of clientele, but of the very finest of establishments you can truly say “All Human Life is here”. In fact in some pubs you can look at the state of the gents and ask “Is all life here human?”

Whilst I rarely drink in pubs due to fear of the types that drink in them, I occasionally lower my standards and step foot in one. Usually when I am not wearing my best clothes as you can never be sure what is stuck to a chair in a pub, but so long as your trousers are machine washable it is often worth the gamble, as you may too, like I did, meet a living breathing member of beer history who will rock your world.

After a policeman rudely moved me from my park bench and confiscated my cider I had cause to visit a hostelry and whilst in there enjoyed what can only be described thus.

Most of the beer blogosphere is familiar with the organization known as CAMRA or The Campaign for Real Ale. It is an independent voluntary consumer organisation, whose aims are promoting real ale, real cider and the traditional British pub. We are all aware this great and noble organisation saved beer as we know it and without them we would all be drinking fermented cold and fizzy horse urine sold as “beer” and not the actual made of some sort of ingredients type of beer we enjoy today. They, quite literally, saved beer. We all think we know the story of the formation of this mighty and proud group in 1971 in Dunquin, Kerry, Ireland by Graham Lees, Bill Mellor, Michael Hardman, and Jim Makin. However this is not true. CAMRA was formed by a gentleman called Norris Shuttlewallop in 1970.

Norris Shuttlewallop

I have read what you have and thought as you did that I knew the story. But a meeting in a pub changed my understanding of the world we live in and now it will change yours.

Upon venturing into a pub and asking for “a pint of your cheapest bitter, unless there is a cheaper lager, then I’ll have that, mate” when a white bearded elderly gentleman sat at the bar stopped reading his book “The Good Beer Guide 1981” and informed me “You don’t want lager, sonny, you want to drink this fine natural real ale, it’s better for you, not that unnatural chemical filth”

“Natural?” I replied “Everything’s natural, pal, as in comes from nature. How else would it appear in the known universe? Even stuff you think is unnatural was processed from something found in nature. And if by processing that makes it unnatural then pretty much everything is unnatural. There’s fuck all that is unnatural pal, unless you happen to be religious and the subject at hand is bumming and not beer, but even then you’d only think it unnatural if you had irrational superstitious beliefs in an almighty creator that didn’t like bumming when if you think about it if you were an almighty creator wouldn’t you have more important things to concern you about the morality of your creation than a bit of bumming? You know, like war and shit or little kiddies dying. I mean, being an almighty creator and creating the whole universe in all its glory and beauty, in all its cruelty and death, in all the hope and fear felt by every living creature and then after all that worrying about bumming? That’s pathetic. If I was God I’d leave the bummers to it and spend my time necking beer and rogering that model, Emily Ratajkowski, she’s a corker and likely be dead impressed that I was God and well up for doing all manner of filth with me and I wouldn’t worry at all about what a few unusually stylish and well groomed men with an interest in soft furnishings consensually do to each other in private”

A tenuous excuse at best to include a picture of a pretty lass.

This is usually enough to scare the pub bore off. Especially if you combine it with a mad unblinking stare of the eye. You have to out nutter the nutter to survive in the jungle of the British pub. It’s pack dominance, like what Gorillas do. You have to be the biggest baddass Gorilla to survive. Or in the case of pubs, the biggest nutter. Not in this case. The man warning me of the perils of lager was made of sterner stuff.

“Lager’s not natural, pal. It’s worse than bumming, not that there’s anything wrong with bumming. I had an Uncle into that. Not that he bummed me, he wasn’t a Gary Glitter. Only that he never married and lived with his Moroccan house boy, Karim, though no one ever talked about it back then. Mum in particular didn’t like to talk about her brothers’ unconventional bachelor existence but he was a generous Uncle at Birthdays and Christmas. He bought me a bicycle and Karim taught me to ride it.  Lager is worse than Hitler, I should say, and Hitler was pretty bad. Pretty much the worse person ever, was Hitler. He did some pretty evil shit. You wanna read this; it’s a CAMRA beer guide. Everything you need to know about beer comes from CAMRA. I should know, I’m a member. The first ever member in fact. I’ve been a member longer than anyone, even that Protz fella” And then he passed his 1981 beer guide to me.

I was intrigued. The first ever member of CAMRA? The man in from the beginning? This was beer history. Living and breathing and in front of my very eyes. The type of person other beer bloggers seek out, interview and write books about. Presented to me on a plate, like there may be a God or something directing our existence. Leading us to where we need to be, to become who we need to become and eventually lead us to the place of our death.

I have to confess I was a sceptic. I replied that he could not be the first ever member as the first 4 members would be the founder members one to four that set it up. The best he could be is number 5. The fifth Beatle.

“Them bunch of bastards” he retorted “They ripped me off. CAMRA was all my idea. I created it. I was living with my Mum back then and had just finished my tea of fish fingers, peas and instant mash potato. I had a slice of Battenberg for afters. It was bath night and I was filling up a tin bath in the living room by the coal fire when it occurred to me. What was needed was a large consumer group to advocate and campaign for better beer in British pubs, which had become by then a much debased and even adulterated product of large scale brewers more concerned with profit than quality beer or the fine traditions of our island nation. When the bath was full, I got in and formulated the plan for what would become the CAMRA we know today. We would need members and membership cards and meetings in pubs and magazines and beer festivals and books about beer. I had it all planned out in my head. I figured out we needed a technical definition of the type of beer we wished to save and that night, in 1970, the campaign for real ale was born including the definition of what real ale was. Years later I discovered some other twats had ripped my idea off, even renaming their campaign for the revitalisation of beer into my campaign for real ale. They asked me not to sue them, claiming they had members and I didn’t and saying my campaign was bollocks because I was the only member and I hadn’t done owt about it anyway. They asked me to join their CAMRA but I only agreed so long as it was technically a merger of the two campaigns. The man at the new members stand at a beer festival said “whatever” and I filled out a form. Years later they have forgot my pioneering work and claim an altogether different story of the campaigns origins. At least they still hate lager, though. I was going to resign in protest but then the Wetherspoons tokens arrived so I thought, what’s the point? 50p off a pint is 50p innit?”

Innit? Innit indeed.

Wow, I thought. The very founder of CAMRA. A full year before the official recorded history. A tale of 2 CAMRAs. Of a merging into 1 CAMRA. Of putting aside ego for the greater good of the cause and working together for better beer. It is amazing what you learn in pubs. To think, had I never gone for a pint I’d still accept the official recorded version and never know the truth. Isn’t it time CAMRA recognised the original pioneer? Norris Shuttlewallop was his name. It is him we should all thank for the beer we enjoy today. 

Please, tonight, raise a glass to old Norris. Founder, pioneer and the first original member of the Campaign for Real Ale. It is he we ought to thank for all we enjoy.