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

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.