Last Updated : 01/11/09
his is the archived stuff from the Gazzateer... if you're here then you're probably lost and should go and read something more interesting immediately.
27/12/08 - My Ideal pub in ten steps...
I recently submitted this list to the Reluctant Scooper's blog and thought that I'd add it here to save it getting lost in the ether. Is this your perfect pub too, or do you like Morris Dancing?
It's near a train station, although not so close that crowds of Tory bastards waiting for the 17:04 to Beigeton-on-ooze infest the place every weekday with loud braying voices, irritating mobile ringtones and leaving discarded copies of the Torygraph littering the place on their departure.
Has it's own micro-brewery which, in addition to a regular bizzarrely over-hopped bitter and "proper" Northern mild (i.e; soft shandy drinking Southerners will proclaim that it's "too dry to be a mild"), will emit a veritable flurry of even more outrageously over-hopped one-off beers, preferably single hop brews in the mould of Pictish. In fact, Richard Sutton would be consultant brewer. And Brendan Dobbin. And Sean Franklin.
The landlord is a cantankerous old git who hates everyone, although respects that his customers must share at least some of his views or they'd never set foot in the place. Rather than being a steretypical Ing-er-Lish racist bigot, however, the landlord will be a raving Socialist and expouse his views loudly and frequently with such eloquence that any Tory bastards will quickly see the error of their ways and become members of the Communist party.
Dogs are banned - filthy, trip-hazard shit machines have no place in a pub. Any dogs present will be tied outside and goaded with fresh meat in order to keep chavs away. Cats, on the other hand, will roam the pub at will.
Plenty of "foreign muck" beers will be avaailble, but not the usual shite list chosen by some numpty; oh no, a list which Bacchus himself would pick if he existed. Which he doesn't, but who said this has to be realistic? So, Bacchus being a scooper (obviously), he'd pick lots of American and Danish hop-monsters and winners from around the globe but, not sticking just to the obvious places, would also import some of Chile and Argentina's superb beers and anyone who mentioned the Falklands would be deported there to see just how shit it allegedly is.
Lashings of Seabrooks and Tyrrells crisps - all flavours to enable scooping - plus German and Czech pub food, hearty and filling, which is what you need whilst drinking. Plus, the landlord would persuade Seabrooks to do him "seasonal specials" to attract crisp scoopers from far and wide.
Live music would be played in a seperate room on occasion and feature alternative punk bands. The pub's jukebox (for I love jukeboxes, particularly ones like that in Bar Fringe) would be stuffed to bursting with punk, ska, black metal and other alternative choons with absolutely no bland crap.
NO FUCKING MORRIS DANCERS.
It will have regulars (for every pub needs non-scoopers, sadly) who accept that beer scooping is a legitimate social activity who don't look like extras from an episode of "Chavtown Britain" or a particularly scummy Jeremy Kyle show.
Finally, it would offer accommodation to those who have scooped enough not to want to go home... and, reading the above, who would possibly ever want to leave? Not me, that's for sure...
23/07/08 - Some things come back and bite you in the arse.
Well, well... some Americans are getting very overheated about the prospective take-over of their beloved Anheuser-Busch by multinational AmBev, mainly the "six-pack" drinkers and rabid nationalists, and somewhat understandably; after all, I bet not a lot of people in the Czech Republic (apart from the accountants and bosses) were pleased when SAB-Miller took over Plzeňský Prazdroj - but now, in a strange twist, even some alleged beer lovers are getting all nostalgic over the loss of yet another "national treasure" in the form of Anheuser-Busch.
Now personally I don't give a toss about AmBev and AB merging as it won't affect the UK or cask ale market over here seeing as neither make any; it's akin to watching two heavyweights slug it out in a ring whilst not caring who comes out victorious. So, I just don't understand why some American beer lovers are getting all agitated about this: or rather I do, and it's not a lot to do with beer and more to do with blind patriotism, xenophobia and ignorance about the whole affair...
America's last massive brewer is being taken over by a foreign company so the locals (especially those who work at AB) are entitled to be a little worried, but some of things I've read have just been unbelievable; "national treasure", "piece of Americana" and, most surreally, "America's soul"... I mean, sorry? This huge company makes unashamedly bland swill for the masses and nothing for the craft beer drinker, so why are beer lovers getting annoyed? As I said, pure xenophobia is to blame with "love of country" over-riding any notion that this Apple-pie eating Uncle Sam loving company makes execrable yellow fluids which are of no interest to beer lovers whatsoever.
In my book you either love capitalism or you dislike it - simple. It's not some cherry-picking exercise where you take the best bits and leave the pips on the plate, it's an all-or-nothing thing and no country goes more for capitalism than America itself, so it seems just so ironic that with the dollar being worth nada these days foreign companies can come along with the benefit of a friendly exchange rate and make offers for whoever they so choose.
Americans loved capitalism when they saw their multinational conglomerates rolling out "freedom" across the world which basically meant buying out anyone who put up a fight in most markets - witness Slovakia's beer scene with almost every big brewer in multinational hands - but don't seem to like being on the receiving end now, so to speak, the boot's on the other foot and their new world order and "free market" is coming back to bite them on the "ass".
You reap what you sow, and in my opinion AB is getting all it deserves from AmBev; the two will make perfect bed fellows in not giving a toss about craft beer and peddling tasteless fizzy swill to the masses, but the one positive thing about the whole sorry affair is that some people may now wake up and see capitalism for what it is - the big becoming bigger at the expense of ordinary people with little or no accountability and control...
It's not all "win-win", the world doesn't work like that, and it stands to reason (and basic physics) that you can't create something from nothing, all you can do is move things around a bit and in this case it's moving everything into one very big basket which will have so much buying (and selling) power only the most principled will be able to resist... and I'm not saying this new mega-company would ever misuse their massive monopoly, obviously not, but just say they did... and InBev does have form on this one when it closed the maltings in Belgium which many micro brewers relied upon...
"For every winner there's a loser in the Western dream" as Justin Sullivan said many years back.
21/04/08 - The taste of beer matters again.
Most people know my opinions on Wetherspoons but, if you don't and have reached this page via some random Google search on beer, then the name McSpoons should sum it all up in a nutshell for you. However, I am beginning to revise my opinion of this much maligned company in a small way, as they seem to have realised that operating huge drinking barns with less than the minimum staff required on duty where youngsters are encouraged to get lashed up on industrial alcohol mixed with lurid artificial colourings to the detriment of society in general isn't the way forwards in these socially aware times and, bit by bit, are making amends for years of cask ale indifference by upgrading their beer list and improving the training of staff.
There's quite a way to go yet - and judging by some of their "pubs" there's a long way to go - but at least they are making an effort in the right direction and this should be applauded; after all I've been all too quick to jump on their back the last few years so it's only fair that I should commend them when signs of a cask ale recovery in their outlets is obvious. I've already written about their recent beer festival which included the excellent Shepherd Neame-brewed Stone IIPA but I feel I should point out something else about this beer, the fact that it's got scoopers talking about the taste of beer again rather than how many tens of thousands of ticks some new face claims to have had.
Scoopgen has been full of discussion, argument and ranting recently regarding the Stone IIPA and how balanced, drinkable or otherwise it was against some other UK-brewed hop monsters and this is just what I want to see happen - scoopers are all too often regarded by CAMRA and other beer "experts" (such as many bloggers, but we all know what experts most of them are) as sad anorak-clad low-lifes whose only care about beer is where the next scoop is coming from (an unwashed panda-pop bottle if you believe the stories) and the actual taste of the stuff be damned. I concede that there are quite a few scoopers who fit into this lamentable category (no names...) but the discussion about Sheps' Stone beer have been like a breath of fresh air blasting through the scooping scene and seem to have caused many people to re-examine what they drink beer for - is it all about the numbers or is there something else?
Now I'm not saying that because of one very hoppy beer all scoopers will suddenly have a road to Damascus moment and begin holding their panda-pop bottles up to the light and sipping from branded Belgian glassware whilst delving deep into each tick's multi-layered taste experience whilst muttering about passion fruits, guavas and high-end citrus... no, sadly not. However, the amount of interest shown to this admittedly very non-UK style beer has been both impressive and encouraging in equal measures and has given me new belief that we're not all a bunch of sad trainspotters with social interaction issues and bad hygiene - okay so we all know some in our midst who would fit into such a category but, by and large, it seems as if scoopers are slowly realising that the beer they scoop is more than just another notch on the proverbial bedstead and is worthy of closer evaluation... long may this continue, and it's with thanks to Wetherspoons that I say this!
10/02/08 - The tide is turning.
Sometimes it seems as if all I ever go on about these days is great beer abroad, but I've had such good beer all over the place recently as to give me great hope that the tide has turned in favour of the small producers, those who make the proper, artesanal or craft products, in favour of the industrial dross foisted upon the world by uncaring capitalist multinationals in the last 50 years or so.
Now I'm not saying the battle is won - far from it - as there are still many people for whom the quality of a beer is in direct proportion to the size of the glass. No, I'm not saying we've won and everything is great, but it does seem from my travels around Europe (and, indeed, other parts of the world) that more and more people are waking up from their complacent attitude of "well, that's what the TV tells me to buy so it must be good" and are becoming more and more concerned about where their food comes from, what's in it, and who provides it to them. (A prime example of this is the LocAle scheme run by Nottingham CAMRA, see here for details).
I'm talking in a beer context about the world's micro-brewers, those run - generally - as small companies which - again, generally - make a product with care, with wholesome, natural ingredients and make it locally to where it's sold. There are many things to like about this approach; obviously the reduction in carbon emissions in keeping products local, then there's the supporting of local economies rather than sending money off to some other city (or probably country or even continent) by buying from multinationals, and then there's the health implications of consuming something that's made from natural ingredients and not containing something synthetic/genetically modified/untested which may just come back to bite us in the arse years later such as Tartrazine...
We in the UK often lag behind other countries in caring about such healthy and ethical matters but, even here, it seems as if the interest in farmer's markets and what's in our food - thanks to people such as Jamie Oliver with his "turkey twizzler" revelations - is slowly gathering momentum and the country as a whole is now moving towards rejection of "fast food" and other crap foisted upon us by the capitalist machine and embracing local, nutritious, hand-made products. This can only increase the sales and appreciation of traditional beer but, even better, may result in the collapse of many of the bloated corporations which have peddled their crap at the expense of our health and wealth for so long; here's hoping.
What goes around comes back three times as strong, as Pagans say...
23/12/07 - "Once-a-year drinkers".
What does he mean by that, I hear you cry - it makes no sense! Well, if you've been anywhere near a pub in the last few weeks, especially in London, then you'll know what I mean... that's if you could get near the pub in the first place owing to hordes of xmas hat and/or reindeer antler-adorned wankers blocking up the doorways, fire exits and the pavement outside. If, by some miracle of slipperyness, you managed to weave your way through the forced joviality of these fine examples of society then you'd have faced another test at the bar; penny to a pound it would be five-deep in braying city types screeching "What was that, Tarquin, a pimms?" or "What do you mean you don't do cocktails?" all at once despite being three back in the queue.
If you finally managed - by deft use of the elbow - to reach the bar then you'd still be in for a long wait owing to yet more Tarquins reeling off lengthy lists of improbable drinks to a barman more used to serving pints of bitter or, at a push, a vodka and coke, whereupon off he'd go for half an hour looking for the dusty bottle of Midori which is used once a year for some tipsy secretary. So, after about an hour running the gauntlet of avoiding wildly gesticulating arms, sloshing beer, piercing shrieks (that's just the men) and rampant body odour, you finally get your two halves of scoops and then have to re-run the entire pantomime to get back out to a safe drinking distance of the bar... for ten minutes, then it's time to do it all again.
Xmas drinkers, eh? Do us all a favour and get on down to Tesco, buy some cheap piss, drink it at home and leave the pubs to those of us who appreciate and respect them plus, more importantly, know our sensible drinking limits. Being loud, annoying and ignorant isn't generally accepted as a good way to make friends and influence people; for that, why don't you try dousing yourselves with methylated spirits and then playing with matches? Go on, you know it makes sense... please...
18/09/07 - The beer that redefines a nation.
It's not often that I have a life-changing moment... it happened once in the Crown in Stockport with my first ever taste of Dobbin's Green Bullet, when I realised that hops didn't have to taste as bland as those in 99.9% of UK beers did back then, but these moments are pretty few and far between.
Imagine, then, my amazement last weekend in Cork when I sampled a brew from a fairly new micro brewer which basically redefined what I thought Irish brewers could do with hops. Galway Hooker aren't what you'd expect from an Irish brewer as they make one beer and it's not a stout but - their words - an "Irish Pale Ale". My experience of beers from the Emerald Isle have been limited to around 80 thus far but this particular beer was simply the best Irish beer I've ever had - and yes, I did have a lot of the excellent Dwan brews!
I'd class it an American Pale Ale personally, but however you pigeonhole it just get yourself over there and try it! It's a deep golden brew with a fresh, hoppy, piney, almost Turkish Delight hop aroma which I've recently enjoyed in beers from the USA (Great Divide), Denmark (Ølfabrikken) and the UK (Moor), followed by an excellently complex bitter, hoppy, resinous flavour with more piney, oily hop character and then a citrussy, hoppy, well-balanced yet bitter finish which is both bitter and malty with a very moreish character... we had six pints of it over the two days (plus a similar number of the delicious Carlow Stout) and the landlord of the Bierhaus in Cork (the best beer pub in the city by miles) seemed genuinely pleased we were enjoying this excellent brew.
My biggest fear is that I'm not quite sure of the beer's target audience; there aren't a lot of pale ales in Ireland (Bass being the most widely seen) and therefore not a huge amount of prospective drinkers. The Irish aren't known for their adventurous nature in searching out microbrewed beer - witness the low number of brewers despite a new "sliding scale" tax system - and I'm a touch concerned that this superb example of hoppy sublimity will simply fall between the two stools of stout drinkers and lager drinkers therefore vanishing without trace.
Hopefully this won't happen, and a positive sign is the growing number of outlets for the beer in both it's native Galway and now elsewhere in Ireland including, amazingly, an outlet in that notoriously crap beer city of Dublin! So, here's a big Scoopergen cheers to Galway Hooker and their single excellent brew, and I sincerely hope it's a big success in it's native land... but, just in case, how about sending some over the sea to us? I'm sure we could force a couple down!
Galway Hooker brewery are on the web here, the Bierhaus in Cork here...
31/08/07 - Not a good year for beer writers, then...
Bloody hell, who's next? I'm already checking myself intimately just in case my number's up... but seriously, the loss of Michael Jackson is a huge blow to the beer lovers of the world. I bet you thought you'd never hear me say that, that I'd hate him for being establishment or something, eh? Well, not really... I had a lot of respect for his pioneering work in the 80's and early 90's in bringing the subject of beer to ordinary people's attention and so here's a few thoughts on the passing of the original beer hunter...
Regardless of whether or not you agree with his work - and I
didn't agree with a lot of his recent stuff at all - Michael was a huge
influence on modern beer culture and it was through his 1991 TV series "The Beer
Hunter" that I learned people in other countries could brew beer equally as well
- and sometimes better - than we did in the UK. This information helped
turn my Inter-rail around Europe into more of a beery trip than I thought
possible and helped to stoke the flames of my youthful love of beer into the
raging furnace it's become today!
In particular I remember the programme on Lambic beer and being utterly transfixed by images of cobweb-strewn wooden casks and coolships which seemingly broke every rule of beer hygiene... when I eventually tasted real Lambic it was a revelation, and it was thanks to Michael that I didn't spit it out but knew it was supposed to taste like that and appreciated what the brewer was trying to achieve with this fluid which tasted nothing like any beer I'd ever tasted before - and since.
He was the first person to really look at the world beer scene and define arbitrary categories and styles of beer - and remember that back in the 1980's there were few arguments about whether something was an IPA or simply a pale ale as, in the main, people just didn't think about beer as belonging to a style - it was just beer. Okay, so maybe some of his styles were a touch vague and maybe even questionable (Red Ale, Scottish Ale), but the main thing is that he was the first to stick his neck out and classify beer styles in a way 99% of beer drinkers had never even considered, and for this one act of making sense of much of the world's beer he deserves our unending respect and appreciation no matter what you think of his opinions on beer.
So RIP Michael, but rest assured you made a huge contribution to the world of beer; I don't know what situation we'd be in now if you had never existed, but I'm pretty certain the beer lover's lot would be a lot less interesting than it is now.
13/08/07 - I Love Fridges…
I’ve never really been a great fan of fridges. I know that people a few hundred years ago would have killed for one (although it would have done them no good, what with no mains to plug it into) and they keep our food safe for consumption and all that, but they’re just not very interesting, right? Even when I open our home fridge and it’s stuffed with goodies from the local shops (not crap slapstick 70’s “comedians” before you jump to conclusions) it’s still never a moment I wish to preserve for posterity. No, fridges are generally boring – even pastel pink ones named after a made-up swear word in Red Dwarf.
There is one fridge, however, into which I peer as often as possible with baited breath in hope that something rare and scoopable will be in there… I can do this without opening the door as, magically, the door is fabricated from glass which enables me to gaze reverently inside without letting all the cold air out and risking the wrath of the staff - whereupon lies the clue as to the location (and, by association, contents) of this wonderful piece of white goods…
The fridge in question, this one fridge that’s contents interest me every time I look into it’s chilly depths, is located behind the bar in Chapter, Cardiff, and is unerringly stuffed full of chilled bottles of German scoops… it’s always slightly exciting (not in a sexual way, honest) to arrive at Chapter and, standing in the bar entranceway, crane my neck to see what new brews have been secreted inside this bountiful appliance; the beauty of it’s contents is that they vary considerably and, whilst they’re generally from Franconia and around, you never really know what’s going to be in there.
I know I’ve said that German beers can be bland and not particularly interesting and I still stand by that, but having a good plateful of Welsh steak followed by a couple of the best beers Germany has to offer – Franconian kellerbiers and the like – is still about the best you’re going to get here in the UK and I highly recommend anyone with a liking for German beer to go and have a glance into the white goods at the end of Chapter’s bar where, I can almost guarantee, you’ll find something either scoopable (if you scoop) or at the very least interesting (if you don’t).
14/07/07 - Ever get the feeling you're not part of society?
I'm sure most of you never have (!) but on Thursday evening I happened to be in McSpoons with the esteemed webmaster of Quaffale (not that I'm namedropping here, but I was) and I took a look around; the pub - if it can be termed thus and not simply an alcohol sales point - was full to bursting with scantily-clad youngsters (and some not-so-young) whose evening out seemed to consist of swilling down fizzy crud and/or lurid bottles whilst shrieking (women) and/or shouting (men) and generally being brainless cannon-fodder who will do and buy anything they're told by the media/government/pub/Tescos. Both Rick and myself looked around at this bellowing mass of people and felt distinctly out of place with society.
Is this a bad thing? Answers on an email please...
01/07/07 - No-smoking day and Scoopergen selling out to the corporate machine.
First up, today is the first day I'll be able to visit a pub in England without being poisoned by noxious gas from someone who thinks it's their "human rights" to be able to do so; so that's Hitler off the hook with his zyclon-B, then. Anyhow, it's only half ten in the morning so when I've been to the pub later I might update this with my findings. On the other hand, I might not bother for a couple of months - running a blog isn't my strong point as you may have noticed.
Some people may have wondered what all this "beer ring" gibbering on the front page is about. Well, basically I have followed the illustrious path of New Model Army, the Smiths etc by selling my soul to the capitalist machine in exchange for riches beyond my wildest dreams... well, that's not strictly true, but it's basically a "webring" (read collection) of websites with a loose beer connection. I'm going to see if it's worth being a member and if not I'll zap that admittedly unsightly crap from the title page. So now you know; business as normal.
Just back from the Bell in St Johns, Worcester, and very surprised I am too. It's a fairly traditional local's pub with a high percentage of smokers so I wasn't sure how the ban would go down and expected to walk in to the sight of tumbleweed and sound of a chiming bell... how wrong I was! The pub was well filled and - amazingly - everyone was respecting my right not to be poisoned by their cancerous smoke! Smokers simply went outside to indulge in their filthy habit and left me to breathe clean(ish) air in peace. I never expected it to be as easy as this... and, by the way, the 3 pints of Malvern Hills Swedish Nightingale went down very well!
06/05/07 - Pub problems.
Pubs face a variety of problems these days, from less drinking in the on-trade as supermarkets tempt the less fussy with beer at ridiculously cheap prices to changing social habits as youngsters shift from pubs to club and home drinking. A few thoughts about this are here…
"Venue" pubs are heaving on Friday/Saturday nights with bright young things (and other low-lifes) drinking the latest chemical fluid with ice in it. The rest of the week they're dead - that's why they charge extortionate prices, to compensate for the two evenings of good trade they get. Their main problem is that they are so geared to one set of customers (aforementioned boneheads who drink what they're told) that no "ordinary" customer - read real ale drinker, ordinary passer-by, scooper, whatever - would ever think about setting foot in the place. They've become far too focussed on one type of customer that they've alienated themselves from the far larger proportion of the population who don't fit their demographic cut-off.
Wetherspoons seem to be doing OK, as they attract everyone from tramps who want the cheapest beer possible to beer scoopers who want new beers and most sets of people in between; they even sell all the chemical dross the boneheads from down the road in McNeills want so they can always pop into Wetherspoons and save a quid or two on each drink if they so choose. Wetherspoons are more like old locals' pubs in this respect than most of the remaining locals’ pubs in that they appeal to most sectors of the community and, whilst not doing anything particularly well, do things well enough to please most of the people most of the time.
The old-fashioned traditional local pubs are in between a rock and a hard place; they see their core trade dwindling away as locals either die or can't afford to drink there anymore (the smoking ban will potentially take a further large chunk away) and they aren't seen as "trendy" enough for the boneheads at McNeills to pop in for a few pints of weak industrial cider-ade with ice in. I reckon most local's pubs will either close or change dramatically in the next five years.
"Food" pubs will probably be OK as with the advent of non-smoking more of those with higher disposable income may be tempted back to the "pub" (although most of us wouldn't recognise these places as pubs) and save the places from the loss of most of their locals who presently cram into a totally inappropriate space masquerading as a bar area whilst acres of tables with nicely folded napkins stand idle around them. Their problem is that they are primarily there for either McScum-style microwaved junk or overpriced poncy “jus and glaze” offerings and therefore offer little to the locals whose pub has been destroyed; these locals generally can’t (or won’t) drink in the food pub as they just don’t feel comfortable drinking in a restaurant and they usually aren’t welcome either.
It’s a sad thing to say, but unless taxes on drinks fall (no chance of that!) or there’s a seismic shift in drinking attitudes then I can see a lot of pubs going out of business within the next five to ten years, including some of our favourites – land prices are at an all-time high and, sadly, some pubs are worth more as land/buildings than they are as pubs these days.
11/03/07 - Credit where credit's due.
Now I know I'm often seen as the archetypal "grumpy old man" (and, for those in the know, the grumpy bit is very appropriate!) but I'm not above dishing out credit rather than brickbats when the situation demands it, so listen up whilst I recount a tale of a pub back from the dead.
This occasion was last Friday night when, on our way to an Oysterband gig in Worcester, we popped into our usual port of call in the city centre, the excellent Plough pub on Deansway. This pub has led a chequered existence of late; it was run by a strange geezer who opened when he felt like it and seemed to encourage strange characters into the place but, as he served some decent beer, we used to occasionally get in there (when we could get past the ever-locked door). The owner then kicked him out and closed the pub, hoping to sell the building - but not as a pub, as offices for a nearby solicitor's firm.
Step forwards the local CAMRA branch who orchestrated a great campaign (see? it can be done!) which saved the pub from being turned into an office despite the solicitors claiming it had no future and was just one of many pubs in the centre serving a range of real ales... would you employ them? I bloody wouldn't!!! Happily the council saw sense and refused the change of use; I don't know the exact details but must admit to being sceptical at first that the new landlord wasn't experienced in the trade, almost as if the pub was being primed to fail just so the solicitors could get in their "told you so" speech.
Not so; In the last year the pub has gone from a strange place which never opened to a bright, fresh pub with up to six real ales, great food, and a mix of customers enjoying what must be the last proper locals' pub in the city centre. No tacky promotions are needed, just good beer and a friendly atmosphere, and this recipe seems to be paying off big-style.
So, going back to my original point, we were pleased when we entered the pub to find the local CAMRA branch presenting the landlord with his well-deserved "pub of the year" award. The Plough, in my opinion, is the best pub in the city and deserves to succeed, so credit where credit's due to CAMRA for saving this gem for us and here's to many more years of excellent local real ales in the Plough.
03/02/07 - Serve yourself!
I attended the excellent Royal Oak at Bath's festival last night and, as well as scooping ten beers during a most pleasant evening, I also experienced my first taste of bar work for what must be three years! Four beers were up on a stillage alongside the bar and, when I asked for the Triple fff scoop lurking there, I was handed a glass and it was indicated that I should just help myself!
Not being averse to a spot of manual labour I did so (I've worked at more festivals than I care to recollect...) but it was one of those moments that brings it all back and, for a second, I almost wished I still offered my services at CAMRA's events... I then remembered that I'm not in CAMRA anymore and then recalled the tired feet, beer everywhere, tosser bar managers, normals wanting "the strongest beer"... no thanks, I've done my time, and in future my pouring of beer shall only be done on a request basis for personal consumption!
11/11/06 - Nice day for it...
The other day, quite innocently, I happened to be walking past our Lloyds No.1 McSpoons in Worcester - and, before anyone says anything about hypocrisy or suchlike, let me plead that it's on the way into town from our house and it's not as full of baying council tenants as the proper McSpoons - and noticed a strange sign outside. Upon reading it, I came to the conclusion that McSpoons - and, presumably, the world - had gone mad; totally, barking, howling at the moon type mad.
The sign informed me that the pub was closed for 5 days (yes, 5 whole days!) to allow installation of "super-cold dispense equipment" to permit the pub to serve freezing cold beverages to those who presumably consider the more frigid the temperature of a drink a better indication of it's quality than the actual flavour or ingredients. At the time, I was attired in a coat, fleece and hat as the temperature had plummeted to around freezing and so, there McSpoons were, introducing slush-puppy type beer just as winter was arriving with a vengeance! Mad, I tell you...
The sad thing is, the brain-dead clones with their "branded" clothing who frequent such a place will almost certainly wonder how they ever lived without their lips being fused to their drinking vessels and tastebuds numbed to inaction on every mouthful, and cheerfully order their pints of "extra-cold" Stella whilst outside a raging blizzard heaps snow 6 feet up the walls and a glacier makes it's regal progress along the road... sorry, maybe that last bit was a little fatuous, but do you get my point?
1) Why does anyone need "super-cold" dispense? Is it a clever ploy by the makers of such rancid beverages served thus to allow them to make them even more bland, saving more money on ingredients, as the tastebuds of the drinkers will have been disabled by the cold anyhow?
2) Why is this dispense being installed at the onset of winter? Maybe summer, with it's thirst-inducing weather, would have been a better time?
3) Why are "normals" so stupid that they willingly, without question or thought, accept these ridiculous happenings? Does no-one think, "Now hang on a minute, it's -5°C outside and the beer is 2°C, so surely I should be drinking something warming such as a winter warmer or whisky"? Do they bollocks; if people are so stupid that they drink crappy cider-ade with ice just because it's "trendy" or "the thing to do", then the next thing you know they'll be throwing themselves off cliffs just because the advert said to do it.
4) Is it just me, or is the world going mad? Or McSpoons are, at least...
10/09/06 - Scooping and unsociability.
Is it only me (and Sue) who's noticed that, nowadays, if you were to go to a beer festival on anything other than the first (or maybe second) day then there wouldn't be the traditional crowd of scoopers there, as it always used to be, as these days everyone is too bloody desperate and would have been the first day, bottled up, and vanished?
It's OK being desperate and getting as many beers in as you can - I've done it myself, I should know - but the only scoopers who seem to be sociable these days are the "old school" - what's left of them! Most others are just into heads-down serious scooping and don't have any time for anything other than drinking; what about the sociability side of the hobby, guys? I don't want to sound like some other ex-scoopers who, having given up, simply slag off the hobby wholesale but I do feel that the sociability is going out of scooping in the name of desperation!
So come on, let's have some more old-style ranting and having a laugh instead of trying to score everything under the sun - let's face it, you'll never do it, so why not accept that and have a laugh as well as some winners?
On a different note, Tamworth was good as usual and it was only our 4th festival of the year - one of our "five a year" the Government keep telling us about - the other four we attend being Manc winter ales, Reading, Worcester and Nottingham. See some of you at Notts on the Saturday then - as long as you're not all off bottling another ruck of Archer's beers somewhere else having cleared Nottingham days before?
08/07/06 - The rebirth of the holy one?
Googling for some info on the superb drinking city of Köln today, I stumbled upon some amazing news... the classic little bar "Lommerzheim" which closed at the end of 2004 with the sad passing of Herr Lommerzheim ("Lommi") may be about to reopen under the ownership of the brewery who supplied him with beer; Päffgen. Without doubt the best - and most traditional - brewer of Kölsch left in the city, this is great news for anyone who enjoys drinking classic beer in a classic pub and, believe me, this place was a classic of worldly status.
The Lommerzheim wasn't what you'd have called a scooping bar - they only served one beer - but it was as if it had been freeze-framed from 1945 and it's crumbling facade gave way to a totally unspoilt and welcoming interior presided over by the imposing figure of Lommi. I've travelled to quite a few countries and have experienced the odd few pubs but can honestly say that my one and only time in the Lommerzheim was one of the experiences of my drinking career; we sat at a table with two Italians pensioners who had "come there during the war and decided to stay" and somehow managed to converse in a mixture of German, Italian and English to a basic level.
Everyone in the bar was enjoying themselves and you could feel the contentedness of the clientele billowing out into the street. Lommi walked round with glasses of Kölsch, replacing any which were empty, and didn't raise an eyebrow when I asked him for two pork chops to go with our beer; I didn't expect these to be the size they were and to complement the beer so well; yet again Germany strikes with the best pub food in the world! If there were a pub-grub world cup, Germany would win it every year and England would struggle to qualify... yes, it's that good over there!
I sincerely hope this report is true - OK, so it will never be the same without Herr Lommerzheim, but at least this classic drinker's pub will be preserved for other fans of beer to visit and experience it's timeless, quiet history. It just goes to show that sometimes things do happen which are a step in the right direction, that it's not all gloom in the world of global megacorps beerland, that maybe the ordinary customer might still have somewhere to call his local.
Here's hoping, and RIP Lommi, may your life's work once again bring happiness to many ordinary drinkers.
25/06/06 - Someone's moved the Garland!!!
I was working away again last week, this time in the rancid-sounding Southern town of Dorking (which is actually quite "nice" in a southern-Tory kind of way) so I had the opportunity to visit the Beer Circus in Croydon again - hopefully it won't close or change, but if it does then at least I visited twice!
I had time for a quick Highgate England's Glory (4.3%) in the hostelry next to the station and wished I hadn't bothered - typical Highgate shite made worse by poor turnover in a lager-lout pub. I decided that something to take the taste away was required so, having to change trains at Redhill, I resolved that a visit to the Harvey's pub - the Garland - was required to fulfill the said requirement.
It's been a few years since I was last in the Garland, I think it was around 1994 or 1995 give or take a year, but I was confident that it was right outside the station - imagine my surprise when I strolled out of the station in a confident manner and saw some Ing-er-land flag-covered pub (Our country's name seems to have three syllables when football is on) where I thought the Garland was! After a quick wander around I decided I hadn't got a clue as to it's location so asked a likely-looking local who easily pointed me in it's direction! Even when I'd walked there I could have sworn someone has moved the place - I'm still sure it used to be outside the station - but I soon forgot my geographical shortcomings and scooped a couple of beers plus I sampled an old favourite which isn't any more!
Personally, I think Harveys must either use wood somewhere in the brewing process or their yeast must be infected with brettanomyces as I can detect a musty, woody, brett taste in all their beers to a greater or lesser degree; for the prime expression try the bottled IRS! It seems to work in some of the beers, especially the hoppy ones where it adds some interest, but IMO thin beers like the mild just can't stand up to it and end up tasting like some musty old homebrew from the "olden days" of brewing, and I don't mean this as a compliment either!
All said and done I had an enjoyable 45 minutes in the Garland, despite the fact someone's moved it 500 metres from where it used to be, and if I'm ever in Dorking again then - in best California Governor style - I'll be back! (The beer circus was good too!)
14/05/06 - Topsham travels.
It's not often I find a new place which I immediately like and, as a bonus, has a great little pub crawl on offer but during my week's work away in Devon I found such a place - Topsham. Only 15 minutes on the half-hourly train from Exeter this pretty little village is situated on the Exe river and is home to an amazing (for it's size) 10 pubs, all of which sell real ale of one sort or another; the worst selection was either the Lighter Inn with it's Badger beers or the Steam Packet with Bass and 6X whilst the best was certainly the Exeter Inn with two Teignworthy and one from Gargoyle of Dawlish - all guest beers - with the Globe coming close behind with six beers including Sharp's Eden, Butcome and St Austell Dartmoor best.
There is also a superb little wine shop on the corner of High St and Follett road which has loads of rare wines (including a superb sweet white selection) and boxes of Rodenbach Flemish red beer amongst various local brews - well worth a visit.
One pleasing thing about my jaunt around the pubs was seeing that Otter ale or bitter seems to be the default choice for any pub not knowing what to sell; the Lord Nelson, Drakes and Salutation only had Otter beer for sale whilst the Passage house had regional dross plus otter on gravity dispense! Denley's had Branscombe Vale Branoc and Summer'that whilst the Bridge had it's usual range of brews including O'Hanlons porter and yellowhammer, Exe Valley Spring, Otter head and Teignworthy Pippa's pint.
The report will hopefully be here soon... work dependent, of course!!!
10/04/06 - Cardiff again!
Another evening in Cardiff courtesy of work and, with Uncle Knobby unavailable due to excessive drinking at some CAMRA event, it was me and my shadow who took a quick look into a few central bars hoping to see the new SA Gold... no chance, only the usual stuff around so a quick half of Dark in the Cottage (decent enough) before a visit to the superb Glamorgan staff social club. This place is totally absurd - no entry requirements and four cask ales at the cheapest prices in town! (usually £1.60). I scooped Vale of Glamorgan Special (4.8%, deep brown, chocolatey beer) and had a pint of Bullmastiff Spring fever for old times' sake - I'd not tried it since 1997! It was, in the usual Bullmastiff manner, quite dry and hoppy with a pear-drop fruitiness.
Next was the pretty good McSpoons next door where Rhymney export was samples (5%, sociable fruity brew) and Brecknock Best (4.5%, amber, sweetish and malty) as well as an Aberdeen Angus pie to bolster my strength for the beers yet to come. After a ten-minute walk along Cowbridge road I reached my destination - Chapter bar at the arts centre in Canton. This place has a growing reputation for it's four real ales and fridge full of German beers (unfortunately mainly Weiss, but there are some others) and, with little other choice in town, it was this or an early night in the Holiday Inn!
A quick half of Cwmbran Nut-Brown (4.5%, amber, toasty, caramelly and tarry) before the main event was tucked into; Freising Huber Weiss (5.4%, sweetish bubblegum and bready flavours) was the first scoop followed by Greif Capitulaire (5.5%, copper brown and treacly with some maltiness) and finally Göller Dunkel (5.2%, good sweetish, sociable and toffeeish dark brown beer) before I decided that was enough and headed back to the hotel.
On the way back, I passed four curry houses and tried to blag a Nargis Kebab but at each one I was turned away with the response "Sorry, we don't do them!". One take-away said he would have done me one but had no eggs ready! Finally, I entered the place which had done me one the time before (Eurasian Tandoori) and was greeted by the bloke from last time who immediately said "Nargis? I'll tell chef to get the egg on...". Result.
21/03/06 - We're out there!
I was checking Scoopergen the other day, which I do regularly (to make sure the changes I make actually work in a live environment!) when I accidentally typed "scoopergen" into a Micro$oft search engine rather than into the address bar, and got a load of hits which ranged from the expected (the home page gets top billing - result!) through the expected (links from other beer pages) to the downright bizarre!
The two most bizarre were;
The Australian Homebrewer's discussion board - Someone on there seems to have discovered Scoopergen somehow and posted the address which solicited a lot of the usual replies you get in these circumstances about us all drinking warm vinegar from pop bottles or the dregs of casks, although my favourite quote was from the guy who said he'd be a scooper but he'd lose the bits of paper! Anyway, it's here if you want a look...
Netley Abbey Tartan Army - This excellent website seems to be run by a Scotsman living in the South of England who loves football - but drinks decent beer whilst following his preferred team around! What an amazing concept; maybe it will catch on? Anyway, we got a namecheck on the "Beer Travels" bit and a star too - "Invaluable source of info on foreign brew-pubs" indeed... I'll be joining the Guild of British Beer Writers next...
And, to crown everything, Scoopergen has been categorised as "Society/Lifestyle" by Trend antivirus for the purposes of page content filtering; now we've really arrived in the mainstream, being classified as "Society/Lifestyle"! Can it get any better, I ask myself?
12/11/05 - Classic Mild in a classic pub.
Now I know a lot of you will think this is a wind-up, but no it's not! I was working in Cardiff the other night and arranged a stop-over (as you do) in order to avail myself of the beers on offer. Having been a student in South Wales around 12 years ago I knew most of the pubs well - but, it seems, much has changed since I was last there!
I walked down St Mary's street, happy that the Welsh weather hadn't let me down and, as expected, the fine drizzle I call "Valleys rain" was coming down in the usual fashion - Valleys rain permeates any known material; if you had a Gore-Tex jacket and coated it with silicon and then candle wax it'd still get through so you might as well accept you're going to get piss-wet through and get on with it. I did.
Anyhow, I eventually reached the old Brains brewery - and looked on in amazement. The old chimney was still there but the area has been turned into a "Hard Rock cafe" and restaurant ghetto full of trendy-looking eateries. I know Brains wanted to sell and all that but this is just commercial murder of the heritage of the buildings; you'd never guess it had been a brewery if you didn't know (or read the names) such has been the wanton destruction. I wandered along Caroline street and was glad to see it still maintains it's record for the most chippies and kebab houses per square metre in the UK, although it's seediness seems to have been airbrushed away by the developments over the road. Tony's chippy still stands, however, where I've seen the server unable to physically stick the fork into the chips and give up, handing fork and chips to Fletch as if it were normal!
I popped into the Duke of Wellington - or rather "Wellingtons" as it's called nowadays. It's still a fine Victorian brick building but inside it's all "cafe bar" and on the bar, alongside the handpumps of Bitter, SA and Bread of Heaven, was a tall keg font for "Brains smoothflow extra-cold". What the fuck is this all about then ?!?? Talk about giving in to short-term trends, or what? Extra-cold my arse - wait till it's 10 below freezing and let's see all these brand-name wearing nonces drink the stuff then! I still can't believe it...!
I was planning to visit the Albert, the old Brains brewery tap, but that too had been changed out of all recognition - it's been renamed and the old cosy dark wood interior ripped out in the name of stainless steel and aluminium. I walked on. The Old Cottage was always a bit of a strange place, but now it's a totally non-smoking bar with a good atmosphere and some decent beer; I even scooped a Brains beer, WRU 125th anniversary, in there! My last stop before meeting up with Brian Francis and Janet for a spin around the local free houses would be the Old Arcade and I was a bit worried - I used to drink a lot in there and it was always a boisterous, sociable and... well... a drinker's pub; would it have survived the mass gentrification which has afflicted most of the other of my old haunts?
Happily not that much has changed. OK, there are new chairs and they now serve food (which was pretty good) and I suppose it's a bit less riotous than it used to be, although that could be because it was a Thursday night! I ordered a pint of my old favourite, Brains Dark, more out of hope than anything - I used to drink gallons of the stuff and it had always required very special looking after to coax it into it's sublime best shape; would that care still exist in the consumerist world of modern Cardiff? Thankfully it does and the Dark was superb; rich, chocolatey (it tastes like chewing a cocoa bean rather than a bar of chocolate) and mellow with the distinctive Brains orchard fruitiness and an increasing bitterness in the rich malty finish. It was so good I had another pint... and a half... until I had to tear myself away for some scoops, happy in the knowledge that a classic dark mild still exists and, more importantly, there are still those who have the time to invest in coaxing it into a memorable drinking experience.
Smooth extra-cold.... NO NEED!
The classic dark mild.
26/12/05 - My local.
What's this, you say, Gazza goes down to his local? That's not very "militant" or "hard-core" now, is it?
Well, no, but let me say in my defence that the Bell in St Johns, Worcester (badged as an M&B house) is the sort of pub I want for a local. It's got small rooms apart from the main bar, it's only a five-minute walk from the house, it's full of good-natured locals but, most importantly, it sells superbly-kept cask ale.
Four beers are available - Brains Brew XI (surreally, on keg and cask!), London Pride (which doesn't seem to sell that well) and two guest beers which are usually from local micros such as St Georges or Cannon Royal but have recently been brews such as Northern Soul Rider, Oakham JHB, Salopian Hop Devil, Woods Wondeful, Holden's Bitter, Cotleigh Golden Eagle and Osset Nervous Turkey! The house policy seems to be "pale and hoppy" so we're still waiting for the Roosters and Red Lion...!
It still seems a bit strange to be able to walk to my local - for a number of years, the pub I frequented the most was the Cask & Cutler - but as long as they serve pale, hoppy beer kept in excellent condition (and £1.70 a pint on Friday night) then that's where you'll find me when I fancy a pint in Worcester; the Cannon Royal Rudolph's Return was sublime on Xmas eve! Cheers!
06/09/05 - What's in a word?
Whilst bored at work the other week I was exploring on-line dictionaries. This may seem a pretty pointless waste of time, but the alternative was work which is even worse. I seemed to be regressing back to childhood - you know, the time of life when you look up swear words in dictionaries and laugh hysterically that "Arse" is in there. This time, however, I was looking up scooping references and my findings are all here, all from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
The only reference to "scooper" I could find was one for pooper scooper -
scooper (pooper) noun [C]
(ALSO poop scoop) INFORMAL
a tool like a small spade, used for picking up and taking away dog excrement from public places
I then looked up "gen" and found the following -
gen noun [U] UK OLD-FASHIONED
information about a particular subject:
So who's going to give me the gen on what's been happening while I've been away?
gen up phrasal verb UK OLD-FASHIONED
to find out as much information as possible.
So, tying the two together, we have -
Scoopergen - an old-fashioned informal tool to shovel shit in public.
Makes sense, eh? Sorry for all this
gibbering, but I was trying to write a soapbox and this was the best way to get
the creative juices flowing... honestly! Speaking of gibbering -
gibber verb [I] MAINLY DISAPPROVING
to speak quickly in a way that cannot be understood, usually when you are very frightened or confused:
Stop gibbering, man, and tell us what you saw.
14/08/05 - On the new Wilds beers...
Bloody hell, I'm disappointed. I was gutted when Wilds brewery closed in 1996 (or whatever - it's a long time ago!) as they brewed some of the best beers in the UK and, like most scoopers, thought we'd never see them again. Years passed and, to our surprise, we caught a glimpse of Pete and Wendy at the Ludlow food and drink festival in 2003 - maybe they had returned? Nothing happened for a while, but then rumours of new Wilds beers started. I was elated, despite having almost given up UK beer scooping - this was great news, when could I taste them? Naturally, I assumed they would be as good as the old beers but when I finally got to sample them - at Worcester beer festival - I was devastated; what the hell was this sulphury crap? I tried both beers available but both were sulphury, sweet and bland; nothing like the assertively hopped beers I remember. I'm not going to write them off just yet, but I hope the next Wilds beers I try are something like the old ones I, and many other scoopers, used to love. The UK scene needs beers like Wilds used to be, not beers like I sampled on Friday - there are plenty of other average beers around. Let's hope Pete regains his former magic with the mashtun - and can he persuade Brendan Dobbin to come back whilst he's at it please?
08/05/05 - On the Reading Reunion!
There can't be many ex-scoopers who are missed as much as Jimmy Hill from Hastings. I reckon everyone must have liked him - and when he gave up and vanished after Cardiff 98 I suppose we all thought we'd never see him again. This was the time when a lot of the old school scoopers were giving up or slowing down and I suppose that's when the heart went out of scooping for me - no more of those riotous good times.
I've spoken to quite a few scoopers about who they looked forwards to seeing at festivals and Jimmy Hill (Colin to give his real name, but as no-one calls him Colin we'll stick to Jimmy!) always came high on the list - who can forget Cardiff 98 (at the risk of making it sound like an episode of Friends, let's call it "the one with the witches hat")? Imagine my surprise when, sleepily reading my emails one night a few weeks back, I suddenly saw one that jolted me wide awake - one from Colin Jenner!!! Indeed it was Mr Hill, who had found Scoopergen through the internet whilst booking a room in Sheffield! His complements about scoopergen makes all the work I've put into this website worthwhile.
A few days later, I received another email - he would be at Reading on Friday! As can be seen from the photos I've added he hasn't changed much, and neither has the other Hastings ex-scooper Arthur. It was great to see them both again, and maybe we should take Mr Hill up on his offer to meet up once a year at a nominated festival - Reading is fine by me!
Welcome back, Jimmy - 6 years was a long time!!!!
30/03/05 - Over a year not being a Camra member.
Hmmmmmm. Well, on the face of it, not being in Camra has saved me a bit of money, more than expected as I hardly ever visit beer festivals nowadays and of the ones I did I managed to blag my way into a couple of them masquerading as a Camra devotee. Must have been the beard that did it - or the sandals. Seriously, I still manage the odd scan through What's Brewing and I'm glad to see it's as gloriously pro-regional as ever and reinforcing my decision to jump ship at every glance.
Dunno when my next festival attendance will be, maybe Reading. I'm just not into the scene any more; never thought I'd say that, thought I'd be a scooper till I died a premature death from liver damage, still pouring plastic bottles out on my deathbed. Now travelling around Europe (and, yes, scooping beers and wine/sherry etc!) is the thing that lights my fire. I haven't totally given up scooping though, and still write down my beers drunk - about 20 this year so far have been winners! (Years ago, I'd have surpassed this by the 5th of January). Strange times, eh!
31/10/04 - Ranting about Branding!
See my latest inane rantings here.
15/08/04 - Worcester again.
I don't know if it's just me, but the beer quality at Worcester this year was almost as bad as last year - even on the thursday night, it was flat and hazy. Some beers gained some condition by friday, but many were as flat as a pancake. IMO, this is not what beer festivals are about. If you can't keep it properly, then why should ordinary people drink the stuff?
It was also strange being there and not seeing little Andy wandering around with a perpetually full half pint glass, busy scooping in the winners. I'm sure everyone who was there felt the same and it just wasn't the same without him. At least there was a full-page obituary in the programme and a celebratory beer which he would have enjoyed, I'm sure of that.
01/06/04 - Online a year!
Well, it's gone quickly. When we started Scoopergen all those months ago, I hoped it would contain a few of my articles and a list of scoopers with associated phots, maybe 100 in total. In a mere year it's grown, nay mutated into a huge bloated monster, sucking in people's photos and articles all over the shop. Long may this continue, I'll only keep doing this as long as I enjoy it. Expect to see a lot more info on "beer hunting" in Europe in the next few months, but there will be some UK stuff for you stay-at-homers!!!
03/05/04 - Reading BF and how good Belgian beers are!
So, how many did you score at Reading then? We scored 15, but one thing soon became clear - my recent lack of interest in UK beers to the expense of Belgium was proved to be well-founded. We tried, honest, but after 15 beers where we didn't have one that grabbed us we gave up and went onto the Benelux stuff. What a difference! Full bodied, interesting, tasty, complex, flavoursome... everything the UK beers weren't! It certainly enforced my current view that most UK beers are pretty average and not interesting enough. Is it just me, or does anyone else feel the same?
18/04/04 - ruminating on the loss of so many good breweries.
For the want of anything better to do, I was browsing through my beer list the other day. I wasn’t looking for anything, just casually browsing. As the pages rolled by, I began to notice a disturbing occurrence that seemed to happen every 5 pages or so; my expression changed to a frown accompanied by a random sigh or shake of the head (sometimes both) and a lingering look down the beers listed for that brewer. Yes, fellow scoopers, I was noticing those superb breweries that for one reason or another are no longer with us to delight our tastebuds with the fruits of the mashtun and hopbine.
The list makes depressing reading. West Coast, Tomlinson’s, Swale, Cartmel, Glastonbury, Dyffryn Clwyd…….. read ‘em and weep as the old saying goes. It could have been written for breweries such as West Coast who produced (not just in my opinion) the best beers ever made in Britain. I know at least 3 scoopers who have tasted well over 10,000 beers whose "top 3" UK beers includes at least 1 Dobbins beer. My personal favourite was Chinese Pale Ale, a stunningly hoppy yet fragrant beer that was brewed, so the story goes, with Chinese hops brought back from China in Brendan Dobbins' suitcase. Maybe this is an urban myth, maybe not, but that beer is the pinnacle of UK brewing to me and not much comes close to it. According to one landlord who took Brendan’s beers regularly he is now growing bananas in the west of Ireland. If he grows bananas as well as he brewed beer, these are fruits worth finding.
Likewise Tomlinson’s, who brewed excellent beers as a matter of course, but made some simply exceptional ones too. Anyone remember the festival special for Wakefield that was so good I had another (at a time when I was very desperate) or how about that liquorice porter they did? Unfortunately, they closed in acrimonious circumstances and their superb beer was no more. I think Mr Tomlinson has something to do with the Black Isle brewery in Scotland, but so far the beers haven’t been a patch on those fragrant liquoricey beauties.
John Davidson from Swale was a larger than life character and brought a welcome blast of hops to the dull Kentish beer scene. I first visited him at his small location at Milton Regis and actually brewed some beers there with him, and thought his beer was pretty good then. With each move (and there were a few!) the beers got better and better and, much to my amazement, even hoppier. John was a great advocate of the wonderful Cascade hop and used injudicious quantities in several of his beers but most notably Indian summer, which remains one of my favourite beers.
There are many more outstanding beers and breweries that I miss, but I know that other people have different opinions to me. People have diverse tastes in beer and, even though I find it absolutely absurd, there are some people who didn’t like Dobbins’ beers yet liked examples that I found bland such as Stocks of Doncaster. Beer is all personal taste and as long as people have an opinion on beer rather than just regarding them as yet another "tick in the book" then that’s OK by me.
Of course, we should bear in mind that there are more important things in life than beer and breweries even if they are our personal favourites – the sad passing of Andy Buchan last year brought that home to some of us in a big way. Nonetheless, we should not forget those brewers who gave us so much pleasure and enjoyment over the years, after all this is what most of us drink beer for. It’s not about numbers, it’s about drinking quality beer and having a good time - something that, happily, is coming back into fashion amongst scoopers and long may it remain so.
For that reason, I raise my imaginary glass of Dobbins’s Chinese Pale Ale to the cause of beer appreciation, and hope you raise your imaginary glass of your favourite deceased beer too, whatever it may be.
No bad effects from my 3 weeks of non-Camra membership yet. I am actually £2 in credit so far despite attending 1 festival! No fests are allocated to be attended in the near future, although Nottingham, Reading and Newark are almost certainties, so maybe I'll be quids in by this time next year....
Well, my last day as a Camra member. I feel a mixture of elation at not belonging any more to an organisation I don't feel represents my interests, and sad that it has had to resort to this. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the broad sweep of what Camra does, I just can't belong to an organisation that treats scoopers like lepers and won't move with the times. Some say I should get involved and change it from the inside. Fair comment. I'd say I gave a lot of time to Camra when I lived in Kent, but now I feel I'd be banging my head against a wall as so many of the people in power in Camra are, in my view, resolute in keeping it the way it is - in the past, obsessed with regional beers and ignoring micros. I'm just not interested in trying to change this, let them get on with it and I'll get on with what I want to do - less UK beer, more travelling. Goodbye Camra, I'm sure you'll be glad of one less person with the wrong sort of opinions!
Did you see that crap by Roger Protz in What's Boring?!? Am I glad that my membership runs out and I'll not have to read the pathetic rag again. He basically said he went into a pub which was selling Roosters and Castle Rock beers and had.... a pint of Bass! I mean, does he think it's 1960 still or something? How can anyone choose mass produced industrial crud (allegedly!) like Bass over craft beers like Roosters? It defies belief to me. Actually, reading WB wound me up as it was so full of gibberish and dud gen. Please tell me it has this effect on you too.... I mean, some bloke in the letters section suggested all 70,000 Camra members should march on Wandsworth town hall to protest against the rumoured closure of Youngs. Sorry? I wouldn't cross the road for that rancid garbage never mind march to bloody London. I wouldn't mind if they made some decent beer!!!
Sadly, I have to report the passing away of Fang, the white Alsatian of Idy and Sal. Not being a fan of dogs I can honestly say that Fang could be considered an honourary cat (as indeed he is - see Animals page). It will be unusual to visit the Crescent and not see him sprawled right in the way!
Cambridge Winter Ales was in a new venue this year, and I don't know what others thought of it but I wasn't impressed. Very small and cramped, it was wedged out by 20:00 on Thursday night. Still a fairly good selection of beers, although maybe not as good as the last few years. Still worth a visit though.
Whilst on the train home after the Smithfield festival last weekend, I received a superb text message. Those of you who know my views on CAMRA will understand why I was so withered... "Dreadful! The fire's just expired in Stalybridge Buffet - they're using copies of What's Brewing to get it going!" You can just picture a CAMRA executive member sitting in the Buffet enjoying their pint of Landlord when their flagship publication is used as kindling.... to be a fly on the wall, eh? However, my favourite anti-CAMRA quote was from a mate of Albania's Mr. Big at Tamworth festival a few years back (where he was acting as CAMRA recruitment person) - "We had someone try to join CAMRA, but I talked him out of it!". Priceless.
Dave Brown wishes to point out that he was down the hole in Tikrit, Iraq the other week because he mistook it for a cellar and thought there may be some ticks there (well, it was called Tikrit...). We are informed the yanks later found the missing ticks in his beard. He thanks everyone for their support during his internment and is pleased to be back in the UK. President Bush has refused to comment as he's a red-necked yokel. Allegedly.