Friday, 24 May 2019

Nationalism and culture

One of the strangest things I saw about CAMRA's revitalisation process* was the accusation that it was racist to Belgians. This was down to a motion recognising the value of all quality beers but advocating cask beer as the pinnacle of the brewer's art (the vast majority of cask beer being made in Britain). I thought it was rather cleverly worded myself, accommodating heathens people of other faiths, but without falling into the heresy of indifferentism. And anyway, what's wrong with a British beer consumers' organisation saying British beer is best? Would we accuse a Belgian beer consumers' organisation of racism for saying Belgian beer is best? No, surely we would just accept that as a normal thing for them to say, so we should accept it here too and celebrate our beer culture.

This is not to say we should succumb to nationalism though, the drinking class has no country. But let's face it, the beer in some countries is better and the four First Class Beer Countries have great beer cultures too. I have carried out extensive research into them and have just come back from a study tour of Germany which confirmed my findings, so for those of you who are still unclear on this matter here's the ranking:

1. Britain
A well kept pint of cask ale is indeed the greatest beer in the world. It has only been when drinking cask beer that I've felt the magic come and angels dance on my tongue. Served as god intended without artificial carbonation, there is no better beer. And to back it up it will be found in pubs, the greatest places that can be found to drink beer, where you can relax and unwind in a comfortable and cosy environment.

2. Belgium
Like Britain, Belgium retained a strong ale drinking culture against the onslaught of lager following The Great Schism, but in this case in the form of bottle conditioned beers (and let us not forget they are something our Mother Church recognises as real ale). Draught beer is however inherently superior to beer in small pack, both in the taste and that you have to go out to drink it, interacting with the local beer culture. You don't get pubs in Belgium but some of the bars do feel pub like so their second place rank is well deserved.

We now come to the lower tier of the First Class Beer Countries. Though there's no way the order of the first two countries could change I was a little bit at sixes and sevens about this one. However my research has confirmed that the third ranking beer country is:

3. The Czech Republic
Being on the lager side of The Great Schism confines them to the lower tier. As night follows day with lager extraneous CO2 will be involved, going against god's intentions. The Czechs didn't invent lager, but they did invent golden lager in Pilsen. Having said that, some of their lager is good (in fact I've got a soft spot for Pilsner Urquell), and unfiltered lager (which brings it closer to how god intended) is becoming more common. The Czechs stuck to very traditional brewing techniques, including decoction mashing. This helps drive off the sulphury DMS making them less diabolical and they're a bit relaxed about diacetyl so a small amount can be found in some of their lagers and they're all the better for it. Czech bars at their best can be pub like but I found them less cosy than the Belgians manage. I've only even been served beer for breakfast in the Czech republic though so that's got to mean something (even if it's only that I seldom have breakfast in Wetherspoons!).

4. Germany
The last of the First Class Beer Countries is Germany. Again, on the lager side of The Great Schism, they've not kept up with decoction mashing to the same extent as the Czechs, so DMS is more common in their beers and they're more down on diacetyl so they have a bit less character. German bars often look a bit like restaurants, though some have more pubbiness, and the Germans are famous for their beer festivals and beer gardens, both great contributions to beer culture. I have seen beer served directly from wooden barrels in German bars, which surely can't be far from beer as god intended. I also recently learnt that in Bavaria wheat beer accounts for around half of beer sales. Does this mean that in a lager drinking country people are moving closer to beer as god intended, albeit in a cloudy and phenolic form? Maybe they do have something on the Czechs...

Anyway, that wraps up a brief overview of the ranking of the First Class Beer Countries and I hope it's clear there was no racism here, merely a statement of facts.

*Does anyone else remember that?

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Crimes against cask

Being a second generation CAMRA member I'm used to moral certainty when it comes to beer. And although at times I have sinned and fallen short I am well aware of the evil that is extraneous CO2 and the sins of pasteurisation and filtration.

So I was shocked to discover whilst washing casks what can only be a new type of sin previously unknown to me. 

There in the small print on a sticker was evidence of grave crimes against cask:

"Once opened, use with[in] two weeks"! I don't know what numbskull came up with that sticker but unless they get on with some pretty serious repenting they are surely doomed to spend eternity in the fiery pit. Now with skill and dedication it may be possible to keep cask beer on for more than three days* after it's been opened but two weeks is bleedin' well taking the piss. Jesus Christ, it's hard enough doing beer as god intended without such wilful stupidity. It would be nice if people at least had some idea what they're doing when they serve cask beer. 

I won't be naming the company involved, as a brewer that works there assures me the sticker dates from when the company was under previous ownership. And he had mentioned to me before the poor reputation they had inherited and were trying to overcome, so I didn't leave him on the rack for too long before accepting his explanation and letting him go.

* And for those of you of a heretical disposition the recommended time a keg should be left on is five days. Oh yes it is.

Friday, 12 April 2019

On the origin of evil

It's well known that keg beer is inherently evil, but when exactly does it become evil? This is something that I've been giving much though to, having become part of what I can only describe as the axis of evil myself. 

After the horrors inflicted on my taste buds, and soul, on Saturday I became truly forsaken this week as I found myself kegging beer. "Eloi eloi lama sabachthani" I thought as staff shortages lead to me doing the evil deed. But as I delivered god's love in liquid form over to the forces of darkness, 30 litres at a time, my mind turned to theological matters. Once beer is in a keg its chance to be served as god intended is gone, so surely filling kegs is sinful and though I wasn't drinking the stuff I was indeed sinning. 

The extraneous CO2 used to serve keg beer is often seen as the essence of evil, and for the laity it is an excellent indicator that the beer should be shunned. But the use of the gas is also an excellent indicator that earlier malevolence has been inflicted on the beer in the form of filtration and pasteurisation, reinforcing my view that  the evil starts before the beer is served. Though those of a nervous disposition will be pleased to hear that in this case the beer had suffered neither of those indignities. 

Much talk has been made recently of the brewer's intentions, and though I must admit I've thought it a right load of bollocks, does the evil start as soon as a brewer intends to keg their beer? And surely they would only do such a diabolical thing because there are customers willing to pay for such morally bankrupt products? I forget the details but it was either tennis players too lazy to walk to the pub or troops en route to join a global imperialist slaughter that first led to beer being kegged so either way it was not an auspicious start. Can original sin be traced back to those drinkers?

I am no great theologian but I can see evil at every stage of keg beer production, packaging, and consumption. Which is why, weeping inconsolably as I filled the kegs, I had to accept that I had become part of the axis of evil. Whether I am the biggest sinner I couldn't say, but I really need to stop my pondering and get on with saying a few more decades of Hail Protzes if I'm to save my immortal soul. 

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Culture in Hampstead

I do occasionally look at culture outside of Petri dishes. I can remember seeing The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam's Dice by the late great Bob Calvert soon after he died. And in the 30 years since then I've seen at least two more plays. There was The Accidental Death of an Anarchist about poor old Pinelli when it was on in Woking, and I got taken to see Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell at some point too. So three plays in 30 years makes it pretty clear that not only am I a regular theatre goer, but another visit was due.

Handily for me another of Bob Calvert's plays was being revived, in the same upstairs room at the pub in Hampstead I'd last seen one. Mirror, Mirror was written in 1979, but set in 2030. It's stood the test of time remarkably well, seemingly spookily like it was written about modern internet culture. He was a bright lad Bob, such a loss.

But what about the pub? A quick look at What Pub showed it's undergone some remarkable changes in the 30 years since I last visited. I remembered it as an ordinary, slightly scruffy boozer but at one point it became a Wetherspoons, before being tarted up and becoming the original home of Camden Town Brewery. This caused me some concern as they don't do beer as god intended, but I was reassured to read that two real ales would be available. Sadly it was not to be.

This is the future that crafties want
Being greeted by the sad sight of two unused hand pumps surrounded by evil keg took me back 30 years too, to the dark days when it was not uncommon to find pubs were keg only establishments. To think that this pub was once a Wetherspoons, where hand pumps would have pride of place and the beer would have been considerably less than £5 a pint showed how things are degenerating.

The Camden Pale served from the devil's drainpipe was, I suppose, some improvement on the keg bitter of 30 years ago but still so, so inferior to cask. I brings me no joy to report that the fools and charlatans that told us craft keg was no threat to cask have been proved wrong. Satan and his servants are attacking cask beer on many fronts and the struggle of the faithful for beer as god intended is as important as ever.

Friday, 29 March 2019

'Spoons vouchers: It's that time of year again

One of the blessings bestowed upon members of the one true catholic and apostolic beer consumers organisation is £20's worth of 'Spoons vouchers each year.

This boon granted to the faithful is not without controversy. Some of this can be dismissed as the bleatings of the petty beergeoisie or scheming of servants of Satan, but I do occasionally ponder if they have a point.  Before once again deciding "no".

Sadly for me the vouchers came out after I'd stopped regularly drinking in a 'Spoons so I've never got the most out of them. I did use to try and remember to take them with me if a trip to a 'Spoons looked likely, and then I'd blow that quarter's £5 in vouchers in an evening by sharing them with my friends. But many went to waste which was deeply unsatisfying. So I now give them to a mate who visits 'Spoons more often than me and can make the most of the discount. I don't think it makes him visit them any more frequently, it just means he spends less money when he goes to them. Which is really why I find those who are so opposed to the vouchers they destroy them so hard to understand.

Now I can understand not liking 'Spoons. They generally have all the atmosphere of a waiting room and must surely damage the trade of other pubs. But even if you can't find a friend that drinks there anyway and so deny Tim Martin some of their money you could always punt them on ebay and spend the cash somewhere you find more deserving.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Gassing quickly in Liverpool

Despite the fact I once lived in Liverpool I don't think I've ever been to a pub there. I was only a baby though so I've got a decent excuse. The other week I returned for BeerX, SIBA's annual get together. For those unfamiliar with the British brewing industry SIBA are a beer wholesaler with a side line as a trade organisation representing the interests of their executive. 

A few enquiries made before my visit showed that Liverpool is a beer oasis and the list of pubs I'd been given to visit looked an impossible task. It looked like it would be fun trying though, so I made a start as soon as I'd arrived. 

First on my list was The Fly in the Loaf, a bizarrely named pub owned by Heron and Brearley, the parent company of Okell's brewery.  

Disappointingly H and B had merged it in with Market Town Taverns, a pub chain in Yorkshire they bought. This meant it served a wide range of guest beers with only one Okell's beer on sale.

Part of the plan of buying MTT was to sell more of Okell's beers, but with the Okell's pubs in England now mainly selling guest beers it looks like they're actually selling less. Management decisions, eh? I did my bit for Manx brewing by having a delicious pint of Okell's bitter and then I was off to find some gents to take photographs in.

The photogenic bogs were in the next pub, and sadly this furtive photo was the best I managed of the legendary gents in the Philharmonic:

Annoyingly someone was dicking around with their phone at another urinal rather than getting on with the business in hand so I couldn't get the bogs in all their glory. Never mind, the rest of the pub was impressive too...

...and I enjoyed the beer from Oakham:

 Next stop was the Roscoe Head:

Where I was delighted to see they had Landlord on:

It was a cracking pub, I could certainly see why it's been in every edition of the Good Book. That they're selling "Save The Rosecoe Head" T-shirts is a very worrying sign though.

Then I was off again, following in the footsteps of the local anarcho-syndicalists on my way to The Dispensary.

Sadly this was a bit of a disappointment after the quality pubs I'd been in that night.

The place was almost empty and the Pale Rider was no Landlord.

Oh well, you win some, you lose some. And after this promising start my exploration of Liverpool pubs mostly fizzled out as things got in the way. Certainly the few others I did manage to pop in to aren't really worth writing about. I must write more about the SIBA do though, the AGM was mostly dull but I did find the talk on Health and Safety interesting and it be good to get my notes up.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

In search of auto-vacs

It may be considered slightly odd to travel over 400 miles to find beer served with auto-vacs, but I take my Continuing Professional Development seriously. For those not familiar with the devices they suck beer out of the drip tray and recycle it back into your pint.

I have a certain morbid curiosity about them dating from when I briefly worked for a company that owned some pubs with them. God, that was an strange job. But not as strange as some of the people I worked with. The Technical Services Manager was sound as a pound though, and whenever he got the chance he'd remove them. This did once lead to us getting sent an email of complaint from one of the customers. Recycling beer that's run down the glass and fingers of the server may be unhygienic but some of those in thrall to the sparkler actually like the effect in has on the texture of the beer. The sucking round and recycling that is, hopefully the running over the fingers of the server doesn't affect the texture. Though that might depend on what's on their fingers.

After last years Heriot-Watt reunion I found out I'd been drinking in pubs with auto-vacs without even noticing it. It seems I'd been doing too much networking and not enough CPD. So this year I was determined to to seek them out and investigate their effect on beer.

When we got to the Blue Blazer I was ready but they'd actually put a tea towel over the drip tray:

So near but yet so far!

The view in the Bow Bar wasn't as good so I may have had success here but as I'm not certain I don't think I can really tick it off.

Nice clear view in the Guildford Arms though!

Where's that beer going?
So success was definitely achieved! As to the effect on the beer, I did think the it had some of the life knocked out of it. So a bit like sparklers really but with added hygiene issues.