Today’s infographic is a travel guide to visiting English breweries and other beer destinations by train, entitled the Rail Ale Trail. It was created last year by Red Spotted Hanky, a UK travel website.
Today is the 61st birthday of Charlie Bamforth, who is the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science at U.C. Davis (and was my teacher when I took the brewing short course there). His two most recent books are Beer Is Proof That God Loves Us Grape vs. Grain. He’s a terrific advocate for beer. Join me in wishing Charlie a very happy birthday.
Charlie with John Dannerbeck from Anchor Brewing, at a reception held there for the launch of Charlie’s new book.
Charlie being courted by both wine and beer on his publisher’s blog, Cambridge University Press.
Today would have been Michael Jackson’s 71st birthday. I first met Michael in the early 1990s, shortly after my first beer book was published. He is all but single-handedly responsible for the culture of better beer that exists today. He began writing about good beer in the 1960s and 70s and his writing has influenced (and continues to influence) generations of homebrewers and commercial brewers, many of whom were inspired to start their own breweries by his words. There are few others, if any, that have been so doggedly persistent and passionate about spreading the word about great beer. I know some of my earliest knowledge and appreciation of beer, and especially its history and heritage, came from Michael’s writings. Michael passed away in August 2007, six years ago. I still miss him, and I suspect I’m not the only one. Tonight is the premiere of a new documentary film about Michael Jackson, Beer Hunter: The Movie, which I helped a tiny bit with as a pioneer sponsor.
I did an article two years ago for Beer Connoisseur, for their Innovator’s Series, entitled Michael Jackson: The King of Beer Writers, A personal look back at the man who made hunting for beer a career. I reached out to a number of people who also knew Michael for their remembrances as well as my own, and as a result I’m pretty pleased with the results (although the original draft was almost twice as long).
I’ll again be playing some jazz and having a pint of something yummy in his honor, which has become my tradition for March 27, which I’ve also started declaring to be “Beer Writer’s Day.” Join me in drinking a toast to Michael Jackson, the most influential beer writer who’s ever lived.
At the Great Divide Brewing’s media party in Denver over fifteen years ago.
On stage accepting the first beer writing awards from the Brewers Association with Jim Cline, GM of Rogue, Stan Hieronymus, who writes Real Beer’s Beer Therapy among much else, and Ray Daniels, formerly of the Brewers Association.
At GABF in 2006, still wearing the same glasses. But my, oh my, have I changed. Sheesh.
This week’s work of art is by the English artist, John Henry Henshall, who painted The Public Bar, occasionally known as In The Pub, in 1883.
It’s a little unusual for the time, in that it shows the view from behind the bar, looking out at a cross-section of patrons. Also, notice the Bass sign hanging on the wall at the left.
We’ve had the Big Three — Bud, Miller and Coors — for so long now that it would probably take me a few years to stop using the term. In the UK, once upon a time it was the Big Six; and they included Allied Breweries, Bass Charrington, Courage Imperial, Scottish & Newcastle, Watneys, and Whitbread. Until yesterday, only S&N remained. With the announcement earlier today of Carlsberg and Heineken’s buyout of Scottish & Newcastle, the last vestige of a bygone era will soon disappear, as well. England’s esteemed Financial Times today has a somewhat sad commentary on this entitled Few Crying into Beers at Decline of Big Six Breweries. As they observe, the change in the beer market and the mergers that began around 1989 have now come to a final solution, and with no one left to mourn them.
Here’s a few statistics. Since the turn of the century, imported beer to the UK has increased by 50%. During that same time, the number of large breweries fell by two-thirds. Today, a mere six remain, with 34 more considered regional breweries. Since the 1980s, the number of breweries has actually tripled, but that’s because of the UK’s own microbrewery revolution, which today includes over 500 small breweries whose total production accounts for only 2% of the nation’s beer market. Before today’s buyout, Heineken enjoyed only 1% of the total British market, but after the deal is approved they will have something in the neighborhood of 30%, making them Great Britain’s biggest beer company.
Maybe none of this matters. After all, as the FT’s editorial makes clear, British pub-goers, publicans and pub operators, and even CAMRA’s real ale aficionados will all be dishearteningly unmoved by today’s news. I can’t help but think that’s a mistake. So much of our early microbreweries owe such a great debt to the heritage and history of English ales that it seems a shame to let this dismal milestone pass so cavalierly. Perhaps I’ve romanticized these old breweries too much, but I don’t feel the same loathing for their products or their business practices that I usually do for our Big Three. That may simply be the 1,000-mile expanse of ocean separating me from everyday contact, who knows? But even though the British beer industry is nowhere near deceased, this is just one more wound that will again forever alter its landscape. I, for one, in the words of the immortal Edgar Allen Poe, “am drinking ale today.”
It looks like the brewing brouhaha involving several large multi-national beer companies that I wrote about last week is going to be resolved more quickly then anybody had anticipated. The Carlsberg Group and Heineken today agreed to a $15.3 billion buyout of Scottish & Newcastle. The deal is structured such that Carlsberg will get sole ownership of BBH (Baltic Beverages Holding), giving them access to the lucrative Russian beer market, and will also receive S&N’s markets in China, France and Greece. Heineken will gain control of S&N’s markets in Great Britain, India, the United States and a few others. Business experts don’t seem to think there will a problem in getting the deal approved or with any counter-offers.
Note: Portfolio’s online website has a good overview of this story, too.
London’s famous Pearl Restaurant, located a stone’s throw from the Holborn tube station, is situated in a grand old bank building, the former Pearl Assurance Company’s headquarters. Inside there’s granite everywhere, opulent chandeliers and modern decor. Their food seems to be reviewed favorably by just about everybody and executive chef Jun Tanaka has one of the best reputations in the London restaurant scene, having worked at at least seven Michelin-rated places over the past decade before his own oyster opened to reveal the Pearl. He’s now “worked with beer gourmand Gustavo Bertolucci to find the best beers to match his dishes.”
While I don’t know if a schwarzbier will be on the actual beer list, it was the closest style to swine I could find. What hints that are given, in a story in Wine & Spirit Magazine, sound quite tasty.
Combinations include Kasteel Cru from Alsace to match salmon in filo with pomegranate, cauliflower and walnut salad and Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Ale with spiced loin of venison. Greenwich’s Meantime brewery’s Chocolate Stout is also being recommended as a partner to desserts.
I hope my British friends and colleagues will forgive me for not noticing this before, because it’s been apparently going on for years now, but the folks at Shepherd Neame have been advertising their Spitfire Ale with a humorous campaign making fun of Wold War 2. Since the beer was named after the famous British military fighter plane, it does make sense. And if you think war isn’t something to be made fun of, all I can do is point you to Hogan’s Heroes and Roberto Benigi’s Life is Beautiful. Anyway, I thought they were humorous enough to share. Here’s a few of my favorites below, but there are many, many more at the Spitfire website.
Harriet Easton, age 19, appears to be one ambitious and entrepreneurially-minded young lass. She’s determined to fill the void created by a continuing drop in UK pub beer sales. “Figures released last month showed beer sales in pubs at their lowest level for 70 years. Seven million fewer pints per day are now being sold, with sales down 49 per cent since they peaked in 1979.” One obvious market being neglected is the female segment. So Easton, a politics student at Newcastle University, spent a year and a half — and £35,000 — on R&D to create a beer especially for women. It’s a “light ale with extract of orange and a modest 4.2 per cent alcohol.” Easton teamed up with a local brewery, Hanby Ales of Wem in Shropshire, to create the curiously named Harry’s Beer, which will be marketed to women beginning Monday at the Salopian Bar in Shrewsbury. On hand will be, Paula Waters, chairman of CAMRA. “Waters said: ‘I applaud the inventive way Harriet has brought this product to market. She’s a sassy and savvy young woman who has recognised there are others just like her who want to drink real ale and retain their femininity.’”
But as far as I can tell, this is not her first attempt. In August of this year there was at least one story about Harriet Easton in the Shropshire Star called These Girls Are For Real. At that time, they reported Easton debuting another beer, this one called Rushing Dolls beer for girls. In that article, Rushing Dolls was described as having “a zest of lime—it’s very light and hoppy.” There Easton was quoted as having created her beer because others were — I just love this expression — too blokey. Hop Talk even did a post about it in September. The lime version was “thought to be the first ever beer for girls” and now the new orange version is being similarly touted, this time by the Publican, who say it’s the “first real ale aimed specifically at women.” This time around, Easton says:
“Real ale has typically and consistently been marketed towards men with names full of cheesy puns and innuendo, and images of buxom wenches serving up frothy jugs,” said the politics student at Newcastle university. “They can keep all that — there’s no need to move on, lads — just move over”.
Still, I can’t help but think of Virginia Slims or pink trains for girls. It seems to me either a woman will develop a taste for beer or she won’t. I know plenty of women who already love craft beer, including my wife, and it didn’t take a specially designed beer for them to like beer. Trying to make one specifically for the ladies seems like a gimmick at best. But if it brings more women into the fold, I suppose that can’t be all bad.
Maybe it’s just my peculiar sense of humor but anytime I hear the phrase “spot the … anything” I think of Monty Python, as in “Spot the Looney.” So that was my first thought when I heard that Britain’s Home Office had issued very specific guidelines to members of the police on “How to Spot a Drunk.”
|A few days ago the UK’s Home Office launched a new campaign against — and here’s the part I don’t get — being drunk in a bar. It’s called the “Responsible Sales of Alcohol Campaign” and British and Welsh police have apparently identified 1,500 pubs that they will be visiting every weekend between now and Christmas Eve to make sure that no bartender “knowingly” sells any alcohol to someone who is drunk. To me, that’s already a weird law (more on that below) but it’s been on the books for awhile now, though up until now there’s been no shortage of confusion about exactly what it means, legally at least, to be drunk. Anyone found selling to a drunk person will be levied “an £80 fixed-penalty fine.” But now the Home Office has issued more specific guidelines trying to define drunkenness. They have no legal standing, of course, but they are asking the police to use them to “identify potential drunken customers” and then “gather evidence of drunkenness, witness a sale and deal accordingly”. So even though it’s claimed that they do not have actual legal standing, if the police are using the guidelines, as they’ve been asked to, then they de facto do have standing.|
Here’s the part I don’t get, though. If you can’t be drunk in a pub, where exactly are you allowed to be drunk? Since when is it the business of the police to decide how pissed anyone wants to get on any given evening? I think in many states here a bartender’s not supposed to serve a person if they’re excessively drunk — equally difficult to gauge and define. But this law makes it sound like you are permitted to go to a pub, order a beer, drink it, perhaps have another, but the moment you’re drunk you have to stop drinking immediately or the pub owner will face a hefty fine. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Assuming I’m not bothering anyone else and as long as I’m walking, taking a taxi or otherwise not endangering anyone but myself how the f@#k is that anyone’s business but mine? I should be able to drink until I can’t stand up straight if I want to. I’m not saying that’s a good idea or that anyone should want to drink that much, but the point is simply that it should not be the government’s business to protect me from myself. That’s what friends and loved ones are for. That’s paternalism at it’s worst.
So here are the guidelines:
A Noticeable Change in Behaviour
- Bad tempered, aggressive;
- Offensive language;
- Becoming loud, boisterous or disorderly;
- Becoming physically violent;
- Becoming incoherent;
- Slurring, or making mistakes in speech; and
A Lack of Judgment
- Being careless with money;
- Annoying other persons, employees etc;
- Exhibiting inappropriate sexual behaviour;
- Drinking quickly or competitively (“down in one“)
Clumsiness & Loss of Coordination
- Difficulty with walking;
- Falling down;
- Bumping into furniture;
- Spilling drinks;
- Difficulty in picking up change; and
Fumbling for cigarettes, or other items
- Drowsiness, dozing or sleeping;
- Rambling conversation;
- Loss of train of thought;
- Difficulty in paying attention;
- Not understanding what is said;
- Glassy eyes and
- Lack of focus.
I think you’ll agree after perusing his list that many of the items here are obvious and self-evident. Defining being drunk is a bit like pornography: it may be hard to define but we all think we know it when we see it. But others make almost no sense at all, especially by themselves. This story originally appeared in the British trade publication, The Publican, and many of the pub owners they interviewed agreed, to wit:
Licensees have slammed the guidelines. David Wine, licensee at the Six Bells in Felsham, Suffolk, said: “This is an absolute nonsense. So what if someone is dishevelled? Does that mean Bob Geldof will not be able to get served in pubs?”
Steve Andrews, licensee at the Seven Stars in Devon agreed the campaign was “absolutely ludicrous”. “I have a lot of farmers and builders come in here and they’re dishevelled.”
“I would also question why police should be paid to sit around in pubs on a Friday and Saturday night.”
Yeah, that disheveled one does stand out. It’s as if you’ll have to dress up to go to your local if you want to be served. Since when does good grooming and a fashion sense equate with soberness? The “bumping into furniture” and “spilling drinks” would give my wife some trouble, as she tends to be quite clumsy without the slightest amount of alcohol in her bloodstream. Even if any of these aren’t dispositive, they will undoubtedly get you noticed by the bar Bobby as someone who bears closer watching. And that hardly seems fair: targeting the butterfingered and slovenly for special attention. Don’t they already have enough to worry about?
Overall, looney does seem the right word to describe this scheme to keep barkeeps from overserving to enforce a law that seems quite odd in the first place. Can this really be the most important thing Britain’s police force has to contend with right now? Surely there must be some more serious threats to the peace.