Friday, 30 September 2011

New duty rates on beer and a new glass size

From 1 October, beers over 7.5% ABV have to pay High Strength Beer Duty (HSBD) on top of the general beer duty. This goes for beers made in the UK and also those imported into the UK. It’ll be an additional 25% onto what the brewery already pays in duty.

Aimed to attack super-strength lagers and quell binging on park benches, the reality is that HSBD won’t affect its audience, but instead will hit the experimental brewers, the imported bottles we see in beer shops and more importantly, those of us who like to drink them.

Is Fuller’s Golden Pride the same as Tennants Super? Is BrewDog Paradox like Special Brew? What about Thornbridge Bracia or Robinson’s Old Tom? The elephant in the room is that these quality strong beers are lumped with the super-strength beers. Why can’t someone just be ballsy enough to say ‘these are the beers which are a problem and those ones are different’?

Anyone who relied on Special Brew to get bang for their buck will just step over to cheap cider or wine, whereas brewers who want to be innovative or experimental, or who already have stronger beers in their core range, now have a bigger price to pay just to be able to do so. And that price will have to hit us drinkers in the pocket. Who knows what’ll happen to the import duty paid on these bottles but I hope it doesn’t mean that some beers will no longer be available here.

The reality for the consumer is that the prices of these beers will rise around 25p for each bottle, can or pint.

At the same time as HSDB comes in, beers between 1.2% ABV and 2.8% ABV will have a 50% reduction in the duty rate, again this is for those made in the UK and imported.

As for this lower duty rate... If a brewery can make a great tasting 2.8% beer that’s got lots of body and flavour then I’m sure I’ll drink a pint or two, but not much more than that. I love the idea of low-ABV beers but in reality I wouldn’t drink them often. But at least this is a step in the right direction. If it’s supported by breweries then perhaps soon it could be raised to a more appealing 3.4%, but if no breweries make these low ABV beers then it won’t happen.

Also coming in on 1 October is the two-third glass, which will then be a legal measure. I like this introduction a lot and I hope pubs get on board with it. The two-third glass will be perfect for drinking beers over 7.5%, if you are wealthy enough to be able to afford to buy one...

Does anyone know any breweries making low ABV beers to get the low duty rate? Any pubs bringing in two-third glasses?

And what will be the consequences of HSBD on some of the stronger beers we see in the UK?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The thrill of the chase

I hope, and expect, with every beer I drink, that it’ll be the best beer I’ve ever tasted.

Every new bottle cap flicked off, every new pint poured, every new ring pull crunched through with the thumb, there’s a deep-down desire that I’ll have never tasted anything as good as this, whatever it is, wherever I drink it.

The thrill of the chase, the hope and the expectation, is what I love about beer. And food. And books and films and places. I want to be amazed, to be filled with wonder and excitement and joy over things. It keeps me interested, it keeps me moving forward and stops me getting stuck or complacent or, even worse, bored. What if it’s the best thing ever? What if I have an unforgettable experience?

I don’t care that almost no beer hits the high hopes that I have. It doesn’t matter because there’s always something else, an old favourite or something new in the fridge. And there’s always something to love in a beer. A story, an ingredient, the way it looks or the story I attach as I drink it – where I am, who I’m with, what we’re doing. And then there’s the next beer.

The next beer. What will it be? Where will it be? How will it taste? It’s the thought of that one perfect moment and a perfect pint. Or even the imperfect moment with the unexpected pint. It’s the moment you lift the glass to your lips and you stop and say wow. When a gulp has you excited, surprised, amazed; makes you want to never drink anything else ever again, makes you want to tell anyone and everyone who’ll listen; makes you see that sometimes beer is more than just liquid in a glass and reminds you why you spend so much time and money chasing it, thinking about it, drinking it.

I always have hope. It’s the continual search for the best beer I’ve ever tasted. And I hope I never find it because I love the expectation. I love the thrill of the chase.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Sky Sports Shown Here

I walk past a pub and it’s got an enormous blue and red canopy flapping in the wind. The banner announces that this pub shows Sky Sports live. Outside the pub across the street they’ve got an A-board chalked to tell me that they show all major sporting events live. A board beside it says Notts County vs Hartlepool 12.45 LIVE (‘all major sporting events’). Through the windows of both I see bright green squares glowing over the blank stares of the pub-goers.

Seeing a ‘Football shown here’ sign is one of the best ways for me to know whether or not to avoid a pub; if it’s there then I don’t want to go in. For me, that sign says it’s going to be filled with people shouting at the screen while throwing lager down their throats. They will also probably have karaoke on in the evening. And they won’t serve any decent beer. Two pubs near me are exactly like this. In two years I’ve drunk the total volume of two pints between the two pubs (admittedly this was watching the first half of an England World Cup game – we left at half time to watch it in Wetherspoons because it had a better atmosphere).

I like live sport in pubs, especially if it’s a major event and England are playing. What I don’t like are pubs where the football is the only draw. And these pubs are often the ones with the big banners hanging outside. These banners might as well read ‘Drink somewhere else’.

Sport adds to the social lubricant of the beer – the banter that comes and goes, the way every drinker knows better than the team’s manager, the collective cheers or groans – but for me the TV is part of the background, not the foreground, where you can watch if you want but avoid it if you don’t.

Where do you stand on football in pubs? Do many really great pubs show games or do you have to go off-piste to see sport?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Williams Bros Profanity Stout: Buy it now

I’m not the first to blog about this, but it’s worth the extra words: Williams Bros Profanity Stout, currently available in the Sainsbury’sGreat British Beer Hunt, is really very good.

A beautiful looking bottle, it pours a near-opaque black with a ‘fuck yeah, that looks good’ head. The dry hops hit first with a waft of hop sack freshness; not fruity, not floral, it just smells like hops and that’s something often lost in stouts but which makes this stand out. It’s full and smooth like a 7% stout should be, there’s chocolate, and it’s the good stuff not the cheap low cocoa bars, a little booze pokes through and it’s roasty but never astringent (or as Reluctant Scooper calls it ‘no ruined toast notes’).

The recipe was developed on Heriot-Watt’s degree course. The guys behind it can be pretty pleased with it. The best I managed was a bread and butter pudding made with a bag of stale jam doughnuts, and while it was phenomenally delicious, it just wasn’t quite as good as the Profanity Stout.  

You can buy three bottles of this for £5 right now. I bought one yesterday and went back and bought more today. 

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Things I’ve learnt about beer and breweries in the last few weeks

This is my third week of working in a brewery and already I’ve learnt a lot of stuff which I didn’t know before....

Making beer is a lot more than filling a mash tun, transferring it to the kettle, then the fermentation tanks and then filling some containers a few days later. I’ve got a whole new respect for the work that brewers do, the stuff you don’t get shown or told about on the brewery tours; the hidden work that goes into making beer.

Duty is a real bastard for the brewing industry. Seeing how much the brewery pays in a month is just shocking. To work hard to make great beer to then have to pay the government a large wad of money before you can sell it is annoying.

I also didn’t previously realise that just 0.1% ABV makes a difference so it’s no wonder there are so many low ABV beers around and no surprise that big brewers keep shrinking the ABVs on some of their flagship brands.

Tank management, especially if you’ve got more than two tanks and most of them contains lager which is in tank for over four weeks, is something I don’t think I’ll ever have the organisational skills to manage. When new tanks arrive, as pictured above, it takes even more organisation. In November we've got five more tanks coming.

Likewise the organisation of deliveries. Beer goes here, things get picked up from there, and so on. It hurts my brain thinking about it. I’ll happily stick to drawing pictures of beer mats and ‘researching’ other brewery websites.

Beer branding is hard to get right and easy to get wrong. There are many bad ones out there but also lots of great ones.

Brewers listen to strange music. I’m going to spend a day or two in the brewery soon and I’ll be bringing my McFly tapes so we can listen to something good.

There’s lots of things going on all day in a brewery. Most of it is still new to me so I get easily distracted and like watching it. My favourite thing at the moment is either standing in the hop store or watching the Camden Wheat ferment – it bubbles ferociously and I watch it giggling like a one year old saying, ‘look, bubbles!’

Beer on tap in the office is dangerous...

An hour and a half commute each way sucks balls. What sucks even more is that it costs me £400 a month to do it and I end up standing half the way. This also impacts upon blogging time until I move flat nearer to work. 

Working in a brewery is every bit as hard, fun and exciting as I thought it’d be.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Snowdrop Beer Festival (or, the perfect beer list)

I’ve just got back from the Czech Republic. It was a tour around a few breweries which ended at Slunce ve Skle craft beer festival. Mark Tranter from Dark Star was also on the trip and was talking about the beer list for the upcoming festival which he’s organising at The Snowdrop in Lewes, taking place on 7-9th October. The list is based on the beers which have inspired him and continue to inspire him; a dream, Desert Island choice of cask, keg and bottle. The beer list is here. I think it’s just about a perfect beer list for a pub beer festival because I want to drink everything there. The festival will also have a scotch egg cook-off, beer and book matching with Pete Brown and beer and food matching with Melissa Cole.

Spending a few too many hours on a minibus over the weekend left me thinking about my own dream pub beer festival and the beers I’d want there; beers which have inspired or changed my way of thinking and drinking. Limiting myself to five from each of cask, keg and bottle (The Snowdrop will have about double that), and also thinking about the ability to actually get them, I’d have the following, with each having special significance:

Fyne Jarl
Marble Pint
Dark Star Saison
Dark Star Six Hop
Gadds Dogbolter

Pilsner Urquell
Camden Town Wheat
BrewDog Punk IPA
Jandrain-Jandrenouille Saison IV
Odell IPA or Bear Republic Racer 5

Thornbridge Bracia
Mariage Parfait
Birrificio Italiano Tipopils (even better on keg – it’d replace PU)
Anchor Old Foghorn
Fuller’s Vintage (about 5 years old)

Mark’s list for The Snowdrop is brilliant and is reality opposed to my fantasy list. I’ll be there if I can persuade Lauren to drive me...

What's your perfect pub festival beer list?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Purkmistr and Slunce ve Skle festival

Purkmistr: a brewery, a bar, a restaurant, a hotel and a three-lane bowling alley, just outside one of the greatest brewing cities in the world, Pilsen.

Once a year at Purkmistr is Slunce ve Skle. A Czech craft beer festival with hundreds of different beers in a wide spectrum of styles: pilsners, pale ales, porters. It shows the other side of Czech beer away from just the golden pints of lager. Beers brightly hopped with US varieties, full bodied stouts, estery wheatbeers, small-scale pilsners, bacony rauchbier. A fantastic variety of beers in a brilliant location: a courtyard with bars at the perimeter, open air, sausages sizzling in two corners, a young and impressed crowd sipping from either tiny sampling glasses or handled half pints.

If you want to see where Czech beer is going then visit Slunce ve Skle. Stay in the Purkmistr hotel, try their house beers (really good dark lager and American Pale), have a game of bowling. But also go into Pilsen, visit Pilsner Urquell, see and taste the history.

Czech craft beer is really interesting right now. Look at the brews that the Sheffield/Euston/York Taps have to see some of the best available in the UK: Kocour, Matuska (these are two of the best I tried) and more to come. Prague and Pilsen should be on every beer lover's list of places to go for a pint. Purkmistr is the perfect base in Pilsen, just a short taxi from the centre. And if you can coincide your stay with the beer festival then you'll be very pleased you did.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Hooray for the Sainsbury’s Great British Beer Hunt 2011!

After the atrocities of Tesco’s in-store marketing, comes Sainsbury’s brilliant Great British Beer Hunt.

It’s a battle between 16 British beers which will see two given a minimum of a six-month listing in Sainsbury’s. It’s something they’ve done before and I think it’s a great idea: with people routinely buying the same things each week, this shows that there’s more out there than the usual beer choices, especially when they position it differently, make a showcase of it and make a big deal out of it.

And what’s even better? The way they describe the beers. It’s superb. Simple, evocative, informed and inviting tasting notes plus a food suggestion. Add to this that the bottles they’ve got look good on the shelf and they are 3 for £5 and Sainsbury’s deserve a rousing round of applause. Here’s four examples of the promotion:

I hope Tesco are taking note of what effective in-store beer promotion should look like.

Now I just need to start working my way through the beers. The 16 bottles are: Wild Hop IPA from Harviestoun; Caesar Augustus and Profanity Stout from Williams Brothers; Bishop’s Farewell from Oakham Ales; Wye Not from Wye Valley Brewery; Flying Dutchman Wit Bier from Caledonian; Ivanhoe and Bad King John from Ridgeway Brewing; Stronghart from McMullen & Sons; Churchill Ale from Oxfordshire Ales; Golden Seahawk from Cotleigh Brewery; Full Bore from Hunter’s Brewery; Two Hoots Golden Ale from Joseph Holt; Golden Summer from Wold Top Brewery; Frederic’s Great British Ginger Beer; and Worcester Sorcerer from Sadler’s Ales.

What’s not to be missed from this list?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Exciting times ahead!

What's your dream job? Like half the other cohort on the first day of the first lecture on a Media Arts degree, I wanted to be a film director. I have no idea why. I guess it was just the glamorous, glorious option and I knew no better. About 15 minutes into the lecture, as the tutor for Directing talked about his side of the curriculum, he told us to dream on and that none of us would-be movie makers would ever actually be movie makers. Welcome to your future.

The next few years didn't point me in a clear direction of where I wanted to go. Then a couple of years of working still didn't show me where I was going. All I knew was that I wanted to be known and respected for what I did; I wanted to be at the top of whatever profession I chose. Big ambitions for someone with no path.

Writing this blog is a way of being creative. I remember when I started, when no one read anything I wrote, I dreamed of the day someone would comment on it, of a day when maybe I had regular readers who felt about my blog the way I felt about Stonch's blog or The Beer Nut's or Tandleman's or Pete Brown's or some of the good food blogs. The blog was never a way for me to earn money. Over time it developed into a launching pad for me to write freelance while doing the day job. I like that because it means I can just pitch the stories which I really want to write and am really passionate about, rather than having to worry about where I can publish my next words in order to eat my next dinner. That doesn't appeal to me at all. I love to write. Earning money to do it is brilliant. Doing it full time is too worrying. Next I want to write books. But that’s for the future.

At the same time, I never really wanted to work in the beer industry; there wasn't anything or anywhere which was right for me, so plodding along in communications, marketing and social media was fine for me as long as I could write about beer.

That was until the Beer Bloggers Conference in May. That made me realise that I've got things to offer, that I love the industry, the people, the products, and that I could make a difference. It made me realise that I somehow wanted to earn my salary from beer; not just being a commentator on it, but being a part of it.

But what and where? There's 800 breweries in the UK. Looking around at them, how many would I like to work for? How many could I work for without moving? How many could I make a real impact upon? How many would have a position relevant for me where I'd fit in? There was only one but it wasn't right at the time, so it was back on with the day job.

You can probably guess where this is going... This week I started working in the beer industry. I'm incredibly excited about it because it's a brilliant opportunity for me. A perfect opportunity.

I now work at Camden Town Brewery. That's the one place where I saw that I could fit in, where I saw that they had ambitions and attitudes similar to mine.

My job is to manage social media, to develop and build the brand, to create the website, to run tastings and training, to manage events, to work with pubs and bars, internal comms, and develop anything that you can physically hold with a Camden Town Brewery logo on it. With just a logo and no brand, a website which goes no further than a holding page, and no social media activity (there's a Facebook and Twitter page but little else, yet), it's a blank page to begin with, which makes it very exciting. And all for a brewery which is doubling capacity between now and November with plans to grow further already in place.

Now I get my chance to make a difference in the industry I love (plus you should see the view from my office now and smell the aroma of fresh wort and hops which greets me when I arrive for work). Camden is ambitious and so am I. I'm coming into this with a lot at stake (longer hours, I need to move flat or pay a stupid amount for the train, working hard) but I know the sort of brilliant things we can achieve. My aim is for Camden to be one of the top breweries in the UK and I know that it'll happen.

The blog isn't changing and it isn't going anywhere. Camden starting talking to me because Jasper reads my blog (I suggested that I helped them get started with social media and we soon realised that I could do a lot more than just that). I love writing this blog so wouldn't have taken a job which would prevent me from doing this or meant that I had to do something different to what I already do. This blog post is me being excited about what I'm doing next but also for transparency; I now work full time for a brewery. I also think that now I’ll have a far better understanding of breweries, brewing and the beer industry.

I now know what my dream job is and tomorrow is my third day doing it. Here's to new beginnings and challenges. I can't wait to get properly stuck in!

If anyone wants to say hi to me at work, wants to talk about the beers or the brewery or come for a look around, or whatever, then my email address is

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Adnams mini casks on the campsite

I'm not here this weekend. I'm in the New Forest in a lodge on a campsite. It's a present for my mum and dad, for their 30th wedding anniversary. It's like those holidays we went on when we were little kids, staying in a caravan, eating BBQs, playing cards. Here is me and Lauren, my sister and her boyfriend, their little boy, and my mum and dad. It's been lots of fun.

Sitting outside the lodge, staying cool, are two mini casks of Adnams beer. A Green Bullet Pale Ale and a New Zealand Pale Ale. For a weekend away in the country, what more could I want than 18 pints of fresh beer which are poured at the turn of a little red tap?

Green Bullet is typically fruity for the hop with a range of tropical fruit and then a quenching finish of bitterness - very nice. The NZ Pale Ale is even better: mango, passion fruit, gooseberry, mandarin; juicy and fresh, light and lively and a fantastically gluggable 4%.

I like mini kegs a lot, especially if I go away somewhere or I'm at a party, where they are better than bottles. Or imagine a fridge which comfortably fitted a mini keg so you could always have draught beer. Do you buy mini kegs from breweries? I know Adnams and Thornbridge do them, but who else is there?