Monday, 30 March 2009

Liberal Democrat MP's second home is revealed as the local pub.

One MP is making allowances in the battle to save the pubs of Britain from over-taxation and over-moralisation. At great personal expense one member of the otherwise apparently corrupt and venal House of Commons, is doing his bit to make sure that the frothy intoxicant we call beer is still available across Great Britain. And at a price that ordinary hard-working families can afford.

You won’t have heard of him though, he’s a Liberal Democrat. But his name is Greg Mulholland MP and he’s the Lib Dem’s shadow Health Minister. That’s right, he’s Ben Bradshaw’s shadow-shadow.

Now you might call him a friend of the people but don’t call him a friend of the pub, that just sounds like a euphemism for the human litter you see hammering on the door of a warehouse-sized ‘Spoons at 8.58 am. And he’s not that, he’s the people’s chosen representative for the sober hard working families of Leeds North West.

But this MP has made the pub his second home, but not literally - we are sure his expenses are completely in order - more figuratively because proof of Greg’s heroism can clearly be seen in the current roster of Early Day Motions. Yes, when it comes to EDM, Greg is first among unequals, a man with a plan, and a pen.

For not only has this brave middle-of-the-roader decided to support the CAMPAIGN TO SAVE THE GREAT BRITISH PUB and the COMMUNITY PUB INQUIRY, he has also added his support to the four strong Parliamentary call to support NATIONAL PUB DAY.

By there is more. Brave Greg his scrawled his spidery signature on PUBCOS AND THE SUPPLY TIE and even got his minions to typed out the following EDMs: CLOSURE OF LEEDS TETLEY'S BREWERY, TESCO AND THE CONVERSION OF PUBLIC HOUSE SITES and the ALL PARTY PARLIAMENTARY SAVE THE PUB GROUP.

But the fight goes on. Now he is fronting a solo campaign to get the House to support NATIONAL CASK ALE WEEK. Which as you all know by now runs from 6 to 13 April 2009 in support of lovely brown booze.

So thegoodbeerblog proposes that we should all join the mighty Liberal Democrat Greg Mulholland MP in his heroic campaign, and hoist a drink with him to saving the British pub*.

Cheers to Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West, friend to drinking types nationwide and all-round good egg.

*Although obviously we can’t actually drink with him as the bars of the House of Commons (despte being heavily subsidised) are members only.

Brewdog and The Independent: Extreme Beer and Extremely Poor Journalism

Feisty beer-makers Brewdog have made themselves another enemy, blandsheet newspaper The Independent. Now perhaps sharing an office with The Daily Mail has unaligned the chakras of this previously mild bunch of hacks but it does seem that someone has micturated in their skinny lattes.

So in this article under the attention grabbing, Google-snagging, and largely unsupported by quotes headline of Health fears over 'extreme beer' craze, they set their soy-milk fed attack dog (answering to the name of Martin Hickman) on those scamps at Brewdog, Otley, Thornbridge Hall and Dark Star.

However what remains of their poor old subs desk don’t seem to have been quite on message with this crusade against slightly strong(er) beer for slightly young(er) people and so have left the piece riddled with errors, from the misspelling of Adam Withrington’s name to failing to correct Alcohol Concern's miscalculating of the alcohol content of a 10% beer in units.

Strangely the loudly bugled health fears never actually materialise in the copy and especially not in the form of a quote from anyone within the medical establishment. As for the craze element of that headline, only one of the ales listed in available in supermarkets while the rest are mostly sold in pubs or via the dusty shelves of a few specialist retailers, where they are ‘boldly marketing’ apparently, through labels, on their bottles. However some credit must go to the gluten-free Martin Hickman though, as both of the other elements of the headline - ‘over’ and the reported speech ‘extreme beers’ are 100% correct.

As usual proper beer writer Pete Brown makes sense of it all with a clarity and purity that shames the words that tumble out of here, so please go read this walking wall of common sense’s rebuke to the Indy here.

Go on, there is nothing else here.


Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Golden Goodbyes: Swindon’s Archers The Brewers Gets Credit Crunched

Archers brewery has gone into compulsory liquidation, making it one of the first of the real ale producers to go under in this recession.

Pub paper the Morning Advertiser tweeted the news yesterday that the Swindon-based brewer, which was created in 1979, was to be liquidated just over a year after a takeover saved it from administration. Now, with an insolvency practitioner appointed, Archers are hoping to find a buyer to keep their beers in production.

When it was just estate agents and bankers, it was funny. Then the Credit Crunch started to chewing up ordinary ‘hard working families’. And me. Now, somehow, watching society slough away like putrefying flesh isn’t the endless source of chuckles it once seemed. Especially after news like this.

Because while the loss of any brewer of ale moistens the ducts, Archers feels closer to home, mainly because it was, a Google Map close. For as someone who pretty much started their ale-drinking career with pints of Golden in an Archers pub only a few hundred metres from the brewery, today my mucus membranes have become almost desiccated.

To guess why and how this 10,000 barrels-a-year plant and its 20 staff have ended up surplus to requirements would be to indulge in wild, pointless speculation based on no inside information whatsoever...

But this is a blog, it’s what we do.

Part of the problem must have been the sheer range of beer, produced in addition to the core four of: Golden, Village, Best and Crystal Clear. Back in 2007, then administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP quoted Archers’ beer range as 190 brews strong. The stupidly comprehensive Beermad also list 274 ales produced, although they have 194 of those down as dead or deleted.

And if you could ever identify an Archers’ beer you liked from this ever-changing range, finding them in the South West seemed to increasingly be a problem.

Despite living in Bath for a decade the amount of times an Archers ale turned up in any pub could be counted on the webbed fingers of one hand. The same goes for that former Archers pub in Swindon in which I did so much of my formative drinking. Never again has a beer from 400 metres away made it across the tracks to former freehouse The Gluepot. Instead various Golden-like pints were spotted and sunk on days out in Stoke, Huddersfield or Oldham, but never seen again in Swindon.

So was it a case of aiming too far and too wide? Who knows but one landlord I spoke too even said that he found the brewery difficult to deal with, with them preferring answerphones to answering calls or answering his questions.

For most beer drinkers Archers were probably a producer of some pleasant but samey straw coloured ales but for some of us, Swindonians mostly, it will be missed. Even if we haven’t so much as seen a beers of theirs in ten years.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Pubs, Politics, Parliament and Half Measures From Planet Pod

The last working class man in Britain, Doris Karloff and a Liberal Democrat go into a pub… What a perfect example of political harmony.

It might be a joke refashioned from an old Bernard Righton routine, but it also happens to be true. But only if you take a look a look at the names of the MPs who have slapped their monikers on an Early Day Motion designed to protect the British pub.

It’s a trio that naturally go together like oil and water, or the Pope and the 21st century: Parliamentary furniture Dennis Skinner, reactionary-turned-national-treasure Ann Widdecombe and Werther's Originals frontman Ming Campbell.

Under the title of CAMPAIGN TO SAVE THE GREAT BRITISH PUB (The all-caps policy must reflect the Parliamentary tendency to bellow), these MPs call “on the Government to adopt the campaign's Last Orders, a five-point plan to save the British pub, as a way forward in safeguarding the future of Britain's traditional public houses.”

But the glittering list of names doesn’t end there (Actually it ends 191 later with Dundee West’s Jim McGovern, but that is just a quirk of chronology) because Kate Hoey, Lembit Opik, Nick Winterton, Derek Conway, Michael Ancram, Frank Field, Bob Marshall-Andrews and Vince Cable are all signed up pub-lovers too.

So hurrah for one and all! Yes, well done chaps. That will teach Darling, Brown and everyone who seeks to ruin this sceptred isle. That will show them that Britain is still a land as pure and chaste and unchanged since a sort of hazy-imaginary-time when King Arthur roamed the hills in an Austin Allegro listening to The Kinks on a mobile gramophone and sending the occasional gunboat to deal with those swarthy foreign types.

Except that Early Day Motion motions are the Parliamentary equivalent of internet polls. If they sound like something that the heavily cushioned Nick Soames gets after his butler wakes him for a hearty breakfast before noon, that is because that is exactly what they are worth. They are a sop, a way for MPs to appear active while actually remaining inactive for longer than Mount Vesuvius. They are never voted on and they rarely reach the floor of the house, but most importantly they can be signed from a chaise longue, bath chair or deck chair.

However with 191 signatures, this EDM does kick some Parliamentary arse easily toping Graham Brady’s EDM supporting Lacrosse and even Martin Caton’s EDM recognising the Year 10 football team from Penyrheol Comprehensive School in Gorseinon. And this mighty pub campaign has even collected 60 more signatures than last year’s calls for an independent Ombudsman for grocers.

So well done to Mr Pinty and the Axe The Tax types for all their hard work but if we are relying on cranks, oddballs, former non-Cabinet ministers and the Liberal Democrats to save the British pub, we might have to find another way.

If you are wondering about the Planet Pod thing, see The Guardian's Simon Hattenstone, after all it was he who said "Ann Widdecombe is from Planet Pod".

Thursday, 12 March 2009

IPA v GTA, Punk v Portman, Hype v Indifference

Roger Protz smells faintly of dill, all Fuller’s beers contain string and the Portman Group don’t wash their hands properly after flushing. These words are lies, utterly transparent lies that I won’t standby in court and apologise for right now. Sorry.

But these blatant falsehoods also prove how easy it is to kick against the Aunt Sally that is ‘Establishment’, especially when the ‘Establishment’ is as orthodox and conservative as the world of real ale can seem. After all, this is a world in which apparently you can seem to stand out in simply by being under 30 or having a vagina. Or both.

Which is a roundabout way of bringing us to Scottish brewers Brewdog and their self-styled rebellion against all that is traditional, all that is dull, all that is predictable about British beer. Yeah, they’re rebels, they’re renegades and they’re punks – just like Johnny Lydon and Iggy Pop are.

They also remind me of professional controversialists, fellow residents of Scotland and part-time video game developer Rockstar. So much of their infamy has been built on poking and twizzling a Grand Theft Auto-shaped stick up the censor’s nose and then surfing the resulting streams of condemnation straight into the hearts and wallets of the spotty-serial killer market.

It’s a model that Brewdog seem keen to follow in their recent well publicised scuffling with the Portman Group. Lots of sound and fury and lots of publicity. With a sneer Brewdog are manning the barricades in a war against the conventional and the bland. Well that’s only true if you replace the word ‘barricades’ with the words ‘shelves of Tesco’ and the word ‘sneer’ with ‘carefully considered marketing strategy’.

Because it was through that retail giant and Brewdog’s carefully considered marketing strategy that a bottle of Punk IPA appeared in my cupboard. That and the messy spurtings of praise lavished by so many bloggers, tenting their trousers in delight at this beer.

“On my first tasting my tongue exploded, followed by most of my skull and three of my four young children. As my liver was immolated in pure delight, I tasted hops and the kind of joy only experienced when all your Easters, Christmases and Bar Mitvahs come together at once” wrote

“The experience of drinking Brewdog IPA was akin to draining 330ml of The Lord’s own tears, distilled in the mouth of an angel and carbonated by mafipulation through all seven stomachs of the holy cow. My second bottle also gave me eternal life”. Tastingnotesfromasmallisland@wordpress,com

Again these are lies but the truth isn’t so distance this time. Ahead of even last year’s favourite, Thornbridge Hall, Brewdog seem to be the chosen ones. Beer writers and forumites seem to love their chutzpah, their beer and some even seem to like the design of their bottles. Which is strange because moderation must be the new anarchy if these unsatisfyingly small 330ml bottles with their dated ‘stamp’ design are impressive.

After all the bluster and all the blogging, hopes were high for the beer, but this yellowy brew isn’t exciting enough to justify this much alcohol. The citrus and grapefruit bitterness bludgeon while the aroma and oiliness of pine needles and alcohol gives it a bleachy, clean toilet aroma. Sure it’s smooth, hoppy and grassy but it is also rather average compared to the American bitterbomb which have inspired it.

Obviously we could put this indifference down to personal taste - that I like beers with balance, with perhaps just a tiny smidge of malty flavour, with depth - but as their own bottle sneers “We don’t care if you don’t like it.” Except they do care, deeply.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Pub closures, beer, ties, tax and ITV

As the pubs keep closing, the mouths keep flapping open and the numbers keep climbing. So six pubs are closing per day but what is there to add? Publicans, politicians and pressure groups are tumbling throughout in the hourly news cycle like the rogue red sock in a white wash. Endless oars are being inserted as each side forklifts all the blame into the lap of the opposition: It’s the tax, it’s the tie, it’s the smoking ban, it's the economy, it is the fact that British people have become soulless anti-matter that would rather chug a litre of something with all the charm of a bus’s backdraft in their over-mortgaged hovel than risk conversation over a civil ale.

So what it there to add? Only a hollow laugh at the troubles of ITV and a picture by a Mr hYpe of That, and the sound of gentle sobbing.