Monday 20 April 2015

Reasons to be (Beer) Blogging - Part 8 - to acknowledge when breweries send beer

As I became established as a beer blogger my name moved up the list of respected industry commentators (if there is such a thing) and I started receiving occasional goodies through the post. Usually breweries with a new beer seeking a shout-out to a targeted audience. I always tried to share my opinions on-line - particularly if I liked the beer or its presentation. I would always try to share my opinion with the brewery if I did not. As my blogging lapsed my name quickly dropped off the lists - as new bloggers came on the scene and after all it is expensive to mail out beer samples if all you are going to see is a couple of 140 character tweets to a couple of thousand maximum audience which was all I could really offer.

Now my blogging mojo is back, hopefully I can share my opinion on new beers as and when they cross my path. Windsor & Eton Brewery and Shepherd Neame have stayed loyal to me and continue to send me great beers.

One favourite from last year was from "son of" Windsor & Eton that is Uprising Brewery set up by Kieran Johnson (son of W&E Paddy). Kieran, who works at W&E, showing the spontaneity of youth, wanted to push the boundaries of brewing, and has been given the opportunity by the oldies at W&E to set up another brewery brand and spend a few hours of his week coming up with something a little more edgy and different to the core Windsor beers.

The first beer, Treason, a 5/8% West Coast IPA, landed on my doorstep with no elaborate packaging at all, simply a plastic bottle of decanted keg beer, mailed out in the usual cardboard tube.
The bottle lay on my doorstep for the best part of a day and in my fridge for the best part of the following week. I suppose I was less than enthusiastic.

However once opened and poured into a pint glass, after savouring the powerful aroma of tropical fruits, it really did not touch the sides. It was one of the most memorable beers of last year. Mighty tasty ! I was fortunate enough to bump into Kieran at the recent London Brewers Market at Spitalfields and it was good to see that Treason was still being brewed and that it was just as enjoyable as that first plastic bottle. I believe it is now packaged in bottle and keg.

There are exciting things in store for Uprising Brewery, a summer offering coming soon and some exciting plans for an unbelievable Christmas trial (honestly, as "edgy" as craft beer can get) which I am very much looking forward to. Hopefully more soon !

Friday 27 March 2015

Reasons to be (Beer) Blogging - Part 7 - to promote a worthy cause

The wise man mentioned a couple of posts ago was a gentleman called Yaser Martini who, at the time, was a partner at pub and restaurant estate agents, Fleurets.

Since then, and more recently, Yaser and his family have been through a dreadful time.  In late 2013 their 14 month old daughter, Margot, was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer and urgently needed a bone marrow transplant. The beer and pub industry supported a widespread, social media driven publicity campaign kicked off by Yaser to raise awareness for Margot and generally encourage people to join the register of bone marrow donors.  A partial match was found and Margot received her stem cell transplant in early 2014.  So often these sort of stories have a happy ending but in this case it was not to be.  Despite encouraging improvements in her condition at times, it was so sad that Margot died in late 2014.

Since then, and to provide a lasting legacy to the memory of Margot, the Martini family have thrown themselves into publicising the fact that there remains an urgent need for people to become potential stem cell / bone marrow donors.  Please take a few moments to have a look at the new charity, Team Margot, website and consider whether you might be interested in joining that growing list.

It is simple and easy to put yourself on the register.  Take a look here - there is a simple registration, you will be sent a 'do-it-yourself' swab kit in the post, rub the cotton bud on your cheek, post it back and you are on the UK register.  As I understand it, if you are lucky enough to be selected as a match, the procedure is a simple one, slightly more invasive than giving blood and you are left with the overwhelming feeling that you have hopefully saved a life.

There is no charge for registration though the charities who maintain the registers obviously rely mainly upon charitable donations.  I am today sending a donation of £120 to Delete Blood Cancer to cover a handful of people who might wish to join the register on the strength of this blog posting.

This is my contribution for the @Tryanuary campaign - more about this in a future post.

Thursday 26 March 2015

Reasons to be (Beer) Blogging - Part 6 - to publicise beery events

A blog is a fine way to shout out about future beer events.  Luckily nowadays there is plenty to do on the beer scene in London and always somewhere good to go to seek out good beer.

This blog generally promotes those places where I'll be going or events that I wish I could be at.

This Saturday, part of my weekend will be spent at the next London Brewers' Market at the Old Spitalfields Market place in E1.  The market provides an opportunity to meet some of London's leading and most talked about brewers and to sample their wares either buying beer to drink around the market or filling your bags to take home. 

The day is organised by Five Points Brewery who have encouraged at least 20+ other breweries to participate.

Oh, and it's also the Independent Label Market if music and/or vinyl is your thing.

Declaring my past interest, I was the secretary of the London Brewers' Alliance until the end of 2013 and I was the winner of the London Ale Taster competition hosted by Old Spitalfields Market in 2010.

Thursday 12 March 2015

Reasons to be (Beer) Blogging - Part 5 - to be a Beer Maven

A while ago, a very wise man asked me to come to a meeting as he thought I was an "influencer" on the London beer scene.  He had been reading a book called the Tipping Point - How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell and was trying to implement some of its teachings.

Since then the phrase Tipping Point has entered common usage to mean "that moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point".  However the book itself seeks to explain in more detail how "ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread like viruses do".  Gladwell describes The Tipping Point as "that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire".

The important section of the book from the perspective of this blog post is what Gladwell calls the Law of the Few, described as one of the agents of change in the tipping points of epidemics.

He suggests that the "success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts".  These people are described as follows :

Connectors - are the people in the community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.

Mavens - are the information specialists, the people we rely on to connect us with new information.  They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others.  "Mavens start word-of-mouth epidemics due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate.  They are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know".

Salesmen - are the "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills.

The book itself goes into much more detail about how these groups of people can help influence markets and move towards that threshold moment.  If you wish to dig out some further detail, you can buy the book or at least read the wikipedia page where I lifted most of this from or check out the Gladwell Tipping Point website.

I continue to aspire to be a Beer Maven and a blog helps me in that development.

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Reasons to be (Beer) Blogging - Part 4 - to slag off CAMRA

The next reason to be beer blogging is to have a pop at CAMRA.  This is something that every blogger must come back to at least once a year - if only to drive some traffic to the blog and comments.  With my CAMRA activist background in the 2000's, the best I can do is the following piece which I wrote recently (winter 2014 issue) for CAMRA's Chelmsford branch newsletter in response to previous articles by Tim Webb about Craft beer.


I admire the efforts of Tim Webb in the last couple of issues of Thirsty Times to raise the profile of “Craft Beer” on the CAMRA agenda.  It remains embarrassing that CAMRA persistently champions any number of side issues, some of which are not even relevant to beer, yet continually fails to recognize good, tasty, British brewed beer, albeit served using modern (perhaps imported) storage and dispense methods.

However, we are not the Campaign for good and tasty beer.  We are the niche within a niche that is the Campaign for REAL ALE and it is my honestly held belief that we should be concentrating with added focus on our founding principles.  Our message as a single-issue campaigning voice would be much louder as a group of almost 200,000 real ale drinkers shouting a simple message without the fog of other “campaigns”.  Over time, our campaigning message has become diluted by the decision to support a huge number of these related issues, from cider to historic pubs, from public transport to foreign beer, from complaining about short measures to moaning about levels of alcohol taxation and that’s before I have a poke at so called Real Ale in a Bottle.

Marking CAMRA’s 40th anniversary in 2011, one of the Campaign’s founding fathers, Michael Hardman MBE, said “we are the Campaign for Real Ale – we set out to safeguard that type of beer.  If people think that pressurized or processed beer is threatened, they can go away and set up the campaign for genuine Australian lager brewed in Scunthorpe.  None of these beers needs any protection.” (Reference : Will Hawkes – The Independent – blogs 23/9/11).

If we are interested in traditional brewery buildings, we can join the Brewery History Society.  If we like old pubs, there is the Pub History Society.  CAMAL used to be the Campaign for Authentic Lager; the Society of Preservation of Beer from the Wood (SPBW) is still going, and there are member groups of the European Beer Consumers Union (EBCU) that are active in most EC beer loving countries.  The Campaign for Really Good Beer (CamRGB) was formed specifically to embrace all good beer.  APPLE is for cider drinkers (oh, hang on, that is a group within CAMRA but you get my point).  All are begging for new members and all are interesting and worthy groups.

But they have hardly any members and zero influence, I hear you cry.  Exactly my point!  As CAMRA has grown it has transitioned from being the voice of the real ale drinker to become the voice of the beer drinker, nay the alcohol drinker in the recent face of neo-prohibitionists, solely because it is the biggest, most successful, closely relevant, consumer group.

The message to promote fresh, tasty, locally brewed real ale, in a variety of styles, served with a natural sparkle at cellar temperature through a hand pump in a pub at a reasonable price is a simple one that we are losing in the mist.

Most members join CAMRA to campaign for real ale – and don’t think that simply paying a subscription and supping the stuff doesn’t count as campaigning – it does.  Real ale remains the type of beer that needs to be safeguarded.  We might regularly drink craft keg beer or take the occasional cider, we might often travel abroad on the quest for good foreign beer, we may read a lot about beer, we all like pubs - old pubs, new pubs, craft beer bars and brewpubs, we drink bottled beer and we pay our taxes.   Perhaps we like red wine, gin and the odd whisky; we may prefer good cheese, meat and bread.    Art or politics may be subjects that stimulate us or being sympathetic to any number of charities and other worthy causes but our individual campaigning – and the issue that still gets me most excited and passionate - is for real ale – and real ale alone.  Simples !

Quoting Hardman again, this time from the pages of the Campaign newspaper, What’s Brewing, in December 2011  
“ I’m still happy that the core idea is there but I’m a bit concerned that the Campaign is becoming a bit too diversified.  Everybody says single-issue idea campaigns do not work, this is one that did work and why we should change tactics I don’t know.  Distractions like the full pint campaign, for example, are irrelevant.”   

Perhaps you are not with me on this and you may think that this particular horse has bolted.  If so, and CAMRA is stuck with all of the other hangers-on, then you may say we must avoid further embarrassment and embrace so-called “Craft Beer”.  It is ridiculous to support a beer from Czechoslovakia or Germany and not give a shout-out to nearly identical, good and tasty beers brewed in Camden, Greenwich, Norwich, Henley or dare I say, Aberdeenshire.  A niche within a niche within a niche.

CAMRA’s policy making and your influence on its future strategy and campaigning is an open book and a most transparent process.  If you agree with anything or nothing that Tim or I have to say then I urge you to join the debate.  It is a simple procedure to take a motion to conference in Nottingham next April and let 800+ of the hardest of hardcore campaigners debate the merits of proposed policy changes.  Alternatively, just rock up to conference, drink some great beers, meet good like-minded people, join the debate and assert YOUR influence on YOUR Campaign.

Cheers !

Tuesday 10 March 2015

Reasons to be (Beer) Blogging - Part 3 - to slag off Brewdog

One thing that epitomises the rise in on-line beer writing is the way that some fresh-thinking brewing companies have harnessed the support of the on-line community to help to grow their business.

The natural life of this fanbase creation is that there is an initial stage where everyone is climbing on the bandwagon saying everything from such and such a brewery is great and fine and dandy.  Then a secondary phase as the mist clears and some of the actions by said company intended to stimulate debate, comment and outrage become over the top and folk start to be more critical.  There follows a third stage where everyone realises that on balance most things the company does are for the greater good of the beer enthusiast.

A little simple perhaps, and by no means a detailed critique of the Brewdog business model but on the right track for me personally.

I first came across the Brewdog fellas at Beer Exposed, a "before its time" craft beer tasting session held in London in 2008 - a year or so after Brewdog kicked off their journey.

I liked the guys, they were young, edgy and ambitious and making beers in a far off land that were slightly off the wall either packed with hops or aged in whisky casks.

I climbed on the band wagon, followed the beers, visited the bars as they opened, and bought shares in the first round of fanboy fund raising - now known as crowd funding.

I was never a real hardcore (sic) follower and there were some mishaps along the way.  Notably a spat with CAMRA over attendance at GBBF, fallings out with the alcohol marketing watchdog, Portman Group and a firestorm with Diageo over a withdrawn award - all perfectly executed as far as Brewdog were concerned for optimum publicity - good or bad, it's all free marketing.

I was also disappointed that Martin was not Mother Theresa but that is a different story that I can only pass on verbally.  (Ask me if you see me).

Personally I was also disappointed that the company stopped brewing cask ale as perhaps the most memorable of their beers in my opinion were the hard-to-find real ales - a cask Hardcore IPA in the Rake and an Alice Porter in the Falcon are particularly vivid in the great beers memory bank.

Nowadays, I am firmly back in the fanboy camp - two bars have opened one bus ride away for me at Clapham Junction and Shepherds Bush - the home of my footie team too.

The Brewdog beers are still of the moment and they now import some of the best beers in the world as well as showcasing some of London's finest.  I will even take a pint of This Is Lager in a Wetherspoons.

So, I can't quite bring myself to slag them off big time as was the so-called theme of this post.  All I can say today is that I enjoyed a lovely Brewdog beer at the weekend, 8.7% full bodied, straw coloured, crisp, clean and dry, double IPA packed with Citra, Amarillo and Centennial hops.  Very drinkable and moreish.  A delight to take my mind off another poor result for the Superhoops.

A fabulous beer and the only thing that offends me is its deliberately provocative name :
Restorative Beverage for Invalids and Convalescents.

Come on fellas, it's not big and it's not clever !  You are (now) better than this.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Reasons to be (Beer) Blogging - Part 2 - The British Guild of Beer Writers

I like being a member of the Guild and would like to remain a member.  For the sake of an annual membership fee of £40 it brings many privileges for the beer writer.

As a member one receives many invitations to launch events, books to review and sometimes beer simply lands on one's doorstep.  The camaraderie among members is excellent particularly given the fact that the competition for any professional rather than not-for-profit work is strong.

The annual awards dinner has become the industry event of the year and there are other Guild events during each year designed to either improve one's writing standards or extend beer knowledge.

I have been a member for a while, since the days when the learned scribes sneered over their quills at those who wrote online and for fun rather than food.  I secured an invitation to join not for my blogging efforts but rather that I had some sort of overall responsibility for London Drinker magazine (circulation 60,000+) as CAMRA's chair of London branches committee.

Membership has since opened up to all of the country's beer media experts - journalists, authors, producers, cartoonists, web designers, photographers, illustrators or PR people and, dare I suggest, bloggers - "all share one thing in common, a love of beer and a desire to see its virtues communicated more effectively."

Indeed, membership is now open to anyone who can show that they strive to meet the Guild's aims : "The British Guild of Beer Writers exists to improve standards of beer and pub communicating and to extend the public knowledge of, interest in, and support for, beer and pubs."

I want to satisfy that requirement rather than be seen as a hanger on, a leech, a fanboy, freeloader or someone who would attend the opening of an envelope (which I would).

Membership has recently changed to include entry level Associate membership maturing to Full membership as any new writer builds experience and a body of work.

Although I have full membership as an existing member, I am keen to be seen as a full member and fully contribute to the system that rewards me so richly in the way of improved beer knowledge and appreciation.

All Hail the Guild !

Saturday 28 February 2015

Reasons to be (Beer) Blogging - Part 1 - The Beer Bloggers Conference

Well, here goes.  I am back in Blogshire and already feeling more worthy.  It is nearly three years since my last post and although there are plenty of reasons why I lapsed, there are even more reasons why I am seeking to re-engage and I'm hoping to elaborate on those in the coming days.  I am grateful to the 47 people who looked at my introductory post the other day and it will clearly be a long road back to the heady days of my prime (if indeed there ever were any).

Firstly, and it gives me no real pleasure to admit it, but I must confess that the true catalyst for starting up the blog again is the European Beer Bloggers Conference to be held in Brussels in August.

The early booking window is closing on 28 February, I am really keen to attend and without the blog the doors are pretty much closed.

The Beer Bloggers Conference is an initiative by Zephyr Adventures, a travel company based in the USA, and the first event was held in London in May 2011.  The 2-3 days of conference sprinkled with parties, pub crawls and beer tastings was predominantly great fun but also helped me see the influence that the beer blogger could have on the industry and really demonstrated to me the fact that breweries around the world were keen to build a better dialogue with influential consumers using the growing power of social media.

The second year conference was held in Leeds.  Just as much fun, enjoyed the conference part a little less, but a great social gathering.  2013 was held in Edinburgh and 2014 in Dublin both of which held less attraction for me being logistically more difficult to attend but I had also visited both cities in the recent past and I was less interested in the Scottish and Irish "Craft" scene (It's me fellas, not you !) - plus my blog had lapsed and I was out-of-the-game for a while, drinking less beer, staying in more and generally fed up.

Then it was announced that the 2015 event would be held in Brussels and my attention was pricked.  I am a Belgophile - love the country, love the beer and all that comes with it.  I visit (usually with Podge's Beer Tours) 2-3 times each year but have only scratched the surface of a small country.  Each visit brings more - usually in the way of beer appreciation and knowledge.

Take a look at the agenda, the additional excursions and the parties and pub crawls and I defy you not to want to be a part of it.  It has the makings of another memorable weekend and has the added bonus for me that I am back on the circuit feeling energised and bursting to go.

So there you are.  A little dull but a start.  Going mobile with Ipad and iPhone may have killed my blog but the 2015 Beer Bloggers Conference has provided a big enough stimulus to get going again.  The good thing about the conference is that it is not held until the end of August so there will be strong pressure to continue blogging for at least 6 month over which time I will hopefully start to get the hang again of what's hot and what's not.

My original intention was to make this a longer post as part of Boak & Bailey's #Beerylongreads project but I failed to remember how difficult and time consuming this game is so this will form part of a short series of "Reasons to be Blogging" posts over the next week or two.  I hope you will find something you recognise within.

Cheers all !

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Am I a beer writer ?

Does 140 characters count as beer writing ?  This is currently the extent of my efforts and has been for some time - aside from a one-off 1,000 word piece in the latest Chelmsford CAMRA magazine spelling out my views (half in jest) on CAMRA and "Craft".

There are at least half a dozen reasons why that has to change which I intend to elaborate upon once I determine that this all actually still works.

In the meantime, forewarned is forearmed, I'm back in the game !

Wednesday 18 April 2012

London City of Beer - CAMRA

Tonight saw the launch of CAMRA's London City of Beer initiative celebrating London's pubs and beers with a beer and food matching event hosted by Roger Protz at the City, fullers pub , the Red Herring.

During a summer when we are not allowed to mention the O word, the GM words or the LTT words for fear of offending the H word, we are left with promoting London as a City of Beer to celebrate the range of London brewed beers to visitors this summer.

Luckily we now have over 24 breweries in London with a few more to come in the coming weeks. Hopefully there will be plenty of beer events to enjoy in the coming weeks.

Check out and for more details.

Live blogging again, so forgive the typos, spelling, grammar,and formatting.