Thursday, 31 July 2008

GBBF (1)

This is the lull before the storm that is The Great British Beer Festival. Earlier this week, I was trawling my local pubs delivering posters, tickets for the trade session and London Drinker magazines. Now is a rest day before the main event.

From Saturday onwards, over 1,000 CAMRA volunteers will descend upon Earl's Court exhibition centre and busy themselves preparing for the biggest beer festival in the world.

First will be the scaffolding and building the stillage. The beer will then go up for its last conditioning before sale.

By Tuesday morning, the bare floor space will have been converted into the biggest pub in the world, with a choice of over 450 British cask ales, 110 ciders and perries and 200 foreign beers. There will be the usual food stands, games and shops.

I will be in the press office looking after press and publicity, welcoming our press visitors, escorting camera crews around the site and doing various interviews through the week.

Our favourite task each year is to encourage the various photographers to take pictures that show real ale in a progressive light rather than the stereotypical beers bellies, beards and sandals. Every year, despite our best efforts of getting photos printed of Japanese tourists or young people having a great time, there is always one that slips the net. I guarantee there will be a photo on either Wednesday or Thursday of next week's press that will show a large man, with a very large belly and a long beard showing the world what drinking real ale is all about.

I will update throughout what has the makings of another great event.

Cheers !

Monday, 28 July 2008

London Drinker

The latest issue of London Drinker magazine should be arriving at a pub near you shortly. London Drinker has been written, edited, published and distributed by CAMRA volunteers in London 6 times a year for nearly 30 years.

The magazine continues to be available free in over 200 London pubs and thanks to a distribution deal with Wetherspoons you will now also be able to find the magazine in every Wetherspoon pub within the M25.

If you are not able to find one of the 46,000 copies around town, the magazine is also now available in web-mag form here.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Always take the weather ...

Here in England, we spend all year complaining about the weather and then once summer arrives and we actually get a few days (that's all) of sunshine, what do we do ? Yes, we just carry on complaining !

Are the CAMRA crowd the only bunch who continue to drink real ale during this hot spell ? I have had a few pints this last week, most of them have not been very enjoyable and I seem to be the only one in the pub drinking real ale.

The hot weather quickly warms up even the coolest cellar temperature beer and the slower sales mean that the beer stays on sale too long. Admittedly, most of the pubs I have visited this week are not Good Beer Guide accredited but even in The Dove, Hammersmith today the Discovery, normally a beer that is chilled to an inch of its life, quickly warmed up in the sunshine on the terrace and was less thirst quenching towards the end of the pint.

There has been nothing wrong with any of the beers, they have has just not proved to be very refreshing. I have been craving a crisp sauvignon blanc, a cold continental lager or a cider over ice but I have kept the faith and persevered with cask. My reward will come in heaven or at least at GBBF the week after next where all beers will be cooled and turnover will be quick. 500 beers have to be sold over 5 days and 60,000 drinkers will be thoroughly refreshed whatever the outside temperature.

By the way, for anyone who claims they saw me drinking a pint of Strongbow with my son at a comedy club in Richmond last week is mistaken. Honestly !

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Brewery History Society

Today's post included the new newsletter for The Brewery History Society together with a request for this year's subscription - £18. Compared to CAMRA's 92,000 members the BHS has approaching 500. There is no campaign, just an shared interest in promoting research into all aspects of the brewing industry, to encourage the interchange of information about breweries and brewing, and to collect photographic and other archive information about brewery history.

The journal published a couple of times a year is a collection of informative articles and papers written by the most able of the membership. Slightly highbrow for some but the only place I would suggest that new research on brewery history is being published presently.

The society is obviously keen to expand its membership base and I hereby endorse its aims and recommend its publications that come with the membership fee.

One interesting current project is building an oral history database whereby leading members of the industry are being interviewed to lay down their experiences for posterity.

Friday, 25 July 2008

London Heritage Pubs

A couple of much needed dry days means I can catch up on some reading. Just published by CAMRA books is "London Heritage Pubs - An Inside Story" - a definitive guide book to London's most unspoilt pubs. Geoff Brandwood and Jane Jephcote are the most knowledgeable people I have ever met regarding London's pub heritage. They have both spent over 7 years researching this book and I am most impressed with the fruits of their labour.

Although this type of book has been published many times previously and many of the pubs included are regularly covered, this book is the only one that covers ALL of London's 150 pubs left with unspoilt interiors. It is packed with photos and the text definitely brings forth the authors' passion for the subject.

The book includes well drawn maps making a crawl of some of the pubs very easy. There are the usual features as fillers and even these are well written and informative. There are small pieces on local history away from the pubs which I found somewhat superfluous but overall it is an excellent read, lavishly illustrated and a very usable guide.

In the summary of the future the book states "We believe that with a combination of awareness by the public and pub owners on one hand and local authority vigilance on the other, the pubs listed here should have a bright and long-lived future without damaging change."

Famous last words ! The ink is not dry on this book before the first planning application has been submitted on one of its entries. The Hare and Hounds in East Sheen, SW14 (which coincidentally is my local) has a refurbishment planned by owners Young's which will remove the 1930's separate public bar described in the book as a remarkable survival.

There are 150 of London's most unspoilt pubs in the book. There will be a fight to save the Hare and Hounds public bar but almost certainly we will be left with 149.

More information of London's pub heritage can be found at CAMRA's London Pubs Group.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Fullers AGM

Fullers AGM was held yesterday in the Hock Cellar at the famous old brewery. The usual gathering of small shareholders, city boys representing their institutions, family shareholders and directors gathered to hear Michael Turner, the Chief Executive present his report for the year.

The massage that has been rammed (sic) home for a number of years now is that this well run company has a long term focus and retains a culture of style not fashion. In these difficult times, they will continue to invest through the economic cycle and will be quick to capitalise on any underinvestment by their competitors.

This was a good year with cask ale sales increasing both in volume and market share. Once again the bottle of London Pride outran the Lucozade bottle in the London Marathon.

Michael Turner commented that there is now a feeling in the city that the vertically integrated brewing/retailing model which is not overborrowed is now considered to be the best way of running such a business - this from the same fellows who only a year ago were muttering about taking on extra debt to get better value from the property portfolio and that breweries would be better NOT owning their own pubs. Funny bunch those city types !

Hopefully that long termist attitude will see London's last remaining family brewer remain independent for many years to come.

The Fullers event is usually less of a pub crawl and drink up than Young's the previous week but a couple of pints of ESB in the brewery encouraged me to visit the pub next door, The Mawson's Arm where a limited edition of cask London Porter was calling "drink me". After a couple of hours the rest of the day was a write off. Or so I thought ......

Some pints in, I received a call from LBC radio to ask if I could do a live radio interview at 6.30pm. Perhaps I should have said no but I was keen to give London's listeners an exclusive on my favourite pub - The Trafalgar of course just became my favourite pub after it was declared the Pub of the Year winner the previous evening. Perhaps also I should have at least told other CAMRA members and possibly the landlord before spilling the beans on live radio but the opportunity was too good to miss. Luckily the interview was mainly lucid and I managed to get CAMRA's view of community pubs across to a wider audience.

Had a long conversation also with Evening Standard newspaper again about my new favourite pub (must look out for that later in the week) and then spent the evening chairing the committee of London CAMRA branches at The Royal Oak, Tabard Street, London's only Harvey's Brewery pub.

Altogether another satisfactory day out.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

London Pub of the Year

After many months of visiting the best pub in each branch area, the London CAMRA judges are ready to announce the overall winner for 2008.

The winning branch pubs are :

Robin Hood and Little John, 78 Lion Road, Bexleyheath
The Wonder, 1 Batley Road, Enfield
Woodies,Thetford Road, New Malden
The Olde Mitre, 1 Ely Court, Ely Place, Hatton Garden
The Harp, 47 Chandos Place, Charing Cross
The Red Lion, 13 St Mary’s Road, Ealing
The Green Dragon, 60 High Street, Croydon
The Junction Tavern, 101 Fortess Road, Kentish Town
The Roebuck, 130 Richmond Hill, Richmond
The Blythe Hill Tavern, 319 Stanstead Road, Forest Hill
The Traveller’s Friend, 496 High Road, Woodford Green
The Trafalgar, 23 High Path, South Wimbledon

The final judges meeting is tonight. More to follow.

And the winner is ......

The Trafalgar -

Pig's Ear Beer Festival

Good news - the budget for 2008 Pig's Ear Beer Festival has been approved so this event will definitely happen again this year at Ocean in Hackney. More to follow.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The Science of Beer

Last week, I attended a talk on The Science of Beer hosted by the Royal Institution in London, the home of the annual Christmas science lectures and Faraday's laboratory. A historic lecture theatre that had probably never seen a pint of beer in its 200 year history.

Here is a little of what we learned :

The monks who previously brewed beer were entitled to 8 pints a day - even when fasting.

Women brewsters died out because they were burned at the stake - in the belief that their "science" was witchcraft.

The hop has 500 compounds compared to 200 in most plants.

We learned all about the Glycolytic Pathway, Reaction Kinetics and Glucose Metabolism(don't ask me now though !)

We now know what a spiderplot to map flavour is.

The talk was hosted by leading beer writer, Adrian Tierney-Jones and presented by Alex Bell, the head brewer at O'Hanlons Brewery.

Much of the talk reminded me of a brewery tour by an enthusiastic brewer but without the smells of a brewery.

However, as with a brewery visit, the science was followed by a practical - a beer tasting of 3 O'Hanlons beers;

Yellowhammer, a golden beer; Royal Oak, a stronger beer once brewed by Eldridge Pope and Dry Stout, a dark stout.

The audience was not the usual collection of CAMRA people, indeed I was one of only a handful of CAMRA members present. However, this 200+ strong audience were beer drinkers, and all engaged and interested to learn. This again reminded me that there is a huge pool of potential CAMRA members that we are overlooking in favour of promotions for young people and women - worthy target groups but the vast majority of whom would never try real ale in the first place.

A thoroughly enjoyable evening away from the usual CAMRA circuit.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Young's AGM

As usual the small shareholders turned out in force for the agm in Wandsworth.

A good year but the chairman was disappointed that the credit crunch meant he could no longer get fillet steak in any pubs. The dividend has doubled in 2 years and the results from the brewing outfit, Wells & Youngs has met targets and contributed good profit. 9 or 10 new pubs - mainly freehold. No mention of those closed pubs and no complaints from the floor. Apart from a complaint about the disapplication of pre-emption rights (I kid you not), the main complaint was that some new pub signs had been painted by the local kindergarten - more on this another time once I have taken a look at the refurbished Green Man, Putney.

Non-Executive director, Roy Summers, responsible for production and beer quality has retired and been replaced by a banker and a resauranteur - a sign of the times for a progressive company.

Lager brands are suffering but real ale sales are outperforming the market - a fact we are hearing more and more on the circuit.

It is the intention that all pubs sell real ale - the only one missing presently, the Fire Stables in Wimbledon will reintroduce Young's Bitter in September.

The usual fairly short meeting was followed by the usual dash for beer. Cask conditioned beer rather than racked bright was available for the first time given the logistics of beer now coming from Bedford. There were certainly no complaints about the beer from the most discerning crowd - a testament to the brewers at Wells and Youngs.

Bottled beers were available to take away (again all real ale) and after an hour or so, we went on the usual march around Wandsworth. Beer in the Spread Eagle, Brewers Inn and the Grapes was all excellently kept followed by one for the road in the Alma.

As usual the executive were all around town and more than happy to answer questions and give confidence about the direction of the company from a cask ale perspective.

Even the city boys, so vociferous in the past about "extracting value from the property portfolio" were more circumspect in the current clime. "Sit tight, this is a well run business, it will be good to see the estate expand ..."

A long day as this was followed by a visit to the GBBF publicty pub crawl and then the North London branch agm for more Young's Bitter. Slept well !

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Beer we go ...

Well here we go. Being CAMRA's Regional Director for London, my life is fairly beer focused. This is going to be my angle on my beer travels. It might be entertaining, it might not. Let's see.

First up is a visit today to the Young's agm. An interesting year for the company. Some pub closures - mainly community pubs, more pub openings - mainly larger food led operations. They have split CAMRA London's viewpoint on whether the company is going in the right direction as far as real ale is concerned.

The company say they have had a very successful year. Let's see what the small shareholder opinion is.