Sunday, 27 December 2009

Indie praise for CAMRA

The Independent's Saturday magazine has a weekly series called Minor British Institutions and on 26 December it featured the Campaign for Real Ale. Sean O'Grady wrote:
"Obviously you don't have to have a big beer belly peeking out from your real-ale festival T-shirt to be a member of CAMRA but it helps. It's also true that there are lots of real-ale bores (just as there are wine bores too), but none of this detracts from the import and enjoyability of CAMRA's long crusade to save decent British beer and habitable, proper pubs. Its efforts are needed now more than ever. The campaign began in 1971, in the most westerly pub in Europe, Kruger's Bar in Co Kerry, when four young men from the north-west of England, Michael Hardman, Graham Lees, Bill Mellor and Jim Makin, were on holiday. Fed up with the poor quality of British beer -- too fizzy, with no character and no taste -- they formed the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale, soon to become the snappier Campaign for Real ale. CAMRA now boasts more than 100,000 members, an investment club and the indispensable Good Beer Guide to pubs, breweries, food and ale. Mine's a pint.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

New Zealand victory for Saison

DB Breweries of New Zealand has cancelled the registration of its trademark for Saison following a campaign by the consumer group SOBA. DB, a subsidiary of Singapore-based Asia Pacific Breweries, took out a trademark for Saison that would have effectively banned the import of true Belgian Saison beers. Saison -- the French for "season" -- was originally a beer style produced by farmers to refresh their families and workers during the harvest period. It's now produced by a number of craft breweries in the French-speaking region of Belgium where the best-known Saison brewer is Dupont of Tourpes, based on a farm.
But DB will continue with its trademark for Radler, a lager and lemonade refresher first produced by Austrian and German brewers in the 1920s and 30s to slake the thirst of cyclists. In 2008, DB forced a small craft brewery, Green Man of Dunedin, to relabel its entire production of its version of Radler, which it had to rename Cyclist.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

CAMRA to challenge OFT ruling on pubs

22 December 2009
CAMRA -- the Campaign for Real Ale -- will issue a legal challenge to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT)over its decision to reject the campaign's Super Complaint on anti-competitive practices in the British pub market.
CAMRA is pledging funds to appeal but will depend on consumers helping to raise further funds to ensure the challenge can stand the best chance of success.
In October, CAMRA criticised the OFT for failing to protect consumers by taking no further action to address consumer detriment in the pub market following the campaign's super complaint submitted in July. Under the Enterprise Act 2002, CAMRA is entitled to appeal against the OFT's decision to the Complaints Appeals Tribunal and it has decided on this course of action to continue fighting anti-competitive practices in the pub market.
From Tuesday 5 January 2010, CAMRA will call on consumers to visit the campaign's website ( contribute to the Consumer vs OFT Pub Market Ruling Campaign Fund.
CAMRA chief executive Mike Benner said: "CAMRA's complaint to the OFT was based on securing a fair deal for the pubgoer and building a sustainable future for Britain's pubs. We believe the OFT did not take reasonable steps to undertand the pub sector."
Bob Young, a former member of the Monopolies and Mergers Committee and Principal for Europe Economics, said the OFT's response was "as inadequate as CAMRA's super complaint was compelling. The OFT has not seriously considered whether there is fair competition at a local level which ensures that consumners or pub landlords for that matter get the best deal. This is a critical shortcoming in the OFT's response to CAMRA."
Mike Benner added: "We urge consumers and associated trade bodies to get behind our appeal and support our fund."

Raise a glass to beer!

As 2009 quietly starts to disappear we can raise a glass to its departure and say it wasn't a bad year for beer. The media has started to treat the subject with greater seriousness and no longer thinks it's the drink that fuels the behaviour of mindless idiots tanked up on cheap supermarket vodka.
The Independent, the Guardian and the Telegraph have given more attention to beer and pubs this year while both the BBC and Channel 4 ran two series on British drink (BBC) and beer and pubs (Channel 4). Both programmes left a lot to be desired and I know that Morrissey and Fox were deeply unhappy with the way their Channel 4 series was turned into a bit of a giggle. But at least beer got an airing. The James May and Oz Clarke series on BBC2 was weird (did anybody believe these two posh geezers actually slept in a crappy caravan?) but a number of breweries featured and showed that beer-making is a serious craft. What we need now is a programme producer with sufficient balls and freedom to make a series about beer that treats it with a degree of reverence. It's been a long time since the Beer Hunter was made -- 18 years to be precise.
Among the beer-making fraternity, it's encouraging to see a growing number of brewers going the extra mile to produce new styles such as oak-aged beers and to recreate historic styles such as IPA and Porter. I know BrewDog is a touchy subject on this Blog but I admire many of the things they do to increase the appreciation of beer and interest in beer.
There's also a lot of good writing on the subject. I'm delighted that the beer-writing touch has passed to a younger generation. Zak Avery writes beautifully and Pete Brown richly deserved winning the Beer Writer of the Year accolade this month. Lets hope the growing number of books on beer get both the sales and the media coverage they deserve.
For me, 2009 will go down as the year when a spirited campaign saved the national brewery museum in Burton-on-Trent. I look forward to it re-opening in 2010 and urge all beer lovers to visit it and use its facilities.
In case I don't write again this week. have a good holiday everyone. Drink wisely and drink well!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Donaldson bows out with blast against drinking

The Chief Medical Officr, Sir Liam Donaldson -- the man who predicted [sic] that we'd all die from swine flu before the year was out -- made the headlines again with his view that giving watered-down drink to young people encouraged binge drinking and illness in later life.
In particular, he attacked what he called a "middle-class obsession" that believes watered-down wine for teenagers helps them understand and appreciate alcohol. Please don't call me middle class, but I think this "obsession" is sensible. When I was growing up in East London there weren't many wine drinkers around but my father -- an extremely moderate drinker -- would have a bottle of pale ale or brown ale with the Sunday meal and would give me a small glass of beer mixed with lemonade or ginger beer. Bring back shandy, I say! I was introduced to beer in a gradual way until I was old enough to go to the pub with my father and enjoy the Real McCoy.
The problem with drinking in Britain is that we tell young people "You can't go to pubs until you're 18" but when that liberating birthday arrives we send them off to the pub, totally unprepared for the impact that drink will have.
Of course, as society has changed, access to alcohol has become much easier and young people can now obtain drink from supermarkets, with the help of adults who buy cheap booze and pass it on outside the stores. On reflection, I think I would prefer young people to drink watered-down wine or shandy at home than hang around outside Tesco for some cut-price vodka.
Sir Liam is about the retire. I'm pleased he surived swine flu and hope he enjoys a glass or two of sherry over Christmas while his children -- if has any -- sneak vodka in to their orange juice.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Mail reinvents beer

Congratulations to the Daily Mail, which has found a new method for making beer. In an article on 15 December on how to avoid hangovers, the paper's definition of beer was an alcohol made from barley and which, during fermentation, creates sugar and alcohol.
Using this method, brewers will be able to save a fortune on raw materials as barley no longer needs to be malted, while the excess sugar created by fermentation can be sold to Tate & Lyle.
*How to avoid an intellectual hangover: don't read the Daily Mail.

Dublin Guinness FES

The Dublin-brewed version of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout is still available in Sainsbury's and I was able to do a comparative tasting with the Nigerian version discussed earlier.
It's a remarkably different beer. While it's no longer brewed in the traditional manner of blending "stale" stout with fresh, it still has a touch -- though more muted -- of "horse blanket" on the nose, along with roasted grain, a vinous fruit note and bitter hop resins. The palate is intensely bitter from the roast and hops, with dark, burnt fruit, while the long, complex finish has roast, hops, liquorice and fruitiness akin to over-ripe bananas.
Sainsbury's has a good beer offering, including Brakspear Triple and Fuller's 1845 and Vintage Ale -- though as these are southern beers they may not be available nationwide. But worth checking.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Meantime to build new brewery

London brewers Meantime have secured their future by signing a lease on new brewery premises in Blackwall Lane, SE10. This means that the Meantime Brewing Company will be able to remain in Greenwich: the locality that gives the firm its name.
The 30,000 sq. ft. premises will be home to brand new brewing equipment, including a fully-automated 50 hectolitre brewhouse that will double Meantime's existing capacity overnight and enable an eventual quadrupling of the firms current 12,000 Hl production.
At a total cost of some GBP1.5m, the brewery move represents a major investment in manufacturing in the capital and is a significant element in the company's strategy to make Londoner's proud once more of their great brewing heritage. Not many Londoners will be aware that for centuries London was the brewing capital of the world, or that the South London firm Barclay Perkins, whose premises were to the south of the Tate Modern, was the world's largest brewery.
The story of beer and London will be told to visitors in the brewery's new, fully equipped training suite, as the facility, only 10 minutes walk from the O2 Arena, will be a significant tourist attraction in its own right
Just one and a quarter miles west of Meantime's present home, the Blackwall Lane site is much more accessible to the public. This will also facilitate the company's distribution to its central London customers, knocking some 2,500 miles off the company's annual mileage.
Meantime were assisted in locating and acquiring the premises by the active support local MP Nick Raynsford and the council who were determined that a lack of suitable business premises would not drive one of London's most successful manufacturing enterprises out of its home borough.
Although beer will not emerge from the new brewery until the summer, Greenwich residents will by then be used to the sight of those brewing vessels that have a role at the new brewery making sedate progress along the Woolwich Road as the old brewery is gradually decommissioned and the new brewery is assembled.
Meantime founder, brewmaster, and Brewer of the Year 2008, Alastair Hook, said: "This major investment will secure the future of Meantime and the jobs of our employees, by enabling us to streamline our production and satisfy the growing demand for our beer that we are experiencing as more and more Londoners are aware that great beer is being made on their doorstep. This is going to put Meantime firmly on the map of London."

418 Words

Thursday, 3 December 2009

BrewDog to build new brewery

After all the recent controversy, we can all be pleased that BrewDog has announced it has won planning consent to build a new brewery that will permit it to increase production eight times.
Councillors have allowed BrewDog to relocate its operation from its Fraserburgh base to Potterton on the outskirts of Aberdeen. The move will allow the brewery to produce more than two million bottles of beer per month.
BrewDog co-foudner Martin Dickie said the "very exciting" project required a large site close to Aberdeen and good transport links. BrewDog hopes to use water from bore holes on the site and barley grown in local fields and will create renewable energy for power. The development will include a visitor centre that will attract tourists to the area.

Nigerian Guinness in Tesco

Hurry to Tesco...I never thought I'd say that but I discovered last night that the supermarket is selling the Nigerian version of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (FES), usually only found in specialist or ethnic shops.
This is a different beer to the Dublin-brewed FES, though the strength is the same at 7.5%. On a visit to the Dublin brewery some years ago, I was taken through a tasting of all the different versions of FES sold around the world. Guinness brewers explained how the African versions are made. Due to a lack or shortage of barley in most parts of the continent, Guinness breweries in Nigeria and other countries make a wort from sorghum. In Dublin, a wort is made using barley malt and roasted barley and is then dehydrated. The syrup is sent to Africa where breweries blend the two worts and then ferment it. The label of the Nigerian beer states that beer is made from sorghum, malt, roasted barley and wheat.
The Nigerian beer is strikingly different to the Dublin version, which has a powerful roasted grain note and the "horse blanket" aroma that is the result of blending a young stout with an aged one. The Nigerian beer has a fruity aroma with blackcurrant and strawberry to the fore. It has a rich malt sweetness balanced by good hop notes.
If Sainsbury's is still selling the Dublin version I shall buy some and do a closer taste matching.
Nigerian FES costs £6.95 for four 325ml bottles. If your Tesco isn't stocking the beer, ask to speak to the manager!
Can we now look forward to a supermarket offering Belgian Guinness?

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Wetherspoons to open 250 pubs

The JD Wetherspoon pub chain plans to open 250 new pubs over the next five years at a cost of £250 million. The new outlets will create 10,000 jobs.
"Our pubs are extremely popular and we wish to build on their success by opening more," said Tim Martin, Wetherspoon's chairman and founder. "Recessions can be a good time to expand because property prices fall."
Wetherspoon operates 743 pubs in Britain and will open new ones in Sheffield, Livingston, Leominster, Otley, New Malden, Liverpool, Haverfordwest and Newcastle.
The group is among a handful of beer companies to have improved its financial performance despite bad trading conditions this year. Earnings and underlying profits rose in the year to the end of July. Wetherspoon said it was the only large pub chain that opens all its pubs early in the morning, selling mroe than 715,000 breakfasts and coffee each week. The group holds regular beer festivals and most of its pubs have a good range of cask beers, often in towns where other pubs only offer keg beer and lager.
Greene King is another success story. It has announced that it is considering buying more pubs after a slight rise in first-half profits to £62.4 million, boosted by a growing appetite for pub food.
"People thought the food market would be hit but what we are seeing is that people are trading down to pubs to eat out," chief executive Rooney Anand said.

a call for civility


I am Tom Cannavan, publisher of, including Roger's blog. For my living I write about wine and publish my website, which has been on the go since 1995. Wine is my area of expertise, and although I love beer too, I am definitely not an expert. So when I had the idea of starting beer-pages in 2004 I knew I had to find the right person as my contributing editor. I count myself as incredibly lucky when Roger agreed to bring his experience, knowledge and passion for quality beer to the site.

I had completely missed Roger's post on BrewDog and the controversy it has provoked because I am on the final day of a 12 day tour of the vineyards of Chile (lovely bottle of Kross chocolate stout last night in a place called Akarana in Santiago). When I finally got a chance to log on and see Roger's post and the 30-odd replies to it this morning, I confess I was really quite shocked and saddened.

Roger's post was ill-advised. He is a guy who is passionate about beer and has spent most of his life defending beer, beer drinkers and brewers from various forces that have worked against them. I know Roger, and am certain his post was not trying to be clever or controversial, it was simply a bit of a gut reaction.

Roger should have checked his facts. I also agree he has missed the point that a £30 bottle of beer has got absolutely zero to do with the hysterical reaction of some people, even if it does have 32% ABV. The points about this being lower alcohol, a smaller bottle and having a higher price than hundreds of spirits on the market is well made and well taken. BrewDog are pretty blameless in this respect.

But Blog's are not places for carefully researched and analysed writings. The spirit of the blog is to talk freely about subjects that raise your blood pressure a little and express opinions. Yes, Roger got this blog post wrong in some ways, but the reaction from many anonymous and semi-anonymous posters has been unkind and unfair.

Roger attacked BrewDog's egos and 'naked ambition' and called them 'bonkers' in his headline. That is something that could be debated long and hard over a pint - I love many BrewDog beers, but I cringe at some of their promotional stunts, and it is obviously a company that puts itself out there to court such controversy (and the publicity it generates) very deliberately. But the responses to Roger have included many personal attacks on his integrity, competence, age and motives, all of which are unfair and unfounded.

I think an awful lot of people in the UK will acknowledge the enormous contribution Roger has made to beer - not just CAMRA and their ideals - over decades. I don't think a post in a blog - a pretty rubbish post in many ways (sorry Roger) - is any reason or excuse to forget that or for some of the reactions and language used here.

Please let us keep this civil and debate the points about the beer, the brewery, the fact that Roger may have missed the point, etc in a constructive and civilised manner. Roger may not be a brewer, but he is a thoroughly decent bloke who loves beer, knows a hell of a lot about it and would have a knighthood for his services to it if he wasn't such an anti-royalist.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

BrewDog -- a reply to critics

Let me start by stating what I do. I'm a full-time professional beer writer. As well as running this site with Tom, I edit the Good Beer Guide, usually write at least one book a year and contribute to many newspapers and magazines in Britain and abroad. I've been doing this for mroe than 30 years and have built up a lot of knowledge of brewing processes. I've no idea what any of you do but I don't do a lot of web browsing simply because I don't have the time.
I accept two points of criticism: I should have looked at the BrewDog website and I should have thought more carefully before rushing in to print. It's clear from the contributions to this debate that I'm not the only one who has occasional rushes of blood to the head. I'm also disappointed that this issue has generated so much activity whereas there has been hardly any response to the news that the Burton museum has been saved. Have we got our priorities right -- is a £30 bottle of beer more important than a national brewing centre?
Where yeast is concerned, I have studied the work carried out at the Swiss Hurlimann brewery where Samichlaus was first produced. The beer was made to test the tolerance of brewer's yeast and the brewery found that a normal culture could not produce alcohol above 14%. I have visited the Sam Adams Boston brewery and tasted a Triple Bock that, from memory, was around 18% -- that was finished with a champagne yeast. Those of you who scoff at my suggestion that wine or champagne yeast may have been used by BrewDog may care to keep this experience in mind. Doghead Stout, which was around 22%, was also finished with a wine yeast. I have also studied the way in which the Ice Bocks of Bavaria are made.
I have now looked at the BrewDog site and seen the piece about the strong beer. It raises more questions than answers about how this extremely high level of alcohol was achieved. I will attempt to visit the brewery next year -- it's a long and daunting journey from southern England and Fraserburgh does not have a railway station but I will attempt to work something out.
Having just returned from the BBC Food Show where I conducted eight tutored tastings to large, receptive and friendly audiences, I am once again disappointed by the tone of some of the contributions to this debate. We all love beer -- that's the starting point. Lets be good, bibulous friends. Criticise by all means but let's keep the venom out of it.