Saturday, 28 March 2009

More bad news for beer lovers

Supermarkets overtake pubs as
the main retailers of alcohol

There are now more supermarkets in Britain than pubs -- a stark fact that underlines the problems affecting the struggling pub trade. Research by IGD, which monitors the grocery business, reports that there are now 55,854 supermarkets. The number of pubs is 54,818, down from 61,000 a decade ago. The number is expected to fall to 52,000 by the end of the decade.
The embattled pub trade, hit by the smoking ban and an 18% increase in beer duty last year, has expressed dismay that the government has rejected a call from the Chief Medical Officer for Health in England and Wales to impose a minimum price of 50pence for a unit of alcohol. Sir Liam Donaldson made the sugegstion in order to tackle the binge drinking, which is caused in the main by young people buying cheap alcohol from supermarkets.
Bob Russell MP, a member of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, commented: "It is extraordinary that some supermarkets can sell alcohol for less than bottled water. The government needs to decide whether they think pubs are an important part of a sustainable community."

Peace at Marston's
I'm delighted to say that peace has broken out between Stephen Oliver, managing director of Marston's brewing division, and me (see previous blog). On my return from a week-long trip to Australia, I found a letter from Stephen in which he regretted his "intemperate descriptions of some CAMRA members". For my part, I am happy to withdraw the suggestion that he is a prat.

Early IPAs
Tesco should sort out the history of beer. It's own-label IPA, brewed by Williams Brothers in Scotland, says on the back label that IPA dates from the 17th century. I don't think there were too many members of the Raj around in India at the time, demanding a pale, refreshing beer.
If Tesco are right then the whole history of British brewing has to be revived. Porters and stouts would date from the 16th century and no doubt King John signed Magna Carter with a flagon of BrewDog Speedball.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Vile attack on CAMRA

Marston's chief calls real ale
campaigners 'stormtroopers'

As national Cask Ale Weeks approaches in April, you might expect unity of purpose among brewers of real ale. But Stephen Oliver, the managing director of Marston's Beer Company in Burton-on-Trent, has chosen to launch an intemperate attack on CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, in the trade paper Morning Advertiser (12 March).
His language -- "beardie weirdies, sandal-clad, whisker-stroking stormtroopers" -- is not only tired and lifted from the stale porridge of abuse in the 1970s but also contains the explicit implication that the campaign is some kind of Nazi organisation. "Stormtrooper" has only one connection in history -- and that is to the Hitler period in Germany in the 1930s and 40s. As far as I am aware, CAMRA does not exclude Jews or ethnic minorities from membership or ban them from its beer festivals.
Oliver's outburst is prompted by his belief -- wholly misplaced -- that CAMRA favours small micro brewers over larger companies such as Marston's. There is no truth to this absurd claim. CAMRA supports all brewers of cask beer. It has built good relations with such large national brewers as Greene King, Wells & Young's and -- perhaps it escaped Oliver's radar -- Marston's. His boss, chief executive Ralph Findlay, was the main guest speaker at CAMRA's annual meeting in Wolverhampton in 2007.
Oliver's rhetoric insults the vast number of CAMRA members who give up much of their free time to run the campaign's beer festivals, which number around 12 a month and culminate in the Great British festival (GBBF) in London in August. The tired old jibe about beards ignores the fact that in the past decade three National Organisers of GBBF have been women. The current national chairman of the campaign is a woman, Paula Waters. And CAMRA's chief executive Mike Benner is clean-shaven, well-dressed, and has a happy home life when he's not working hard to promote cask beer and save pubs.
Stephen Oliver cannot grasp the fact that without CAMRA, formed in 1971, cask beer would have gone the way of the dodo. Brewers were disappearing faster than the snows of winter and the remaining ones aped the new national brewers by switching from cask to keg production. CAMRA convinced many brewers to return to the cask fold and its success helped create the new wave of small craft brewers from the 1980s onwards. Along the way, it has given support to Marston's and its now unique "Burton Union" system of fermentation.
But Oliver was only warming to his subject. In his column in the Morning Advertiser, headlined "It's hard to keep the gobby hobbits happy", his concludes, "It's a golden opportunity [in Cask Ale Week] for serious brewers...to show that to enjoy cask ale you don't have to have mislaid your razor, wear socks with your sandals or to have a beer gut the size of Rotherham".
It's also a golden opportunity for cask beer drinkers to demand an apology from a prat with nasty views who demeans the brewing industry with his attack on CAMRA. He should apologise for his remarks without delay and, in particular, withdrew the disgraceful slur about stormtroopers.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Naice people don't use pubs

Media bias spoils pub action day

The media bias against the poor old battered British boozer is now so bad that popping out for a pint is akin to visiting an opium den. March 4 was the day designated by the British Beer and Pub Assocation, CAMRA and other worthy bodies as a day to bring to the attention of the public the plight of the pub. It was a day that culminated in a lobby of parliament and a meeting with MPs.
The media gave the event good coverage -- but the coverage was spoilt by the snooty attitude of some presenters. On the once revered BBC Radio 4 Today programme the item on the pub was handed to presenter Edward Stourton, known as Posh Ed to his colleagues. You could hear in the smarmy voice of the Ampleforth and Cambridge University educated Stourton that the very notion of visiting a public house brought him out in a nervous rash. He told Mark Hastings from the BBPA, who had argued that duty should be lowered on beer to allow pubs to compete with supermarkets, that surely encouraging people to go to pubs could only encourage binge drinking. Please adjust your prejudice, Mr Stourton: publicans lose their licences if they allow falling-down behaviour. Mind you, Mark Hastings didn't help the cause by describing pubs as "controlled environments". Makes them sound as appealing as a battery hen farm. "I say, dear, shall we put our orange suits on and pop round to the Guantanamo Arms for a pint this evening?"
It wasn't much better on BBC 2's Daily Politics, hosted by Andrew "Brillo" Neil. His orange face turned puce: "Don't like pubs," he grated. "Warm beer and no ice." Government minister Ben Bradshaw didn't help by claiming he was member of CAMRA -- news to me -- "and we like warm beer". Bit off message there, Ben boy. The programme did include an interview with actor Neil Morrissey, who runs a pub near Boroughbridge in Yorkshire and he put the case for the pub well, stressing its community role. But back in the studio, John Grogan MP, chairman of the Parliamentary Beer Group, was also chuntering about pubs offering a "controlled environment". Can we drop this mind-numbingly awful expression. Who in their right mind wants to go to a controlled environment? Plenty of those in North Korea.
The one positive thing to come out of the programme was that Brillo admitted he quite liked the look of Morrisey's pub -- "wouldn't mnind going there," he said.
It will probably close next week.