Intoxicated Through the Years I

Part 1 – Genesis

Strong’s of Romsey. On holiday we drove to the market town of Romsey, even before we had got out of the car, the smell was unbearable, I mean really unbearable to this child. I demanded we leave the town. My other early recollection of beer was after the fortnightly visit to Nana and Grandad, my father was often visibly stressed afterwards and before driving home we would stop at a pub. At the very least this was crisps and a fizzy drink in the car, sometimes a garden, better if it had a swing. Dad emerged after one pint, visibly relaxed. The jury was out on beer at this point but pubs were definitely good places.

Manfully overcoming my traumatic experience in Romsey and glossing over my date of birth and the legality of it, I started drinking in the early seventies. Bottles of cider and then brown ale were the beginning. Malty, sweet brown ale was excellent boys ale and a part of me still hankers after that, the memory is surely of a beer far better than it was. As we got older and it became worth a punt trying to get served inside pubs it was immediately clear that the stuff to drink was the beer that came out of the handpumps. Writing now in my dotage, I wonder why this was? Beer and fizzy drinks just didn’t seem to go together, however much Watney’s might have wanted us to believe it. The Europeans made lager but that was a continental thing – “Fine Ales & Continental Lagers” – and definitely not British, probably something to do with their climate. Paradoxically this was also the heyday of the ‘light and bitter’, a bottle of light/pale ale and a half of bitter in a pint glass. Light ale was a pale, thin, bitter concoction of the worst kind, in my humble opinion. I firmly believe that nobody actually liked light and bitter despite them saying things like ‘it freshens up my pint’. Rubbish. The reason they bought it was that the half of bitter was more than likely going to be on the generous side and in those days bottles were less expensive so you got more beer for less money.

There were 14 pubs in Molesey by the time I was of legal drinking age, 7 remain. Though I mourn the passing of a couple, to be honest, seven is enough. And there are a few of bars and casual dining places where you can get a beer. Courage houses dominated and the beer was OK, Courage Best was never spectacular but was a solid pint back in the day, Directors was a tad sweet (as stronger beers always were back then) and more full bodied. My recollection is that most of these pubs had handpumps. Across the river at Hampton Court was a Sam Smiths pub and in Hampton Hill we found a free house, rare in those days, with Theakston’s Old Peculier. The closest pub to my mates was a ghastly new 70’s build called The Surveyor BUT it had Fuller’s – Chiswick Bitter (not much to it), London Pride (a great beer, always was) and the strong, sweet ESB. At 5.5% it was ridiculously strong for our tender age and any of our group who attempted an evening on it got very messy (yes Richard [not me, the other one] that’s you).

There were two seminal moments of my teenage drinking years. The Covent Garden Beer Festival and my first pint of Young’s. I have no recollection how I heard about the beer festival, but hear about it I did. We were also aware of CAMRA and while fully supporting them we had no need and no money to become members. Remember in these days free houses were rare, each town might have, say, three brewers represented in it and those brewers had a virtually unchanging line-up of beers. So I was like a kid in a candy store faced with all these different beers. No idea what I drank but it was tremendous fun! My only clear recollection was of an old water tap in the wall above which some wag had written ‘Watneys’.

I like to think my first of Young’s was in the packed, smoky, Grey Horse in Kingston listening to live trad jazz though to be honest I can’t remember precisely. I had heard about Young’s, it was considered Marmite beer at the time. It was the only beer my father would actively avoid. Well, dear reader, I became married to it. This was beer with character, flavour but above all, by the standards of those times, bitterness. A bitterness balanced with a good malt body. Not long afterwards we became used to seeing occasional people come into a Young’s pub, order a pint and then pass over a document which was signed and returned.

Intrigued we approached the landlord and discovered that, although unpublicised, if you picked up a list of Young’s pubs (always prominently displayed in every pub), got a signature from every landlord and returned it to the brewery you could claim a free pin of beer and receive a Young’s tie with CXLVII proudly emblazoned on it. And so was born our preferred weekend evening entertainment for four or five years.

Evenings were well planned, especially when further afield so that we didn’t miss just one pub, new additions to the estate were scribbled on, I think we actually visited about 152. For those of you that have grown up with Youngs and Geronimo pubcos, Young’s pubs were a very different kettle of fish back in the day. Some were nice middle class saloon bar type pubs but many were much of the ‘spit and sawdust’ variety, definitely sawdust anyway. In short a lot of them looked like really rough pubs, in reality none were. Much the same as today in my opinion, nice people like good beer and we had some great evenings, especially when the locals knew we were doing the list.

Young's Beer
All you need now is a driver

Interspersed with the Young’s years was my university life in Bristol. Courage predominated there too, not even Courage Best but the very weak and boring Courage B.A., Boys Ale as we called it. Our local had a passable pint of Usher’s (before it was subsumed by Watney’s/Grand Met) and the highlight was Donnington’s, not a spectacular beer but just an excellent session bitter. We only knew of one pub in the centre until a second opened close to the biochemistry building, the Scotsman and his Pack. (Still the only pub where I have seen someone lower a parasol, roll a joint, put it back up and sit there smoking it. Give him a break, it was after finals.)

Our former Venture Scout master, Ken, with whom we ‘messed around in boats’ had a cutter in Portsmouth harbour and through that we were introduced to Gales, phenomenally good beer when on song, usual routine was to have a pint of BBB then a pint of HSB and decide which was drinking best that evening.

Ken also went to the Oktoberfest on a regular basis, what was there not to like about this idea? Colin, Ian, Richard and I set off in Richard’s tank (an oldish battleship grey Rover) armed with 2 tents and road map of Europe. Two days drive down, three days there, two days back and with instructions to avoid the Hofbrau tent (drunken, brawling Aussies apparently). The beer was a ‘when in Rome’ thing but somehow it didn’t taste like the thin nasty stuff that passed itself as lager in the UK, but the Oktoberfest wasn’t about the beer really. Each day we’d arrive, four 20ish larrikins and be seated with a German family, three generations, both sexes – and we’d get on famously. Sure by the end of the day they’d have gone home in good spirits while we bumbled drunkenly around, each one of us randomly getting lost but somehow we all got back to the campsite each night. It really opened our eyes to a different way of drinking, one that is only very slowly beginning to change forty years on in the UK.

After university and a couple of rented flats my first purchase was in west London and I became more fully acquainted with Fuller’s. One year they ran a ‘passport’ scheme and all 125 pubs were duly done for faux earthenware stein and growler as I recall. It was fun but did not have the frisson of the Young’s days. Fuller’s rightly had its devotees. Malty Fuller’s or hoppy Young’s, much the same as today’s malty Sambrook’s or hoppy Twickenham Fine Ales.

At the same time some of my old university friends started working in the City and the Princess Louise became the venue for Christmas and any other excuse drinks. Always a little shabby, occasionally smelly, very Sam Smiths, this pub is completely timeless as a visit last year proved. The Firkin pubs were fun but the highlight of my early eighties drinking was The Orange Brewery in Pimlico, one of the first independent brewpubs I encountered, they also sold hops to home brewers (home brewers did not have much access to real leaf hops in those day). The beers were simple and characterful, SW1 and SW2.

And then as the eighties progressed and the nineties started my cask ale intake reduced. First Dry Blackthorn cider, and then when the cider:Rennies® ratio became unacceptable, Guinness became my tipple of choice. No idea why, maybe just I wasn’t going in decent beer pubs.

Beerwise I began to drift a little. In France I was happy to drink the widely available draught Leffe and realised that fizzy, mass produced beer could be okay. In Germany I was introduced to wheat beer, this was definitely a good thing though I have never quite got their dunkel beers. Hoegaarden was a natural progression, another enjoyable, mass produced, fizzy beer. Having read about the romance of spontaneous fermentation I did manage to order a gueuze on the French/Belgian border, thoroughly enjoyed it but seeking it out and being able to pronounce it were a hurdle too far so the baton was dropped on what would later become a great love affair.

By the mid-nineties I was beginning to make business visits to the USA, at first to Boston. I was quickly alerted to Sam Adams, another good mass produced, fizzy, beer (yeah, yeah, I know it’s classed as a craft brewery, it isn’t, but that doesn’t stop it being good). Then on a trip to Salem I had a beer with about 100g of blueberries floating in it, it was for me at the time, totally leftfield and I loved it. The bar was full, it was a great bar, and everyone was drinking this stuff. The USA was not just a choice of Bud/Coors/Miller as we’d been told. Something was happening here, and it was exciting.

Agog to find out what Rich drank next? Part 2 – Revelations featuring Garrett Oliver, Logan Plant and a cast of beards including the epiphany evening, the Beer Bloggers Conferences and much more, coming soon…

Beer and Loathing in Bournemouth

Try everything once, except incest and Morris dancing. Wise words. It would be unfair of me to gently take the mickey out of CAMRA, its trappings and its members without actually attending the Big One, the annual members weekend and AGM.

Will people consider me the Anti-Christ for liking beers regardless of method of dispense? Will my CAMRA card be confiscated and destroyed if my beer preferences are outed? Will they get all evangelical and try to convert me to the Real path?

Trainbeer #1 is M&S/Arbor American Pale Ale. Maybe it’s the thrill of having a bottle of beer at 10.30 am but this is magnificent for a humble style. Superfresh, lemony and tropical. One of the listed ingredients is carbon dioxide.

Trainbeer #2 is M&S/Adnams White IPA. It’s another doosie! Is morning drinking the way forward? I’ve seen advocates of this my local park but they tend to favour white ciders over white IPAs. There’s added orange peel and coriander in this but also a, for me, beguiling sourness. Intended or not, I love it. Oh dear, carbon dioxide is an ingredient again.

Part of me wants to sit in the corner, observe and giggle inwardly, part of me feels that I really should engage, find out if I am genuinely wanted. The problem for lots of people in my position is that CAMRA is the game in town as far as consumer organisations promoting good beer is concerned.

Bournemouth is lovely in the sunshine and a salted caramel ice cream from Purbeck was just the ticket. This evening it’s down to recce the joint and a trip to Bournemouth Brewing Company.

To be continued…


Beer writing is a broad canon. From professional journalists through enthusiastic bloggers to an ecelectic selection of one-liners on Facebook or Twitter. In all formats, some of it is informative, well researched and well written, some of it is not. Some of the work is paid for, some is not, and there is the peril of ‘full disclosure’. What it hasn’t been up to now is tetchy and ill-natured.

Exhibit 1: M.Lawrenson, no not that one. Just an ordinary guy who blogged about beer, past tense. A self-confessed, talented piss taker he seems to have upset the establishment or ABCDs as he calls them (Awesome Beer Communicator Dudes), from an unnamed but well-followed lady, to the ubiquitous Matt Curtis and the ever genial Martyn Cornell. I wish I had read some of the posts. Certainly Lawro (as I can’t sop thinking of him) does have a chip on both shoulders about his working class roots and being outside the beer establishment. Unfortunate because I have one small circle of friends that I only know through beer, to look at us you would wonder what we have in common. On the surface it appears that it may be a case of ‘you can give it but you can’t take it’. As he says, beer IS fun, alternative reasoned opinions should be welcome. So his decision to stop is sad.

Exhibit 2: Matt Curtis. Matt should have a T-shirt saying ‘why is it always me?’. No denying it, Matt is a fanboy for Beavertown, Camden (pre-‘sell out’ natch) et al. Initially he had lots of run-ins on account of his need to defend any bad word said against these breweries (who couldn’t stand up for themselves;). The exchanges with Stonch were forthright but I always thought there was underlying good humour. Now Matt is indignant that Duncan Sambrook (All Breweries Debating Champion 2016) has suggested he is anti-cask/pro-keg. I don’t follow this too closely but looking at Matt’s last three blog posts (Beavertown, Lost & Grounded, Cloudwater), his history of being peoples champion for Beavertown, Camden et al and the paid work which he does (I only know of stuff in the predominantly keg sector) then I would say it is fair comment. We do need more Matts though, everything is always wonderful, nothing too deep but he has boundless enthusiasm, introduces the subject to new audiences and is good for the beer industry in general. Good luck to him for turning a hobby into a professional job too. However his indignation is misplaced.

Exhibit 3: Facebook. The UK Craft Beer Forum and the UK Craft Beer Network. One a splinter group of the other I believe. I’m seeing lots of posts from people new to the scene who having got derided for reviewing a beer that isn’t ‘craft’ decide to leave, that’s upsetting. Some of the stuff is well worth reading, including proper brewing industry insights from brewers themselves.

Maybe it’s a society thing. Maybe I am getting too deep and/or easily upset. I do think this general tetchiness is a newer phenomenon in the beer industry which until recently has been much more fun. A lot of it comes down the problem of grappling with the ‘what is craft?’ and the ‘is it quality or is it to my taste’ questions. But let’s all be civilised about it 🙂

Bite Size Reflections on #EBBC15, Belgium and Bloggers

EBBC15badgeSo the dust settles on another European Beer Bloggers Conference and once again the first place to start is with a massive thanks to all the sponsors and Zephyr Adventures for a brilliant few days of generous hospitality, high quality beers, stimulating discussion and much revelry. It really wouldn’t be possible without them and the conference represents astounding value for money.

Much has been written as a result and a good place to catch up is the Facebook page. For now I’d just like to add some bite size reflections…

Quaint – Before and after the conference I’ve started to follow the sponsor breweries on Twitter, as you do. Several have clearly joined just recently, it’s a long time since I started following a world famous brewer who had only tweeted about 20 times with a few hundred followers. I guess we’ll have to tell them about Facebook soon. Or are we wasting our time? They have been successful enough without it.

They are family

They are family

Family – The Belgian Family Brewers were a major sponsor. They are family, they care. No fast track entry scheme, 50 years it is. They will experiment, they will innovate – but not on you. Once they have got it right, then they will release it. Admirable imho. Some modern breweries make me feel like a guinea pig, they know some stuff won’t work, they don’t know which, are they real brewers?

Heritage – The Belgian Brewers are a more inclusive group as the name suggests but there is still a massive thing about heritage. Although diminished from the numbers in their heyday they know they brew some of the most famous and iconic beers in the world. Why would you want to change that? Belgian traditions and heritage are such that anything new is viewed with healthy suspicion. It might be good but experimental does not necessarily equal good and consistent quality is paramount.

Bloggers – Quite a lot of introspection here. The British blogging scene certainly represents a bit of a love-in sometimes. No surprise when a fair percentage are doing it partly as a reason to get free beer and ‘access all areas’ invitations – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The real writers are a slightly different kettle of wort, but again, there is not much constructive criticism. People trying to make a living (or a ligging) can’t afford to be too critical it seems.

Language – It was taken for granted that the whole conference was conducted solely in English. Yet the non-native speakers (viz, every Belgian brewer for starters) consistently had impeccable colloquial English. Bravo. I am ashamed of myself.

Belgian Beer & Food – Paul Walsh, the editor moderated several of the talks and Brendan Kearney (sorry for the omission of your crazy Irish accents). Proper journalism. Asking probing questions, not stopping until answers were given instead of lapping up the marketing PR along with the free samples. There is a big gap in the UK market for something like this in my humble opinion. If you are travelling to Belgium or just interested in keeping up to date with the Belgian beer scene this mag is indispensible.

Belgian beers – It’s all been said and it’s all good. I feel slightly sorry for Pilsner Urquell, they bought a lovely fresh tank of beer which we didn’t make a big enough dent in – all eager to go exploring and pub crawling Brussels.

Innovation – We saw dry hopped beers, we saw saison in cans, we saw Cantillon in disposable kegs, we saw a brewer encouraging us to blend his beers in the glass, we saw popular old beers that had been revived. We also saw history, tradition and the heritage of some of the world’s great beers, beers that people try to copy everywhere in the world. We didn’t see any experimental brews on sale that hadn’t been fully developed, or brewers with a ‘we’ve brewed it so we might as well sell it’ attitude.

The Wars – Don’t mention them. Older British brewers should feel incredibly lucky that their businesses and breweries and kit were not destroyed by invading armies. Mentioned several times this is clearly a big factor in the reduction of Belgian breweries and the renaissant state of the industry for the last 40 years.

Beer Tourism – Major sponsors included Visit Flanders and other Belgian tourist groups. They know what they’ve got. I’ve never seen any tourist board activity of this sort in the UK. Certainly in Surrey you can’t even get a brown road sign pointing to your brewery.

It’s going to be a hard act to follow.

I’ve sat on these thoughts so long that I’ve forgotten my other incisive comments. The end.

European Beer Bloggers Conference 2015, why wouldn’t you?

EBBC15badgeOr #EBBC15 as we like to call it. It is beyond me why so few attend this. Not that it is badly attended by any means. Zephyr Adventures are the organisers, they are enthusiastic as only Americans can be and responsive. For a relatively small sum, occasionally subsidised with bursaries, they put on a fantastic agenda of blogging related stuff, food, entertainment and most of all, FREE BEER and lots of it. Of course this is not done without generous sponsorship from brewers, large and small for whom everyone is grateful (in particular that’s you Vaclav, from Pilsner Urquell).

And this year it’s in BELGIUM. Enough said.

The conference aspect is not arduous and certainly interesting. The beer drinking aspect is arduous, but hey, we’re not afraid of hard work are we? I’ve recounted before my first insight prior to my first conference when I found somebody (yes, you Steve)organising the pre-pub crawl pub crawl. Then a typical day at conference is the expo (free beer samples), keynote address (and toast), some talks (with relevant beer to accompany them), reception (various free beer), dinner (free beer) and post dinner entertainment or pub crawl (beer, often free).

We can be an introspective lot us beer bloggers and there are various reasons why people blog. The idea of getting free beer in the post to review is appealing to many, for others it is a personality trait or a wish to be in the in-crowd, some are real writers, some drift into it. According to one survey most don’t do it for money though I suspect that most would like to unless they have high paid jobs – you are not going to earn much money out of this. Some luminaries have carved a deservedly great career from humble blog beginnings. But surely whatever your motives, the Beer Bloggers Conference is first thing in the diary?

And to all the above, why not? Beer is fun. Beer is unpretentious. Beer is also surprisingly complex. Any activity where you get to drink a bit more beer, possibly at less expense and where you have the opportunity to earn a bit of money is great.

If you blog, if you have thought about starting a blog, then do it. Come to the European Beer Bloggers Conference 2015.


European Beer Bloggers Conference 2015, as good a reason as any.

EBBC15badgeRich has been encouraging me to contribute to for some time now and while I may or may not have something to add the almost saturated world of beer blogging, I, frankly haven’t had the time or inclination to even bother. (Rich: Believe me he has plenty to add, now whether you want to hear it or not…)

Recently, Boak and Bailey posted about blogging with a concise dos and don’ts which I read with interest, you know ‘cos I could be a beer blogger, right? In the comments, however, amid the practical tips and words of encouragement was this from Alan on the Boak & Bailley blog  “(4) if you are starting out now, you are too late. There is little room left. ”
Thanks Alan.

So there it is, why bother? Don’t bother. Someone’s already written about what you’re thinking about, better and funnier and classier. (Rich: This is not the attitude that built the Empire but then he’s not English).

And there’s an element of truth, even experienced beer bloggers have gone fallow, lured by the chance to write glossy hardback beer porn, big list book-a-zines(?), or fan-boy faux press release type affairs. (Rich: And who can blame them. Even the chance to receive free beer in the post has its allure.)

In recent months, someone has re-started their blog, whom I’ve met, respect and believe they can contribute, with a series of posts, aptly called Reasons to be (Beer) Blogging.

Eight reasons so far and everyone valid, especially slagging off CAMRA, as we’re inclined to do here at Intoxicated. And the free beer. When does the free beer start?

However, Steve was drawn back to blogging for the same reason that I have been drawn into blogging. The Beer Bloggers Conference!

Rich has been to the last two in Edinburgh and Dublin respectively and thoroughly enjoyed himself and met some very nice people, and hey, I like enjoying myself and meeting nice people but I can do that in the Bexleyheath ‘Spoons. (Rich: Better, funnier and classier at the Beer Bloggers Conference though.)

No, what Beer Justice Steve and I want to do, is something I have never done before. Go to Belgium. Drink Belgian beer. Quite a lot of excellent Belgian beer actually. 

And reading the agenda which splendidly lists just some of the beers to be featured at meals and beyond, there’ll be the best and biggest names in Belgian beers and breweries and an opportunity to speak to their brewers and learn more about how their industry works especially under the shadow of the global brands and macrobrewers.

I’m excited and feel very lucky to have the chance to go and I may even improve on my beer blogging.