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…

Whither Lagunitas?

Growing pains. There’s a lot of it about in the craft beer industry. And that’s only the drinkers.

Everyone is up in arms when their favourite small craft brewer gets to the size where business decisions have to be made, often involving ‘sell out’ to the insatiable appetite of big business.

So when a lovely lady invited me to taste some new, and more importantly free, Lagunitas beer and meet the ‘BrewMonster’ Jeremy Marshall it wasn’t difficult to accept. (Full disclosure time, free beer, goodie bag, no commitment to write.) In particular for the chance to grill someone about the relationship with Heineken. Spoiler alert, we all know their answer.

The Social on Little Portland Street was the venue, a bar on street level but we were downstairs in a noisy dungeon. I can’t imagine it is a regular haunt of Bryan Betts or Martyn Cornell, as indeed it isn’t mine. Suitably hip not Heineken though.

We don’t get a lot of opportunity to try some of Lagunitas seasonal and one-off brews in the UK. You can read better reviews of the beer elsewhere but in brief Born Again Yesterday is one for fresh hop lovers (fun to brew, I couldn’t drink much of it though), Aunt Sally a sour IPA using their English yeast (not sour enough for acidheads, not too bitter, entry level but none the worse for that, I enjoyed this) and an Imperial Coffee Stout which was phenomenal but as it was the last keg in existence I won’t tease further.

Crammed into a tiny bar space and with no prepared presentation it was a bit chaotic but good fun. A few titbits from the ‘presentation’,

  • Lagunitas suffer in the UK from the progressive duty, their beers are too high ABV to be competitively priced for the British market (in most other countries duty is the same on a 4% or 12% beer)
  • Lagunitas and Heineken are ‘trying to learn about the future together’. Information will be a two-way street apparently. (Though Heineken haven’t told them about their now not so new wild yeast strain.)
  • ‘Hazy is lazy’ I would be very interested to see this discussed with many trendy craft brewers. Will they use this phrase in their advertising I wonder? For more on this argument, please see Ed’s Beer Site
  • Lagunitas use a lot of different hops because they need each to add it’s own distinctive flavour profile. Large brewers (Lagunitas not in this category apparently) use a lot of different hops to level out the flavours. OK if you say so.
  • If Lagunitas was a band they would be Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. See previous comment.

It’s tricky isn’t it? On the one hand they want to be a bunch of west coast hipsters making cool beers for beautiful people on the other they want to make money and sell more beer. Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn face similar dilemmas, well maybe not a dilemma depending on their outlook.

One thing is clear, Lagunitas was good beer, Lagunitas is good beer. If the Heineken tie-in means that more of their rarer beers become available in the UK then that is a good thing. I will just judge Lagunitas on the beer.

Beer speaks. People mumble. Should I take offence at that?


CAMRA AGM and Conference

I’m torn. Part of me wants to carry on gently poking fun at CAMRA, part of me wants to try to push water uphill by getting involved and making a difference, part of me questions the relevance of CAMRA to the beer industry and part of me just wants to scream.

The preamble to the 2017 AGM and Conference (two completely different things with different voting procedures, as it was pointed out) was an extremely personal attack on Tim Page, CEO of CAMRA by self-appointed Pub Champion, Greg Mulholland, MP. Whether or not you agree with this, the timing was malicious and only self-promoting. Had it been delivered a week or two in advance it could been dealt with constructively. Instead it was airbrushed.

Of CAMRAs 180,000+ members less than a thousand turned up. Apart from the conference there was the bar, interesting brewery trips and side discussions. Compare and contrast with the number of members attending the GBBF.

It has to be said there were more women than I had anticipated (maybe 20-25%) but other stereotypes abounded. My de Molen T-shirt often attracts comment but I suspect few had ever heard of this outstanding brewery. The cask ales were numerous but all firmly 5% or less, the dark ones sold out first. There were also 8 real ale in KeyKeg beers. With low carbonation and insufficient cooling these were halfway house beers from breweries looking for a marketing angle, disappointing.

Dear Reader, you can find all the detailed info on the weekend here. But of course you will need to be a member, this is top secret info. Highlights for me were,

  • The voting system. Anything people don’t understand during the weekend is referred to as ‘CAMRA arcana’. For the AGM, a vote by hand in the hall had to be taken and counted by tellers, my understanding is that this was completely irrelevant to the ballot later. Amusement rather than embarrassment was the general emotion.
  • The admirable John Cryne spoke about the Winter Ales festival fiasco. I don’t profess to understand the full details but it seems to have been organised on a lets order lots of beer, people are sure to come basis. CAMRA festivals in general, there are exceptions, rarely have special festival beers, rigidly stick to average ABV guidelines and fail to excite.
  • Another voice of reason, Tim Webb spoke about the amateur approach to book sales (he is a successful author).
  • The Special Resolution was completely unintelligible. Fortunately the passionate Christine Cryne explained and advocated it succinctly.
  • The keynote speech was from Paul Chase about the formation of the Drinkers Voice, an anti-anti-alcohol lobby group. What he said was absolutely true but I can’t help feeling that CAMRA is too stretched and this falls outside their remit.
  • More amendment and procedures chaos at Motion 6 which was about what CAMRA can do without consultation of members. Rome, burning, fiddles.
  • Motion 7 asked the Conference to accept that ‘craft beer’ can be applied to real ale. Defeated. This was a time to stand up and be counted, but the people who realise this self-evident fact remained quiet and the motion was presented with a lack of passion. To me this denigrates all the hard working, passionate microbrewers of real ales that CAMRA suggests cannot call their product a craft one.
  • The Website of the Year award was a low-key affair. Neither at this point nor any other time during the conference was time spent on websites and social media. They probably won’t catch on anyway.
  • Cider House Motions. Don’t get me started on why cider not forgetting perry is included in CAMRA. The two motions at least attracted passion and everyone voted. I voted for the motions against the puritans and the motions were duly defeated. I backed another two losers but made up for it with the Grand National winner.
  • An electronic photo library was suggested and authorised in 2013 but CAMRA has been too busy to realise it. CAMRA is still too busy to commit to doing it by the end of the year. Then a very sensible called Mark from South Cheshire branch said words to the effect of, ‘how difficult is this? send me your pictures, I will add them to a free online library service and give it to CAMRA by the end of the year.
  • There were some officers from SIBA in attendance but they were strangely quiet, especially on the subject of craft beer.
  • Oh, and the Revitalisation Project rumbles on.

So there we have it. I did enjoy the weekend and met some interesting brewers outside the conference but my overriding emotions are sadness and frustration.

Modern beer drinkers, beer bloggers and social media, SIBA and most brewers all see CAMRA as an irrelevance as far as beer is concerned. I do believe they are good at campaigning for pubs at a local level but the budget was a huge defeat. A criticism often levelled at CAMRA is that they are inward facing, I can only agree.

There should be more to CAMRA than saving an unprofitable local pub and demanding that they serve a choice of four real ales (probably national mass produced brands) for less than £3 a pint and then producing a 10% discount card.

I believe it is probably wrong of me to continue as member, and I am sure a significant proportion of the members will not want me. I really can’t see that I can make a difference, existing progressive beer drinkers in CAMRA just adopt a ‘don’t mind them’ approach to the diehards but that is not the way forward. Sooner or later a new organisation will emerge to properly represent the modern beer drinker, until then I plan not to be a hypocrite, and therefore, not to renew my CAMRA membership.

May 2020 edit: well, my conscience didn’t let me leave, I went to Warwick in 2018, had a good time and met some nice people. Then in a moment of total madness went to my local branch AGM and have been attending on a fairly regular basis since, it has certainly given me plenty of material to write about, look out for more on my favourite subject.

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 🙂


Fizz off

MEMBERS wishing to promote ‘craft beer’ should fizz off and start their own campaign. End of discussion.” Your Shout, What’s Brewing, February 2017

I always enjoy the Letters page of What’s Brewing, I often find the letters highly amusing. CAMRA is like an old embarrassing uncle. Out of date, lots of ideas you don’t agree with but you’ve got to love them. This letter upset me, I know these people exist but I was amazed CAMRA would publish this opinion unless it was a widely held theme of their postbag. Having only recently signed up for my first Members Weekend, I felt compelled to write my first letter, well email, to them.

Dear Sirs

I was interested to see you printed ‘Fizz Off’ on the letters page (Feb 2017). Whilst I realise these are not the official opinions of CAMRA, I assume they are representative of your mailbag. It is likely I will not renew my membership, I joined the wrong organisation and do not feel welcome.

A cask ale drinker for forty years I grew up on the edge of London and got through my youth on a diet of Young’s and Fuller’s with a smattering of Courage in the more barren parts. Later I dabbled with Guinness and Dry Blackthorn but always returned to cask ale.

It was my introduction to the booming microbrewery scene a few years ago, some cask, more keg but importantly, innovative and ‘new to me’ styles that rekindled my real passion for beer. I just used my tastebuds to decide whether it was well made and whether I liked it. Two different things, but often confused. Exact method of production, for example, filtered or rough filtered (who knew?), was irrelevant.

Ironically then, it was modern keg beer that made me decide to join CAMRA as a body campaigning for good beer. I don’t agree with everything CAMRA supports and does but I do know it means well. I attend numerous beer festivals, some CAMRA, some not. More recently I have thought about getting more involved, I attended a Revitalisation Project meeting and will be in Bournemouth for my first Members Weekend.

Unfortunately the letter referred to above is the insulting pinnacle of the stereotypical iceberg. Further down I have seen

  • CAMRA members who won’t let a drop of keg beer pass their lips
  • At the meeting attendance was over 90% men, over 80% fifty year old plus and a majority who were members of 20 years plus standing
  • Lack of appreciation of the difference between ‘well made’ and ‘to my taste’
  • Support for grotty old pubs just because they have four handpumps (usually selling national brands bought on price consideration only)
  • A widespread ‘there’s nothing wrong with CAMRA we just need more volunteers’ attitude

I could have gone on. Of course not everyone is like this, especially the leadership, but a significant proportion are.

And then I walk into a microbrewery taproom and see a mix of young and old, men and women enjoying some session strength beers, some bonkers styles and ABV’s, relying on taste, no heed to method of production or dispense. To paraphrase the champagne laden waiter walking into George Best’s hotel bedroom and finding him on a money strewn bed with two naked ladies, ‘oh CAMRA, where did it all go wrong?’.

Yours faithfully

Let’s just leave it there for the moment.