Pigs Ear Beer Festival

Jurassic PorkJurassic Pork aka Pigs Ear Beer Festival, what do we think? The jury’s out. Everything that’s good about CAMRA, everything that’s bad about CAMRA, all in one (successful) festival.

Let’s start with the venue. The Round Chapel, or the former Clapton Park United Reformed Church is a magnificent building both inside and out, listed grade II it is now owned and restored by Hackney Historic Buildings Trust. Complete with pulpit, organ and balcony it is quite beautiful, and totally unsuitable for a beer festival in many respects.Pigs Ear2

The beer. This is a broadminded CAMRA branch and the beer is an excellently curated selection of local, rare and regional brewers. Not only that, they had two keg lines and a good selection of international bottles, they even advertised Westvleteren 12 ffs! But trying to find what is on where is a nightmare. On the basis that one cannot get close to trying all the beers I would prefer to see  a smaller range with a greater guarantee of finding the beer I want actually on.

Spot the lady on the pulpit stairs having a meal break, deserved I'm sure.

Spot the lady on the pulpit stairs having a meal break, deserved I’m sure.

The organisation, the crowds. Downstairs is a scrum, the balcony is lovely, the bars are downstairs. The toilets are portable toilets outside (Ed-had to be changed because I inadvertently used a trademarked name, so let’s have a big shout out for their competitors Britcab, Mobile Thrones and the like). The staff are generally well meaning but not awfully good, they are volunteers so we shouldn’t complain.

The food. It’s camp catering (Boy Scouts not Larry Grayson). The cheese stall is a good idea but it’s all pre-packed to take way, and not a scotch egg or pork pie in sight. So, buy a sub from one stall, some prepacked cheese from the other, enjoy with plastic knife but no butter or chutney. Picnic on the balcony.

If Heath Robinson did beer festivals this would be it. It’s a must to attend and marvel at but so easy to criticise. No scoring for this one, make your own mind up.


What’s Brewing, October – November 2015 – Agony Column

Whats Brewing AugSep 15
Help for correspondents to What’s Brewing. Really, some of them need it.

In October craft beer gets a bit of respite with cider, Bill Tidy’s Keg Buster cartoon, Tesco and Welsh politics all taking some flak. Funniest comment surely has to go to HMcG of York who wants baby changing facilities in pubs and at beer festivals. Setting aside the fact that no self-respecting CAMRA member has ever changed a nappy if pubs and beer festivals are going to try and attract babies then I will not be going. Parenting skills surely don’t include this now do they?

DS of Chelmsford has a more or less regular spot on the letters page. This month he is banging on about one of his favourite themes, choice. Apparently choice only includes those beers one already knows. Discuss.

MC of Bury rails against CAMRA’s assertion that there has never been a better time to be a beer drinker. CAMRA correct, MC bonkers imho. Amongst his problems are that the Champion Beer of Britain has gone to a brewery established three ago which he is highly unlike to see in his local. Well, if his local is not an independent that carefully chooses it’s beers then yes, but then is it a good local. I was highly delighted that for the first time ever (?) the award had gone to a new beer, Tiny Rebel should be applauded. Some older beers were worthy winners but having won it should become ineligible (or else any new winner has to be demonstrably better). Certainly the case of Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, an old and ordinary beer rebadged made me stop voting. Next on his list is beers flavoured with chilli, chocolate, oyster and bourbon. Who’s to say, it’s your choice. Oyster stout is an old thing but doesn’t always contain oysters.

In November, the DS of Chelmsford letter is replying to someone wanting real ale in restaurants. Yes, it is a non-starter through turnover but not because DS thinks there are no bistros in housing estates and villages.

The Keg Buster cartoon is fast becoming the last stand of diehard CAMRA members. Letters for and against (it’s only a small f**king cartoon in a whole newspaper, don’t bother reading it if you don’t find it funny!) but perhaps the most telling is that from ET (no, not that one) of Bingham who suggests that maybe this is not the best way of attracting new readers.

In the paper itself is an article is an article ‘What if you couldn’t drink real ale?’, don’t bother becoming a member of CAMRA is my reply.

Under ‘stereotyped smashed’ is supposedly good news that women drink beer, from AB Inbev (Ed: Are they including Budweiser in that?). Sorry folks but to say that more women drink beer than a particular type of white wine produced only in a part of one Italian province does not convince me. Lots of women do agree that there are some sophisticated beers and this is a good time to try them but are they talking about real ale? I have my own idea on this.

What’s Brewing, August – September 2015 – Agony Column

Providing much needed help for the writers to What’s Brewing.Whats Brewing AugSep 15

It’s all rather mundane stuff in August to be honest. The ‘star letter’ from A C-C of Newhall is particularly avant garde though, ‘Internet vital to engage our younger members’ – apparently this is how the younger members communicate but sadly for most CAMRA members there is no description as to what this ‘internet’ is. I have a suspicion that computers could be involved. Seriously though, at their AGM they discover that 11 out of their 500 membership is active, and average age is 51. Nobody is surprised at this stat, but it is sad.

My theory is that all the writers are so old that the kids have flown the nest, grateful to get away. Hence they were on holiday during the submission time for last month – before the schools broke to get a good price. Pontins gets so crowded during the school hols. Now in the September edition we are back to good form.

KR of Beckenham thinks that CAMRA are ‘hell bent on supporting the micros to the detriment of the longer established brewers’. Quite so, who would want to drink a pint of something hand crafted a few miles away when there’s a good reliable pint of Greene King IPA on offer. NW of East London adds a new descriptor, ‘urine coloured’ – for modern pale ales presumably. I have yet to see breweries follow his lead in describing their beers thus, likewise the Farrow & Ball colour cards do not use this. Indeed it is confusing as from personal experience I have seen a number of hues. Several appear to think that CAMRA is becoming far to inclusive, no, not just a laissez faire attitude to craft keg bashing, but cider! Cider is clearly not real ale. AP of Hartlepool mentions ‘cider and other fringe drinks’, NM of Eastleigh suggests that cider drinkers should set up their own organisation.

Women, Beer and CAMRA

dea-latis-website-header_v1Women, beer and CAMRA, which is the odd one out? Looking at all the desperate campaigns and articles in What’s Brewing, looking at the demographic in Bermondsey on a Saturday morning, comparing GBBF and say, Craft Beer Rising, the answer is clearly CAMRA. What got me thinking was an article by Annabel Smith, a founder of Dea Latis in What’s Brewing.

Without presuming to understand what goes on in women’s minds let me give you my observations, gleaned from watching women in pubs, Bermondsey and well, everywhere.

– women are not put off by alcoholic volume, they enjoy say, 250ml of 12% alcohol

– women like nice glassware

– women do not want high liquid volumes

You know what, it sounds an awful lot like what I want too!

Let’s go back in time. Pubs were full of men, lots of them were manual labourers. And what did they want? Fluid replacement and to be able to go to work the next day. 3.5% session bitter? Perfect.

Think about it. Six pints is over three litres, is it really enjoyable to drink that much liquid, whatever the taste? If any men are in denial about drinking six pints in a session by the way, whatever the government says is safe, then it scales down also. It’s generally a lot of liquid for the flavour (notwithstanding some notable weaker beers nowadays, some of them real ales too. Thornbridge Wild Swan, Kernel Table Beer, Otley Tri-O and Moncada Summer Blonde spring to mind.)

Snap. Back to today, it’s now 40 years since wine bars became the sophisticated place to drink. Everyone cares about something local. And America has discovered that Fuggles is not the only hop. Everything about food and drink is going extreme, from coffee beans that have been passed through the intestinal tract of a coypu to beef from cows that have personally massaged every day. Likewise beer.

In the cities where they are, craft beer bars and microbreweries are cool places to drink. City pubs rarely cut it.

In general women have resisted the charm of session bitters, real ale and CAMRA since they began. You can lead a lady to the pub but you can’t force her to drink a pint.

By contrast, the ‘craft beer’ scene has everything to attract both sexes equally, as it should be. The most amazing range of flavours, strengths, complexities, styles and glassware. Nobody is hung up about whether a flavourless, odourless gas is added to the beer or not.

One of the reasons why I love the ‘craft beer’ scene is the great generational and sexual equality in it. I don’t want to look at a bunch of old gits in sandals at a CAMRA festival, I’ve got a mirror for that.

So, of course women like beer, who wouldn’t? CAMRA need to be more inclusive of other beers, then they will be more inclusive of women.

What’s Brewing, June – July 2015 – Agony Column

Whats Brewing JJ 15 2Providing much needed help for the writers to What’s Brewing.

In June, regular correspondent DS of Chelmsford is bemoaning choice, too many ‘unknown and often undrinkable’ beers. So give up now all you new brewers, DS wants to stick with what he knows. It was like that back in the seventies, ah, the good old days.

But what of the kidz? FC of Whitley Bay thinks that left well alone the ‘youth will embrace the values of their elders’ when they are ready. I don’t think FC has had a chance to visit the Bermondsey beer mile yet.

The voice of reason comes DH, president of a Uni real ale society who identifies their enemy as bland, flavourless beers and reads CAMRA’s original mission as giving consumers ‘greater choice and quality’.

In July, carbon dioxide and the dreaded ‘c’ word get a proper hammering. SB of Quedgeley says the enemy is keg and lager. So basically it’s back to WW2, the Germans and their lager are the enemy. That’s how many years of brewing tradition gone west then? LW of Worcester thinks that a ‘focus on quality’ is a bad thing. Oh dear.

Honestly, when you read stuff like that I really do consider leaving CAMRA but then you read Bob Southwell, the Volunteer Voice this month. Whilst not endorsing the ‘c’ beer revolution he does recognise the outdated ideas of CAMRA in some respects. Under the heading ‘Have we just become moaning relics’ he declares the need for action before CAMRA has the same fate as dinosaurs. Articles like this give me hope.

One of these days CAMRA is going to have aggravate a large minority of its members (and risk their resignations) in order to progress and increase membership. Or else another organisation will be more attractive and CAMRA will end up like the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood.

What’s Brewing, April – May 2015 – Agony Column

WB Apr May  15Providing much needed help for the writers to What’s Brewing.

In April it’s all about ‘Craft chaos’ and ‘zombie beers’. The great festival organiser MJ suggests that cask ales are easier to serve and dispense. To be honest this argument can be lanced with a suggestion that an adequate electricity supply is the answer. It remains the fact that a keg beer is much more likely to be served in the condition it left the brewery than a cask one. Dr DW of Crewe introduces me to the phrase ‘zombie beers’ – marvellous! CAMRA must surely take its rightful place as a latterday van Helsing and see off the undead beers. But hey, that’s suggesting there is life in these beers of a type that we can only fearfully comprehend. What dark forces are at work here? Are carbon dioxide and pasteurisation the devil incarnate?

The price of beer. AS of Cottingham points out that it costs more in bottles. £6.88 a pint! There are a few beers I wish I could buy at that price. Let’s draw breath and compare with the wine world, people don’t expect to buy a bottle of house red for the same price as a bottle of Chateau Petrus. Why should beer be any different?

Voice of reason – mention of the month – Prof GO asking for beers to be dispensed in thirds at festivals more widely (and therefore can we have more interesting strong beers).

In May we learn that ‘craft beer’ is a con trick. Even Fosters are using the word ‘crafted’! That’s the problem with words MH of Goole, anyone can use them. Basically there are crap ‘craft beers’, there are crap cask ales and anything that says crafted is almost certainly crap. Let your tastebuds decide! Obsession about an extra few pence a pint, love of mild (but nobody actually drinks it) and the need ‘familiar’ beers are also mentioned, oh dear, only one me and all of them.

Voice of reason – mention of the month – MC in volunteer voice, ‘diversify or die’. Prophetic.