A scooping book.  Well thumbed too.Dave Brown - Bacchus in person!Gazza by the coppers at Klasterni, Praha.What a lovely pair.  oooh-er missus!Gary Mess and his trolley!When the Beer House used to do mini-festivals...Keeping some bottles cold in a bag of snow on a train in Croatia!A big Prague tram in the snowThe one and only Jimmy Hill!What happens when you scoop too much... ;-)

     - the archive!   

Last Updated : 20/04/10

s the Soapbox page was getting too unwieldy and groaning under the weight (and kilobyteage) of all this ranting, I've decided to split it into the current rant and the old stuff which I've now placed on this page.  Enjoy the archive - there's some good stuff here!


Previous Rants here on Soapbox : 

It’s the deception I hate Gazza (06/07/09) Gazza
Beervolution – Darwin was right! Gazza (23/05/09) Gazza
Time to drink what you drank already? Billy Whizz (16/09/08) Billy Whizz
Beer in Restaurants   Steve Westby (24/05/08)  Steve Westby
"Great" beers reviewed on the Internet Gazza (10/02/08) Gazza
Scoopers demanding cellar runs - whatever next! Gazza (03/02/07) Gazza
Mobile Madness! Steve Westby (23/06/06) Steve Westby
Maybe Jamie was right all along... Gazza (13/03/06) Gazza
“LCD” is the real danger to proper beer Gazza (26/12/05) Gazza
Golden Ales Gazza (06/09/05) Gazza
Does beer make you happy? Billy Whizz (30/03/05) Billy Whizz
The Beer House - a Rejoinder Beige Phil Booton (November 04) "Beige" Phil Booton
Got Winners, got Soul Gazza (24/10/04) Gazza
Where have all the Rebels gone? Gazza (26/09/04) Gazza
Chill Out Mr Irritable? – No Thanks! Steve Westby (03/05/04) Steve Westby
Headmixer's life story Headmixer (04/04/04) Headmixer
Scratchers are a pain in the Arse Billy Whizz (21/03/04) Billy Whizz
Wetherspoons - a force for evil?  Gazza (29/02/04) Gazza
Where beers are from Steve Westby (18/01/04) Steve Westby
TVs in Pubs Steve Westby (07/12/03) Steve Westby
I'm so bored with the UK Gazza, November 03 Gazza
Fullers Simon Fyffe (September 03) Simon Fyffe
Music at Beer Festivals Steve Westby (19/09/03) Steve Westby
Bottle Conditioned Beers Gazza, August 2003 Gazza
It Makes Me So Chuffing Angry!   Steve Westby (22nd July 2003) Steve Westby
The Inebriate Rantings Of A Short, Fat And Irritable Festival Cellarman  Steve Westby (July 03) Steve Westby


It’s the deception I hate  - by Gazza Gazza 

We were in Stockholm the other week scooping beer – amongst other things – and consequently we visited the best Systembolaget shop in town to get some “room beers”.  In case you don’t know what I’m talking about thus far, let me explain; Sweden has a State-controlled alcohol system which basically means that only beer up to 3.5% ABV can be purchased in ordinary shops (we saw a whole row of imported UK beers in one shop; Sheps Spitfire and Wychwood Hobgoblin at 3.5%, anyone?) so for anything stronger you need to visit a branch of the State-run alcohol shops (called Systembolaget) or go to a bar.

This method of controlling the sale of alcohol has it’s ups and downs; drink in the Systembolaget shops is surprisingly cheap (not much more expensive than here in the UK) and the range – at the best stores – is relatively varied and interesting, but on the flipside you can’t get that many micro-brewer’s beers in the stores “off the shelf” and consequently, with ordinary shops unable to sell the majority of craft beer owing to it being above the 3.5% threshold, there’s not a lot of other options if you want some scoops in bottle.  Prices in bars are universally high, around £6 a pint, plus no take-outs are allowed so acquiring bottled micro beer is a matter of either visiting the brewery or getting lucky at a Systembolaget.

Despite these measures, which seem designed to support the multinational brewers and prevent micros selling their beer, the Swedish craft beer market is expanding (in common with that in most other European countries) as many people wish to drink craft beer rather than industrially-concocted junk for a variety of reasons including health, ethics and support for the “little guy”.  Per Forsgren, the leading Swedish scooper, told us how, a few years back, the Swedish government decided that only one brewery was necessary in Sweden and so the Pripps monopoly (owned by Carlsberg) was allowed to close down almost every other brewer in the country before the policy was recognised to be a bad idea and the current crop of micros began to emerge.

So, that’s the political lesson over, back to my tale of angst.  We were in the Systembolaget Passagen store and had acquired eight scoops from brewers known to me from our Gothenburg trip the previous year when we came across an unknown brewer, Three Towns.  Now it’s not with some 20:20 after the event vision that I say I was suspicious of the very professional, slick labels and singular lack of information about the brewery anywhere on the label but, overriding my cynicism, we picked up Three Towns Sommerlager and Majbock for later consumption.

It was only during a superb Barbie at Per’s house a few nights later that, when I queried the Three Towns brewery’s identity, Per frowned; “It’s multinational crap” he informed us, and I felt very annoyed: I hate giving money to multinational companies on principle – in common with a growing number of “normal” people – and obviously Carlsberg Sverige realise this so, rather than badging their beer as Carlsberg, they’ve invented a spurious “micro-sounding” brand to con people into buying it thinking that it’s craft-brewed rather than industrially-made.  Carlsberg aren’t alone in doing this as corporations around the world try and cash in on the growth of craft producers and popular backlash against multinationalism by inventing new ranges of products (or simply rebadging their existing ones) with folksy-sounding names and – more insidiously – not putting their own name on the packaging (they’re not embarrassed, are they?) to try and fool people into buying their dross thinking it’s local and/or made with wholesome ingredients rather than the cheapest crud they can get their grasping hands on. 

Closer to home the “Red Sky” range of crisps is aimed squarely at the same market as Seabrooks, Kettle Chips and Tyrrells but completely fails to mention anywhere on the packet – apart from a tiny postcode, maybe a printing mistake? – that they are in fact manufactured by Walkers who, in case you needed a reason to hate them, are the UK outpost of the bloated corporation that is PepsiCo.  Then there’s Green & Black chocolate which has been in the hands of Cadburys for a good few years, but do they advertise that fact?  No, they keep it a very well-kept secret hoping, presumably, that those people who eat quality chocolate (that’s Cadbury out straight away; Dairy Milk doesn’t even meet the EU threshold on Cocoa solids of 35%!) will think it’s made by artisans in a small factory… well, it’s not, although I will admit that it’s a damn sight better than the usual crap Cadburys make!

Back in the beer world there are plenty of other examples of this blatant deception; Molson Coors brewery (now MillerCoors) make Blue Moon, a famous wheat beer in America, but fail to mention that they brew this beer at their huge factory in Toronto and instead claim it’s made by the “Blue Moon brewery company” which leads many drinkers desiring a craft beer to believe that it’s from a small independent brewer rather than a huge corporation with breweries worldwide, and then there's the small matter of a certain "Westgate Brewery" which produces beers but, similarly, fails to mention anywhere that the beers are - obviously to us, not to ordinary drinkers - made by Greene King which whilst not a multinational it does exhibit some of the same tendencies.

I could go on, but you get the message: I, and a growing number of ordinary people, don’t want to give money to these profit-at-all-costs multinational corporations and they realise it so, in their usual sneaky, underhand and devious manner, they are busy thinking up craft-sounding names in order to pass off the same old crap as a “craft product” or maybe a slightly better range that their usual crud.  In my opinion this is deception, pure and simple, and shows just why I dislike these insidious companies in the first place: rather than accepting people want a genuinely local and wholesomely-made produce they prefer to pass off industrial dross as craft hoping that consumers won’t know the difference. 

My experience in Stockholm shows that this works to an extent, but once bitten twice shy and next time I’ll let my innate cynicism make the decision and, hopefully, that’ll be the last time I give money to a multinational… until the next time I’m conned by the conniving bastards.

© Gazza 06/07/09

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Beervolution – Darwin was right! - by Gazza Gazza

Darwin was right.  If you don't believe me, maybe because you're some lunatic in a cult who blindly believes what some fairy stories of dubious provenance tell you, then all I can say is look at the beer market! Chas’s process of natural section is happening right before our eyes and has been for the last 30 years, although listening to some people in CAMRA you'd think beery perfection was reached when every pub sold mild and bitter; this is akin to a Triceratops thinking it's the pinnacle of mammalian evolution as what could possibly improve on a 2-tonne hunk of flesh with a disproportionally tiny brain complete with a huge tail covered in spikes and a row of big fuck-off spiky things down the back?

Beer tastes are evolving, there’s no question about that, and the market seems to be diverging into two distinct evolutionary branches. On one hand we have what I'd describe as “cheap crap” which encompasses everything aimed at the “lowest common denominator” market and/or supermarkets for the undiscerning drinker whose prime consideration in purchasing beer (and I use the term very loosely) is how much it costs or, more prosaically, how much alcohol they get for their money, the very same reason Buckfast tonic wine is very popular in poor areas around Glasgow as it's “bang for buck” factor is impressive.

There's a slight subdivision of this genus as 99% of pubs sell the same stuff as supermarkets but for ten times the price, so I'll term this particular branch of beervolution as “expensive crap that you can buy for fuck-all in Tatscos”.  Basically it's the same stuff only more costly and, as it dawns on more and more pub-goers that they can buy ten thousand cans of industrially-concocted lager for the price of a pint down their local, more and more pubs who only offer the same “brands” as supermarkets will close and this branch of beervolution will wither and maybe even die out unless it adapts to it's environment by becoming much cheaper whereupon it will revert to it’s original form and simply become “cheap crap” again.

At the other extreme is quality beer, craft beer, whatever you want to call it, but whichever name you give it it's the same thing; beer made by small brewers with quality ingredients made for the discerning consumer who don't mind paying extra for flavour.  Obviously, with today's advertising culture where what to drink/eat/do/think/like/aspire to/covet/be is rammed repetitively down our eager throats via the insidious medium of TV until we submit, this market will be much smaller than that for cheap crap but with more and more people anxious to know where their food comes from, what's in it and generally questioning what they’re being told to consume the number of those willing to pay more for quality can only increase, which can only be good news for those brewers who make such beers.

So, that's the multinationals and micros dealt with; they are at opposite poles of the beer spectrum and can only grow further apart as the chasm between cheapness and quality widens, but what of those brewers caught in the middle, those who make bland beer for the “ordinary drinker”? Well, it seems to me as if these are the brewers who will, sadly, fall though the cracks and vanish within a decade, maybe a generation.  These mid-sized regionals and wannabe nationals are seeing their market dwindle, slowly but surely, as people choose between the extremes of cheap “alcohol delivery systems” to get them pissed as quickly as possible and craft beer which has all the complexity – and more – of good wine which used to be seen as the pinnacle of “taste”.  Fewer people are choosing to drink bland beers as they’re not cheap enough to satisfy the drones yet not interesting enough to excite craft beer lovers which leaves their makers in a somewhat perilous situation.

Some may claim to be selling more beer but, in most cases, it seems to be by offloading it cheap rather than a genuine increase in sales due to it being seen as a true craft product and thus these brewers have made their choice and side with the cheap rather than quality. It's time for the mid-sized brewers in the UK to realise they have a very stark choice to make; it's either the road of cheap bland commodity – which the big boys can do much cheaper and better than they can – or it's the quality market which most don't seem to understand, a fact borne out by their flavourless pastiches of craft beer churned out as “seasonals”.

Obviously there are those brewers who could jump into either camp and may survive, but with ever-declining beer volumes in pubs it's time for brewers to chose which side they're on and act accordingly; there isn't room for everyone in the quality lifeboat and there will be casualties, but is the loss of brewers making bland beer really a bad thing? It may be bad for the staff that lose their jobs and the loss of centuries of history contained in the companies which vanish, but examined in the cold light of day is it really such a disaster if we lose those brewers making bland beer and/or that passing itself off as craft when it's simply industrial slops?

It’s time bland beer died out as a result of natural selection and, I'm pretty sure, the next 10 years will see this happen in the UK in the same way it's happened over in America where you're either craft or industrial with nothing in-between.  I'm sure it's not what those in CAMRA imagined the beer market would look like 30 years ago but, in my opinion, this is the brave new world we’re living in and it's time for brewers to decide which camp they're in and act accordingly.

Natural selection will triumph eventually; there's no way to avoid it, even in the beer world, so as long as drinkers demand quality beer it will survive, but it had better be good as there's nothing more certain to piss people off than crap being passed off as craft and those who chose the craft path need to understand this whilst those who choose the cheap crap path had better hope 95% of the population don’t suddenly develop a brain and decide to drink proper beer… but just how likely is that?

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Time to drink what you drank already? - by Billy Whizz  Billy Whizz

This isn’t about giving up ticking, even though it sounds like it. True, I do worry about some of my desperate scooping friends, and whether some of them are heading for a time when they’ll be even more desperate to undo or even survive the effects – physical, mental or financial – of what they’re doing now. But I wouldn’t expect many people on this forum to want to hear that.

No, this is actually about new beers. Now, we all know that brewers have a whole range of approaches to how they name and distinguish their products. Persistent suspicions surround some of the “beer of the minute” brigade, past and present, as to whether their newly-named brews were/ are all different from each other and from what they brewed previously. However, at the other end of the scale, there are many brewers who have stuck to the same names over time immemorial but are not in the habit of disclosing changes in their recipes. We, particularly the  “silver scoopers”, all like to point to some such beers and say they’re not as good as they used to be. Sometimes this has more to do with the scale of production and the need to make a local beer easier to transport and to keep, when it achieves a wider distribution. A reduced amount of residual yeast activity in, say Wadworth’s 6X and Taylor Landlord may go some way to explaining why some people – including me – say these beers are not as characterful and satisfying as they were a generation ago.

In other cases, we know that the name has stayed the same but the recipe has changed. A good example is Woodforde’s Wherry, which in the early 90s I drank as a beautifully fragrant bitter owing to the use of Styrian Goldings, but has – to my palate – totally lost that quality in today’s format. It may be, of course, that the company has something to hide, when the brew changes around a lowest common denominator dictated by accountants and buyers, with the brewer left to make the best of what is foisted upon him. Greenall Whitley, anyone? “Higsons” from Sheffield??

But why is today the time you might want to drink what you did already? Well, I’m sure some of you have already guessed by this point that it’s to do with the availability of traditional hop varieties – or rather, the lack of it. The number of changes forced upon established beers due to this factor over the last two years may plausibly be more than ten years’ worth of tweaks carried out of the brewer’s own accord. This can be done haphazardly, but equally it can be done with great care to try with different hops to approach the taste created with the original blend. In any event, it is a new recipe.

Depending on the brewer, neither kind of change may be announced, but you can see where I’m coming from. By drinking again those beers that have been in the GBG for years you are more likely than ever to be drinking new beers! This is music to the ears of those scoopers I know who now reset their total to zero every January and count every beer as new for that year. But for the rest of us, it might just reinforce the uncomfortable truth that getting a different name is not always the way to get a different brew. Maybe taking some time out deliberately to drink beers that we don’t know whether we can count will be interesting and even rewarding, amid the dash to cane in all the new stuff of admittedly variable quality and provenance.

Of course, like most of us, I’ll be continuing to seek out new breweries in particular, and was pleased to get 13 of them at Tamworth this year. But I didn’t feel any obligation to make a dent in the other 60 or so beers that my database said were new to me. I’m getting to the point where I’m quite happy to wander around a town that offers a diversity of beers but no scoops, and see whether beers I thought were familiar are as I remember them.

Anyone else feel the same?


"Funnily enough, yes I do!!!  Knowing how many hop varieties are currently out of stock or severely limited in quantity, I can imagine that most beers in permanent production will have changed their recipe over the last year in some way..."  Gazza

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Beer in Restaurants - by Steve Westby  Steve Westby

I was in a reputable Italian restaurant in town a few weeks back with a former work colleague. She had recommended the place because the food was pretty good and apparently they had a decent wine list. On her advice I ordered something called a calzone, which looked like a big Cornish pasty to me, but there wasn’t much meat in it, and instead of gravy they served it with some oil that had a chilli stuck inside the bottle.  But enough about the food let’s get on to more important matters.

My friend knowledgeably selected a glass of some plonk or other from the wine list and then I was asked what I wanted to drink. “What beer have you got?” I asked, to be told that they only served one type – a well-known Italian “brand”. “Haven’t you got any decent beer?” I persisted, but the waiter assured me that was all they served (it was over three quid a bottle as well by the way!) – but then he made me very angry by patronisingly saying, “It is very good”!! Well, I saw the red mist on hearing this, “No it isn’t very good at all” I retorted, “It is very thin crap with virtually no taste”. At that point my friend jumped in and apologised for my rudeness, saying that I thought I was a beer expert, as if that was some sort of excuse like dementia or something. Knowing what was good for me, I am terrified of women at the best of times, I shut up and tucked into my Italian pasty whilst meekly supping this, in my view, fizzy, virtually tasteless yellow wazz, wishing I had been quick witted enough to order a glass of tap water instead.

Can someone please explain why it is rude for me to object to a restaurant beer list consisting of one wazzy beer (alongside a knowledgeable wine list of numerous styles and vintages) yet it is not downright insulting of the restaurant to only offer me this pathetic choice in the first place? Restaurants brag about their accomplished cuisine, their top rated chefs, their sophisticated wine lists and even sometimes their array of rude sounding cocktails, yet they apparently can’t be arsed to get off their backsides to select a small choice of quality beers.

I only ask for an option of perhaps four or five different styles (note “styles” not “brands”), all readily available, such as a German wheat beer, an India pale ale, a Trappist brew or similar quality Belgian ale and perhaps a British bottle conditioned ale. But no, these seemingly snobby restaurateurs can only be bothered to offer a few well known “brands” nearly all fizzy, thin, identikit lagers that you would struggle to tell apart in a blind tasting, that’s if you could discern any taste in the first place.

By their attitude they are insulting their customers and I challenge them to do something about it, it is not difficult and CAMRA will offer as much advice on styles, suppliers etc. as they like for free, they only have to ask. Oh and while I am at it, Indian restaurants are not excused from this, it isn’t good enough to offer just Kingfisher (brewed by Shepherd Neame in Kent) or Cobra (brewed by Wells and Young in Bedford), let’s have a choice of beers that will go with the spicy food just as well, and possibly better, such as a hoppy IPA or Belgian ale like Duvel.

I am not the only that is pissed off by crap beer in restaurants either; they apparently have the same problem in the States. Todd and Jason Alstrom, founders of the highly regarded web site beeradvocate have a rant on the same subject as the leader in the July edition of their excellent monthly Beer Advocate magazine (available by subscription in the UK), which was launched at the end of 2006. They say, “Most fine-dining restaurants fail at beer. They’ll put all of their focus on creating extensive wine and spirits lists – hiring a sommelier, pairing wine with the experience and upselling aperitifs and digestives. Beer is treated as inferior, an afterthought; a server can rattle through the average beer list in five seconds – and give you a nasty look for ordering one even quicker.”

The article goes on to berate restaurants for taking pride in their food, wine, décor etc whilst “letting their beer offerings slack”. They add, “Why go through such incredible attention to detail to make everything top-notch, only to betray yourself with the same cookie-cutter selection of six beers that everyone else carries?” They then urge customers to ask restaurant managers why their beer selection is so poor and to offer them suggestions as to how to improve it. Their final suggestion is a good one “If they are not interested, get up, walk out and take your money elsewhere.” Perhaps that is what I should have done, walked out of the Italian, left my pseudo Cornish pasty on the table and buggered off to the Kean’s Head where the pie and chips I had spotted in their earlier had looked superb and could have been washed down with a pint of Elsie Mo, which certainly ain’t thin, fizzy or wazzy and is brewed less than a mile away!

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"Great" beers reviewed on the Internet  - by Gazza  Gazza

The other day I was researching the slim possibility of a brewpub and/or scooping bar in Oporto, Portugal, as we're off there in a few weeks mainly for the port but principally because it's an excellent place (not the beer this time!) but, instead of finding anything useful, all I kept coming across were discussion forums where travellers had posted that I should "get a slab of great beer like Super Bock". 

Oh, where to start... many things crossed my mind whilst reading such gibberish, but the main thing that dawned on me was that most people haven't got a clue what good beer is; there's a world of difference between liking a beer and said beer being any good, as I'm sure you all realise!  Let's start with the basics here; Super Bock is an industrial lager which I'm pretty sure isn't 100% malt and I'm also rather convinced doesn't use a lot of noble hops (or any real hops?) in it's production - note I didn't say brewing there - which makes it a pretty long shot for contender of beer of the year in anyone's book who knows about beer.

I know this is generalising a touch but the world's great beers are usually made with 100% malt (or at least 100% grain, although I know a few aren't) plus a healthy dose of traditional (i.e. whole cone) hops and generally nothing else (okay, I know, kriek and framboise contain fruit, but I'm generalising here...) so therefore a beer made with a large dose of adjuncts such as sugar and starch and probably hop extracts and then lagered for a short length of time isn't exactly going to rock the world of most people who know what good beer actually is.

This may sound patronising and elitist, but it's as true in wine, beer or just about any other product you care to mention - make it with traditional ingredients, in a traditional manner, with no shortcuts, cheapening or quickening and - perhaps most importantly - let someone who knows what they're doing make it, and you'll get the best results.  I know Super Bock and it's ilk aren't trying to be the best Pilsener clone in the world but that doesn't stop ill-informed people saying it's "great beer".  Yes, they may like it and yes, it may slake a thirst on a hot day in Oporto, but it's not great beer in the essence of being brewed by artisans in a traditional manner.  It may fulfill it's role in the world admirably but that doesn't make it a good beer.

There's a world of difference, as I said, from knowing you like something and knowing what you like is a quality product.  Most people in these low expectation times don't even know what quality looks or tastes like, but thankfully some people still do - that's why I'll always bang on about people who say something is "great" when what they really mean is they simply like it; a personal opinion isn't fact it's just a personal opinion, no matter how often you repeat it.

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Scoopers demanding cellar runs - whatever next! - by Gazza  Gazza

On Scoopgen recently there was a thread where a scooper, turning up at the LRL in St Albans, was most miffed to not be offered cellar runs and made his thoughts known in no uncertain terms.  Now, I know that a major part of my falling out with the Evening Star in 1996 was due to Geoff not doing cellar runs when he'd made an unwritten rule to do so (although personality clashes was also a contributing factor...!) but I'm sure I'm not along in feeling a touch uncomfortable about scoopers walking into pubs and thinking they have a right to beers from the cellar?

When I were a lad tram (tram t’ town for a ha’penny and all that) cellar runs were almost unheard of and - should they take place - the recipient was suitably grovelling and appreciative to the landlord as, when you think about it, he/she doesn't have to run up and down stairs in direct contravention of H&S regulations (not holding the banister or having a hand free) just to service us misfits with a couple of extra halves; he's not exactly going to go bust through refusing to do so, is he?  No, cellar runs were usually done as a "thank you" to scoopers who had travelled miles or became well known in the pub and, in my experience, were always well received and suitably thanked.

This whole sad episode just seems to me as typical of the current state of scooping - too many beers to drink, too many breweries to keep up with - but some scoopers, not content with the aforementioned state of plenty, are now demanding cellar runs and getting most upset if they don't happen!  In the old days (I'm starting to sound like a right grumpy old fart here) demanding a cellar run would probably be met with being shown the door and maybe this is the right attitude; it's not a right, it's a privilege, and if you treat it as one it will continue but, conversely, treat it as a right and bite the hand that feeds you then the attached foot will come along at a later date and kick you squarely in the bollocks.

Treat the cellar run with respect; it's a bonus, and usually a very welcome one at that, but it's not an automatic right even if the landlord usually does them; chill out and take scooping less seriously, there’s more to life than your scoops tally!  I fondly remember being in the Albion at Crewe during New Year 1996 and Alan asked me if I needed Orkney White Christmas; this was a massive scoop at the time and I was salivating at the prospect, but all he said was "Be here tomorrow".  I did, and was treated to my only cellar run in the Albion (a very rare occurrence there) as Alan huffed up the cellar steps and surreptitiously passed me a glass of golden beer.  "There you go, but for fuck's sake don't tell anyone - those steps are a killer!" he whispered...

A privilege indeed.

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Mobile Madness? - by Steve Westby.  Steve Westby

Do you remember when you could catch a trolleybus down to the pub, sup a pint of the nectar that was Shipstones bitter and pay one and six for it in proper money?  Fat chance of that now because life has moved on. They were the days when blokes always wore a collar and tie to go to the pub at night, they also wore braces as well as a belt and most would have a packet of ten Park Drive in their pockets. So what’s the old fart whingeing on about now, well hang on and I will tell you.

A couple of years ago we were in a boozer in Cambridge when my mobile phone rang. I went outside to answer it and when I came back in the barman had the nerve to try to fine me for answering my phone in the pub. I told him to get stuffed in no uncertain terms, it’s bad enough the government fining us with their chuffing revenue cameras every time we accidentally creep over 30 in a built up area without flaming pubs getting in on the act.

To make it worse the landlady then had a go at me for being rude to her bar staff, and insisted I pay the fine; and telling me it was for charity just made it worse. I was answering my ruddy phone to direct a customer to her pub as they were lost, I didn’t know that it was going to ring and how the hell was I supposed to know that there was a rule banning mobile phones in her pub in the first place!! She didn’t get her fine and we promptly left the pub, taking away a large chunk of her business as there was about a dozen of us.

But disappointingly this doesn’t stop in East Anglia. A few months later I walked into an empty pub in Nottinghamshire, it was lunchtime and it had just that minute opened. As I did so my mobile rang. It was my mate asking how to get to the pub, he had just got of a train to meet me but couldn’t find it. But I didn’t have chance to answer him before this “lady” appeared from nowhere and started berating me. “We don’t allow mobile phones in here” she went on “you should read the notice, phones should be switched off before coming in here”. Chuffing hell all I was trying to do was have a pint with my mate, not get treated like some naughty schoolboy. Besides how was he supposed to find the pub and buy some beer if he couldn’t find it!

I now know that this pub has notices telling customers not to use mobile phones but how was I supposed to know that when I walked in? Indeed how was I supposed to know that my phone was going to ring – flaming extra sensory perception or something? Are we supposed to check for blooming notices every time we enter a pub to see what the rules are, no eating garlic or not moving the pub furniture perhaps, or how about no talking about football (incredibly the Cambridge pub also had that rule!)?

I thought pubs were supposed to be welcoming places, not somewhere you live in fear of getting a bollocking because your mobile phone rings unexpectedly. We are increasingly saddled with more and more petty legislation; surely you don’t also want it in your local pub? Do you really want to have to worry when entering a pub that you have to remember to switch your phone off or at least put it onto vibrate only? Besides you struggle to hear your phone ring in a busy pub and it certainly doesn’t disturb anybody unlike the ruddy television screens that seem to be popping up everywhere.

We live in the world as it is today, male customers in the pub rarely now wear braces and carry a packet of Park Drive in their pockets, but the vast majority of all customers do carry a mobile phone. That is a fact of life, that is the world we live in today, and you can’t put a bag over your head and pretend that it is not happening, as much as you might want to.

There are several pubs in the county that have rules about mobile phones and I would defend their right to do so, it is their business and they must decide how they want to run it, as long as it is made clear as you enter.  But don’t you think it is a bit rude and unwelcoming as well as being completely unnecessary?

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Maybe Jamie was right all along... by Gazza. Gazza

I used to really dislike that Jamie Oliver geezer...  All “owoight, mate?” this and “Pukka” that – there’s just no need, is there?  And then he has the gall to appear on TV every five minutes whilst advertising pays for his new restaurant and then those reeeeeealy annoying Sainsbury’s adverts start to appear… I tell you, I was getting almost as annoyed at seeing his carp-lips all over the TV as I was seeing that pompous Tim Nice-but-dim Ben Fogle character.

But then… he does something so insightful, so necessary and so downright useful that I’ve totally forgiven him for all his previous sins – he tries to get schoolkids to stop eating crap and eat proper food.  I mean, it’s not rocket science, is it?  The facts have been know for years that if you feed kids artificial colourings and other chemically produced shite then they get hyperactive and disrupt lessons amongst other things, but it took Jamie to kick some arse and actually try and sort the diet of these kids out by pushing this Tory government to actually do something useful for a change – hats off, round of applause etc, the boy done good!

Then it dawned on me – all this trouble, fighting and generally being drunken slobs that the English are so good at might just have a link to what JO is doing with the schoolkids.  Let me put it this way; have you looked at the crap people drink these days?  Step into McSpoons or any high street chain bar and it’s like looking at a paint factory sample room with all those bottles filled with luminous-coloured concoctions they put away, and it’s not only the artificial colours, how about the other rubbish in them?  Unfortunately, it’s not only alcopops… how about all the junk in keg lager and bitter, such as heading agents, preservatives, caramel colouring, stabilisers – you get the message?  And we wonder why Stella is affectionately called “wife beater?”

What this country needs is a Jamie Oliver character to step in and teach the adults of this country how to drink properly!  Now the kids are being taught how to eat properly, surely it’s the next logical step in preventing disorder on the streets and making the country a better place to live?  Someone who is “respected” by the younger generation needs to put the boot in and say that feeding our young (and not so young) people all this crap is severely harming their – and our – health and needs to be stopped!  It’s only a matter of finding the right person, but just think of the consequences… you know it’s pukka, me old mate…

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“LCD” is the real danger to proper beer - by Gazza.

What’s that, then?  What gibberish is he talking this time?  Sit down and I will tell… or, go and read something from the Guild of British Beer Writers – sponsored by InBev – it’s your choice, although I will be mentioning InBev products later, I promise.

I hate Christmas and whilst I’ve been thinking about why everything is crap I’ve realised something about the world; the biggest threat to the culture of “real” or “traditional” things (in all their guises – food, drink, shops, TV, newspapers etc) isn’t George Bush or even multinational business (although they certainly don’t help a great deal) but the “LCD” population of the world.  LCD is an oft-used phrase nowadays, especially in the travel industry, and stands for “Lowest common denominator”; just think of the implications of 90% of the population not really caring what goods or services they are provided with just as long as they don’t have to think about them!  Scary, eh?  Well, it’s happening right here, right now and you’d better believe it.

Yes, all well and good, you might say, but what’s the evidence for the prosecution?  Well, I have loads but here’s a few that spring to mind on this Boxing Day morning –

1)    McDonalds (or McScum as I prefer to call them).  Let’s all be grown up about this, shall we?  Everyone with at least half a brain knows that McScum make unhealthy, cheap, additive-laden crap and flog it to the brainwashed millions by means of the “start ‘em young” policy and the connivance of ignorant and/or brain-dead parents, and if you actually think they care about our health then you’re living in multinational-bollocks land.  However, the fact remains that when these kids grow up into chavs and begin habitually causing damage around the place they still go to McScum… why?  Easy!  It’s because they have been conditioned by the media into thinking that everything must be “branded” and they’ll know what it will taste like before they even go in there and some of them may even think it tastes nice – but these are the ones who think milk comes from a carton, not a cow, and cheese is made in a factory from some non-animal ingredients and have, in all honesty, probably never tasted real, organic beef in their lives.  The big problem is that these people will never want to try anything better – they’ve not seen it on TV so it can’t be any good, right?  All that and the "sheep" mentality where, thinking they are individuals by wearing tracksuits, beige caps and ludicrous trainers, they totally fail to realise they are just copying everyone else in the hope of fitting in.

2)    Beige (the colour, not the person!).  Now is it just me or, a few years ago, was beige not a colour worn by the older generation and Beige Phil?  Now all of a sudden, just because chavs like Burberry for some obscure reason (the sheep mentality again), beige is seen as the height of fashion and everyone’s wearing the stuff.  Erm – I’m sorry, but it’s still a colour for old people to wear and just because chavs like it doesn’t make it socially acceptable to parade around in… or does it?  Once again, It’s the choosing of clothes and/or colours to wear just because “everyone else does” and the need to fit in with the rest of the sheep – and if the wearing of a horrible colour makes them fit in then so be it.  Being part of the "LCD" generation makes you one of the crowd and takes away your ability to think for yourself, but this doesn’t bother 90% of the population - witness the popularity of crud such as Blossom Hill or Piat D'or to see where I'm going with this.

3)    Holidays.  With the explosion of routes available courtesy of the cheap airlines these days you can get most places in Europe for under £50 return.  Stag parties and groups of lads “on the piss” used to stick to Britain but, unfortunately, are now creeping across the channel lured by the scent of cheap beer and women.  First it was Dublin, then Prague, then Barcelona, now it seems wherever you go you have to avoid staggering, belching and shouting groups of your countrymen intent on stirring up a bit of the old racial hatred so beloved of the far-right.  These people are on an “LCD” trip – they know they’ll get a cheap bed, cheap beer and hopefully a leg-over but the actual city they’re in doesn’t bother them as they’ll be too pissed to actually see it clearly and to them all foreign languages are the same so, as long as the beer is cheap and doesn’t taste of anything which might trouble their delicate tastebuds and they have a bed to doss in, all is well in the world – except for the poor bastards who have to tell the pissed-off locals they’re from Albania or some such place to avoid being lumped into the same category as these slobs.

4)    Supermarkets.  “Tatscos” and their ilk have probably done as much as McScum to reduce the quality of food consumed in the UK to levels so low on the scale they’ve had to add a bit on the end labelled “shite”.  A lot of people in this country claim to be “too busy” to cook proper food and rely on supermarket ready-meals as their daily sustenance which, to me at least, is a very scary thought – just read one of the labels if you don’t believe me.  The list of ingredients is usually about as long as King Kong’s cock and full of things which definitely don’t grow in fields and/or are in such high doses as to be very bad for the people who consume the stuff – a whole day’s quota of salt in one go, enough saturated fat to clog an artery at 100 paces, tooth-rotting quantities of refined sugar, chemicals you can't even pronounce… you know the story.  These packet meals are a death-trap but sales increase year on year – all because people are too obsessed with “cheapness” and “convenience” rather than good old-fashioned flavour; the LCD strikes again I’m afraid - as long as it’s easy to obtain, microwave and gulp down whilst watching equally processed TV then it’s fine, food not for enjoyment and nutrition but for convenience and what slight nutrition it contains.  Scary.

5)    The media.  Just pick up any of the “tabloid” press and read it with an open mind you’ll see what I mean.  Written to appeal to the majority of the population whose lives are so empty and shallow that all they care about is getting pissed, the antics of celebrities and what’s on TV, these vacuous rags drag in the LCD generation with pictures of tits and stories about “celebrities” then fill their minds with propaganda – the Eastern Europeans are coming to eat your babies!... Illegal immigrants will slit your throats as you sleep… The EU is actually run by Beelzebub and his sidekicks and will force us to eat straight bananas whether we want to or not… The pound must be saved from Brussels… They want to put Hitler’s head on our stamps… We demand the right to weigh things in ludicrous, outdated measures… and so on.  Honestly, you couldn’t make a lot of this stuff up – and you wouldn’t want to even if you could.  TV is no better with inane news reports which simplify the stories to moronic levels, spoon-feeding answers, when surely we should be told the facts and make our own minds up?  But, hey, as long as we’ve got our cans of cheap fizz handy and a ready-meal in the microwave everything is fine…

6)    And finally, beer.  Two words sum up everything about the LCD generation in my view – Stella Artois.  This fizzy, chemical-laden fluid is the beverage of choice of a majority of young drinkers who call it by cutesey nicknames like “wife beater” and don’t mind paying vastly over the odds for a 90% full glass because “it says on telly that it’s reassuringly expensive, so it must be good”.  The fact that it tastes vaguely of wet cardboard and chemicals doesn’t seem to bother them – the only thing they care about is drinking enough to get blasted and, being strong, Stella gets them there quicker than the other fizzy kak crowding the bartops.  If these people were to experience the glorious hoppy taste of, say, Red Lion Chardonnayle they’d probably spit it out in disgust – “this tastes revolting” they’d declare, returning to their almost flavourless piss. (I remember a Shepherd Neame-drinking CAMRA member saying to John Swale that one of his beers tasted "funny", to which John replied "That'll be the hops - you wouldn't know what they tasted like!").  The fact that the “revolting” taste is prize hops wouldn’t matter to them – if something has a flavour which is challenging then it’s useless as a tool for global domination; to fulfil this ambition a beer must appeal to all palates and, by definition, offend none.  If you follow this through then what you get is a tasteless liquid with no character which most of the LCD generation will happily drink all day without a single thought about it’s flavour – which is good because it doesn’t have one anyway.

See what I’m getting at?  The global sale of “brands” means that in order to sell well in every market sector they mustn’t offend any consumers – bollocks to the idea that these companies could make a different version of their product for different groups of consumers; that’s too much like hard work and, anyway, the public want what the public get these days so they bloody get the same as everyone else – and if we spend enough on advertising they’ll consume anything we give them anyhow…  Honestly, I just love capitalism and big business more and more each day.

To sum up, in my opinion the majority of people in this country don’t really care what they consume as long as it’s bland, inoffensive, seen on TV and a reassuringly lurid colour.  What future does handcrafted beer, alongside all other handcrafted products, have in a world like this?  Not much, I’m afraid, but there’s always the slim chance that the rising tides of people starting to eat organic food suddenly make the connection between natural, hand-made food and natural, hand-made beer, burn their cans of Stella in a mammoth pyre, and all turn to micro-brewed beer in droves.  It’s not much of a hope, but it’s all we’ve got.

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Golden Ales - by Gazza.

Oh, so it's "golden ales", is it? They're the new thing, right?  Bollocks.

CAMRA seem to have become obsessed with "golden" ales all of a sudden - maybe because the style is suddenly winning lots of awards and might just appeal to lager drinkers who don't like flat dark beer.  However, in my opinion they are committing a major oversight in their promotion of this "new" style of beer - most of the new boys aren't of the British mould at all, but owe their allegiance to America or at least American hops and hopping style.

The style of "American Pale Ale" has come to be typified by Sierra Nevada pale ale - 5.6% with a gentle malty flavour balanced with rich, citrussy hops.  Nowadays in America this beer is taken to be a bit mundane with all the "hop monsters" (beers brewed with too many hops) they make over there now but it's still one of the classics of the style.  On the other side of the world, Little Creatures Pale Ale is an Australian take on the style of APA's with a huge piney, sappy, orange marmalade hop punch that lasts for hours after you've drunk it.  Both these beers are brewed in the same style although they are made on different sides of the world - this is a hard concept to grasp for some people, but it's the style a beer is brewed in, not where it is brewed or what colour it is, that makes a beer a member of a particular style (or not, as the case may be).

What I'm saying here is that beers like Oakham JHB and Crouch Vale Brewer's Gold aren't really brewed in the British style at all - they are brewed in the pioneering spirit of America and other "new world" countries (sorry for the wine reference there, but it worked) where the hop is king and they use lots of 'em - varieties like Chinook, Willamette and the gorgeous Cascade.  British pale ales, on the other hand, use Goldings and maybe new dwarf varieties like Phoenix, but taste totally different; the hops taste of... well, hops, not lemon jelly or marmalade.  The two styles, American Pale Ale and UK Pale ale, are totally different and shouldn't be lumped together into one big woolly pot - which is exactly what CAMRA are trying to do with their new definition of pale ale.

I think it's a great thing that really hoppy beers are becoming more popular in the UK; the success of Oakham JHB (a beer in the mould of an APA if ever I tasted one) is testament to this, it's even available in my local pub in Worcester 9 times out of ten.  What we don't need is CAMRA getting carried away and trying to redefine world beer styles - this helps no-one and, after all, the glorious diversity of beer styles is what makes drinking the stuff so enjoyable in the first place; when you drink a Gose, for example, you expect it to taste sour and with salt and coriander hints - if it doesn't, then it's not a real Gose!  Call a spade a spade - if a beer is an APA then let's call it that, not some woolly catch-all like "golden ale" which leaves the consumer with no idea what style the beer is and what to expect.

Let's celebrate the diversity of beer - vive la difference, long live the American Pale Ale... and the British PA, and Gose, and Berliner Weisse, and Lambic, and Kriek...

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Does beer make you happy? by Billy Whizz

Daft question if ever there was one, right? Well, maybe not if you’re a desperate scooper. A good friend of mine whom many would place in this category issued this crie de coeur  when I was with him at a festival recently:

“There are too many beers here for me!”


We are not talking here about a novice who doesn’t know what to drink. My friend is a very keen judge of beer quality and truly savours his ales. So what’s the problem? After all, most of us have heard similar comments from time to time.

The problem is that my friend is one of those who has forgotten that he chose the rules of the game and can change them whenever he likes. By definition, therefore, he has no cause for any complaint. This is a hobby, and is supposed to be about enjoying beer and the company of others who do. It’s not supposed to be about an enforced dash up and down the country punctuated by uncomfortable excesses of ale, up to the point that one drink merges into the next. Let’s be honest, even at a top quality festival, over half of what you drink is not especially memorable and some is not even that pleasant (to your personal taste, at least).

OK, so perhaps I’m being a bit obtuse, and such comments as my friend’s can simply be rhetoric – “just look at the things I go through for this lark!…”

But perhaps not. We should all take stock once in a while and decide if we really do like the régime we’ve imposed on ourselves. It’s a quest, but it’s not a race – it can’t be, because the rules differ between the participants.

Just remember that this isn’t Formula 1, with a long list of criteria for admission into the sport. You have total freedom to decide how you will go about your hobby. Any pressure to conform to a particular pattern is of your own making – purely in your mind. Do you think that when you go to meet your creator you will be asked to verify the contents of your database? More like called to account for the time you wasted on empty pursuits, I reckon. If you must suffer, let it be for a good purpose, at least.

Enjoy your freedom, and let beer make you happy!

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The Beer House - a rejoinder by "Beige" Phil Booton.

Gazza's latest rant suggested that the Beer House has lost its soul. I understand what he means, but can anything always be as it was? My own experiences as a resident of Manchester have more often been the opposite of that recounted by Gazza.  The Marble Arch is somtimes empty of customers, the beer quality can be variable, often there are few or no guest beers.  In contrast the selection of beers at the Beer House can be exciting and the quality high.  I called in the pub recently and found seven beers available, of which two were ticks - the same number as were on at the Smithfield the same night, and two more than were available in the Marble Arch.  But this is not intended to denigrate any pub - it is intended to praise the Beer House.  The couple now running it (Paul and Sue, ex of the much lamented Pot of Beer) are trying very hard to rebuild the fortunes of the Beer House.  They have plans to restart beer festivals.  They sell a wide range of well kept beers.  They deserve your support.  I am not saying that the Beer House will ever be the same as it was under Idy and Sal, but given support, it can certainly be an essential call when in Manchester.  Let's hope the pub and its customers can prove even Gazza wrong!

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Got Winners, Got Soul - by Gazza.

Seeing something you care about and have come to know over many years down on it’s luck is rarely comfortable viewing. Recently, on one of my frequent wanders around President Blair’s UK of A (better known as the 51st state of America), I encountered a prime example of this and it invoked feelings of sadness, anger and a yearning for the "old times" which, in this case at least, can be substantiated as "better" - not through some imaginary rose coloured glasses but through the cold light of day and my own recollections of just how good the place used to be.

Let me set the scene. I’d just visited another old friend and she was in fine shape, full of happy customers and the guest beers were flowing freely. The fruits of the in-house brewery were also on the bar again after it’s refurbishment and, happily, they seemed to have regained the quality they had been bequeathed when the brewery first opened a few years back. The food looked excellent, the atmosphere was good and all was well in this little bit of the world. As I left the building it was with a feeling of pure, overflowing happiness that this pub, which I’ve known and visited for over 10 years, was no just "on the up" but it had reached there – and gone further.

What a difference 200 metres makes. My other old friend had clearly not worn the years as well; true, architecturally she would never compete with the former but there used to be a welcoming air and even a tingle of excitement as you neared the door as to what delights would be gracing the handpumps. I stood outside for a few seconds but the tingle resolutely refused to happen so I strode inside and the change from the "old times" was obvious – no customers. This particular pub used to be heaving all the time, not just at scooper’s events, and to see no-one inside was just not right. I cast my eyes around the room. The fittings were the same, although from the clashing, lurid colour scheme someone had clearly been raiding the cut-price paint shelves at Homebase. This aside, it was still recognisable as the place I began my scooping career; the wooden floors, blackboard, wooden seats and the rest. I made my way to the bar.

I counted the handpumps, and found there were more than there used to be, even in the pub’s "glory days" in the mid 90’s. However, the ratio of pumps empty to pumps used was erring heavily on the empty side and the utilised pumps were occupied by beers hardly likely to either draw in scoopers or be recognised as "brands" by ordinary drinkers. I selected the best beer from those available and retreated to a seat to take in the atmosphere.

The beer was adequate; not in great condition but certainly not badly kept and as I supped I looked. Yes, essentially it was the same pub, but there was something missing, and if I was a religious person I’d say it was a soul, even though saying pubs have a soul may seem a bit silly to most people. It’s the best way to describe how something important seemed to have left the pub and by the looks of things the customers knew this and had gone somewhere else too. The bricks and mortar were the same, but the excitement of beer had gone – hopefully to somewhere that will nurture it. I finished my beer and left, but this time my feelings were of deep sadness and of having witnessed a once great pub in it’s last throes of life. Customers are the oxygen of pubs and this one was gasping for breath.

Guessed where it is yet? It’s the Beer House in Manchester and those of you who used to frequent it when I did and haven’t been for a while may be shocked to read this. Sorry, but it’s true. The problem was when the Beer House changed hands they lost the scooper’s trade immediately. Fewer sales meant fewer beers or bad beer and, to my mind, they lost the regulars at this point. It would fill me with pleasure to see the Beer House selling loads of great beers again, holding mini-fests and bursting at the seams with happy customers just like it used to, but it’s a hope against the cold truth – the Beer House needs what the marketing people would call a "re-invention" and it needs it now. There is so much promise here; it just needs tapping akin to what’s happened at the Marble Arch at the start of this article. The Beer House was once a great pub, it could be again. All that’s needed is to coax it’s soul back.

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Where have all the rebels gone?  by Gazza.

Today I'm a bit sad.  I don't mean this in the "trainspotting" way (although it's true) - I mean it in the "things ain't what they used to be" way.  Let me explain.

When I was a lad (and a desperate scooper) back in the early and mid 90's, we used to have a riot.  Yes we were desperate for new beers, sometimes driving up to Scotland or West Wales to cane in a new brewery, but we always had a good time.  Whether it was debagging Nigel Croft at Hebble "Butt" or unplugging the crap band's PA at Newton Abbott festival, we certainly had a great time and no-one who was at Ding-Ding's parties in Newton Abbott could ever disagree with this - they were an absolute riot.

So, what's gone wrong?  I suppose we've all got a bit older and wiser and things that we did in our 20's don't seem as natural now we're all getting on a bit and in our 30's - a social conscience affects most people whether they like it or not!  However, I still love a good old-fashioned rant when meeting up with other scoopers, either about the old times or about what's happening in the current beer world - the subjects of rebadging, boycotting beers or breweries and the like.

What I find very sad is the number of scoopers nowadays who aren't up for a riot or even a good rant.  All they want is to be serious and scoop beers - the whole concept of rioting and having a good laugh whilst doing it is lost on them; it's like a job to some people I've met!  Now don't get me wrong here, I'm not telling people they've got to be something they're not and what to do, but it strikes me as very sad when fellow scoopers can't enjoy themselves or have a rant without people moaning.

Most of the "top" scoopers - by this, I mean Steve and Sue, Jonesey, Dean, Phil White, Para, Nice Hair, Retford Dave, Fletch, Phil Hodgson (even me, I suppose!) and many others - came from the train bashing background where having an opinion and rioting was/is part of the game.  This is why we had such a good time in those golden years of the mid-90's; we all loved a good rant and riot but we knew how to have a good time.

Contrast this with some scoopers nowadays who have appeared in the last 10 years or less.  No rioting, no fun, all that matters in "numbers" or "ticks".  Having a riot or arguing with Camra people is seen as "rocking the boat".  Well, this is why I've almost given up scooping nowadays - most of the old crowd have retired and, to be honest, it's no fun being sat in a pub or at a festival scooping with these new faces - they're just too boring and serious.  True, there are still some riotous people about like Dicko, and not everyone who didn't do trains is boring, but it's just not the same as it was.

In my view, there are too many people who take scooping too seriously nowadays.  It's just an excuse for a drink and to travel around to me, and the numbers don't really matter any more.  Me, nostalgic for the old days?  I am, but it still can be fun if scoopers have a rant and a riot.  It's not all about how big your book is - I know people who started well after me who have had more beers than me, but that's not the point.  If all scooping means is numbers, you have my sympathy - lighten up, and see what a good time you can have.  It's not too late!

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Chill Out Mr Irritable? – No Thanks!  - by Steve Westby.

About ten years ago I was touring New England and stayed overnight in the town of Brattleboro. No not because of the beauty of the surrounding countryside, "Vermont in the fall" and all that (it was in June anyway – I ain’t paying double the price to see a few leaves fall off trees!). It was because the town had two brewpubs. We were staying at the art deco hotel attached to the Latchis Grille and Windham Brewery so started off there for a drink.

They had a list of five or six of their beers so I ordered what looked as if it might be the weakest (it was illegal back then to tell customers the strength of a beer in the USA), but when I took a gobful it about froze my ruddy tonsils off. It was ice cold! There was no way that I could drink it until it had warmed up several degrees. So while I was waiting I thought I would go and get a glass of the second beer so that also has time to warm up. But the barman refused to serve me, no not because I was inebriated, or even because I am a short, ugly, irritating person, it was the law! Apparently in Vermont you were not allowed to have two glasses of an alcoholic drink in front of you at the same time! This was despite the fact that I was sampling in US half pints (8oz) and I could have bought a beer in a British pint pot (20oz). When I explained the barman (accurately) thought I was a nutter but said he would pour my second beer and keep it under the counter for me.

Later on the same trip we were in a pub on Manhattan that served imported Young’s draught beers. I ordered a pint of Old Nick, by now I was used to very cold beers in the US but this was a Brit beer so surely it would be better. Wrong! It was arguably the coldest beer I had tried over the whole fortnight. I stood trying to warm the glass between my fingers, and even tried holding it under my armpit, but the effect was negligible. It was a red-hot day and I was gagging for a beer, but you can’t knock back a beer that cold. The barman spotted what I was doing, and knowing I was a Brit, sarcastically asked if he should put my beer in the microwave. "Yes please" I gleefully replied "just about 15 seconds should do it!" He dutifully went away and microwaved my beer and handed it back to me with a disgusted look. As I happily supped my pint, I could hear the barman walking round the pub pointing out the crazy fat little Brit with the mulled beer.

Of course all Americans think we drink warm ale. Come to think off it many lager drinkers over here think we drink warm "bitter" as well. This of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. A well kept and well presented real ale should be served at 55/56 degrees F which is cool, but certainly not either freezing cold or remotely warm. It is a temperature that allows the full flavour of the beer to be appreciated. British beers are not particularly strong (typically 3.8 to 4.5% ABV), when compared to beers brewed almost everywhere else in the world, where 5% or higher is more normal. But our beers have far more flavour and cold temperature masks this and spoils the taste.

British lagers (including those with a foreign name) seem to be served increasingly cold, in fact so cold it is a wonder that the beer doesn’t freeze in the pipes, let alone anaesthetise your throat. This is a lot to do with the fact that they have no taste whatsoever. All you can discern is the extreme cold and the ridiculously high level of carbonation (fizziness). In fact, surely if it wasn’t for the high level of macho marketing nobody in their right mind would buy the stuff. But live and let.

What is winding me up big time at the moment is that too many pubs have started to serve their real ales far too cold as well. We recently measured a beer in a well known real ale pub near a tram stop in New Basford at a ridiculously cold 51.6 degreesF and that is by no means a rare occurrence at several pubs across the city. It is far too flaming cold and something needs to be done about it before real ale drinkers start to think that beer has lost its taste and move on to drinking something else.

A lot of the pubs with cold beer, but certainly not all of them, have Casque Mark accreditation, marked by a plaque on the wall outside (but conversley not all Casque Mark pubs sell over cold beer). This otherwise excellent scheme regularly monitors the quality of the real ales served in pubs that are a member of the scheme and should ensure a consistently good pint. If a pub is found to be serving warm beer, 57 degrees or above, they are rightly in danger of being removed from the scheme. However they are allowed to have their beer as cold as 50degrees before they are marked down, a temperature that is way too low for cask conditioned beers. But is this encouraging landlords to edge their bets by nudging the cellar temperature down a notch or two to avoid any risk of their beers climbing to 57degrees or above?

Whatever the reasons for over cold real ale, we drinkers need to take a stand against it. Let’s start by talking to the landlords concerned to see if can convince them to nudge up their cellar temperature. In the meantime I am on the look out for a battery operated pocket beverage warmer – anyone know where I can get one?

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Headmixer's Life Story!

I'm not sure whether this is a rant, a history essay or a declaration of salvation. Having read Billy's piece on the reality of scooping in the world of pub commerce, I was inspired to pen this little piece of my own opinions.

I didn't realise I was a scooper, in fact I didn't realise that such people existed when I became drawn into collecting beer names. A Stella drinking southerner moving to the rural north, I took the opportunity afforded me by a total lack of availability of premium 
lager to change over to drinking bitter (as well has having to swap Marlboro for Embassy). Luckily for me this was pre-nitro keg so I wasn't tempted by an artificially created, smooth creamy head and started out on a road that lead to scooping with a pint of John Smiths Bitter in the Butchers Arms, Winterton. I soon got to know the local pubs by their brewery; Stones, Tetley and John Smiths predominated with the occasional Mansfield tie around as well. Then there was the rather unique Berkeley Hotel, which said Sam Smiths on the sign, at the time I didn't realise they were any different from John Smiths, in fact I think I thought it might be his brother!

A year or so of drinking only these beers and I was starting to get a bit bored. I'd discovered a couple of pubs that sold Wards and Darleys bitter and one that sold what became my favourite, don't laugh but it was Wm Youngers No 3. This continued to be my tipple until a good friend started working in the pub and advised me to change to Wards or Darleys as "Anne doesn't re-fill those after closing". Anne, the 80 odd year old owner of the Greenkeeper, didn't take with modern ways and insisted that the single run drip tray be emptied into a bucket and the bucket be emptied into the No 3, lager slops, lemonade tops and all.

It was in the Greenkeeper that I first heard about beer festivals, the Scunthorpe Baths Hall festival in particular. The local lads were thinking of getting up a mini bus for the 8-mile journey into the steel town and needed a few more punters, so my barman mate and I joined in. My eyes were opened. Maybe not quite with the innocence of a newborn, as I was aware of some southern breweries whose beers I had never seen in the north, but I certainly didn't expect the variety placed before me. I was so besotted that I bought a book that listed all the best pubs in the country and all the beers brewed in the UK were shown in the back.

I had never (and will never) be in the slightest bit interested in collecting anything to do with trains, but attending a school that backed onto a railway yard meant I knew quite a few spotters. I occasionally would take advantage of their coach trips to rail depots as a cheap way of getting around the country to watch football, speedway or just to get drunk somewhere different. I always laughed at them with their little books in which they underlined the numbers of locos they had seen, I also wondered what was to stop someone from just underlining anything a bit rare and bragging about what they'd seen, even though they hadn't really. With this fear of anorakism in my head, I nervously thought about the beers I'd tried at the festival, should I mark them off in my new treasure book? I placated myself with the thought that I was only doing this so I knew what I'd tried and what I hadn't (and there were a enormous amount I hadn't) so I wasn't suffering from anything serious when I started to hi-lite the beers I'd tried. As I was doing this, I couldn't help but notice the likes of Badger and Eldridge Pope (Huntsman), local beers from back home that I had tried before deciding lager got you more drunk and was therefore preferable. I decided to hi-lite these beers as well.

The next slip on the greasy slope was meeting a real beer expert, well he seemed to be at the time, who told me about a group of like minded people who met once a month and also arranged outings to other towns for beer drinking adventures. I joined up and before long became aware of other festivals within reasonable travelling distance as well as the fact that beer had a form of hierarchy. Some beers were deemed to be better than others and to my neophyte tongue; this didn't always seem to have anything to do with the taste. I was getting very keen on adding more hi-lites to my book and subsequently started to search out the pubs that featured the smaller breweries offerings. Luckily for me, someone opened in new pub in Scunny that specialised in unusual beers, by which I mean not Tetley, JS or Stones. I became a regular in the Honest Lawyer, even though the beer could be as much as 30p more a pint than anywhere else on Oswald Road.

My book was slowly getting more and more fluorescent yellow and then disaster struck. The Lawyer got a beer in that wasn't in the book, then another, then yet another. I didn't want to have beers that I couldn't hi-lite in my book and I mentioned this to the landlord, he advised me to get the current guide as mine was the 87 version and we were in 91. As it was late November, I thought I'd wait until after the new year and get the 1992 version when it first came out. Just goes to show how innocent I was! I then had the onerous task of transferring all the hi-liting from the 87 book to the new 1993 book. Shock and horror, a load of my beers were missing from the new book. I had no idea what had happened to them, they just weren't in there anymore. I didn't want to "loose" any so decided I'd have to carry both books with me in future.

Time moved on as it is want to do and I'd had enough of being asked whether I was there on holiday or business, what was it like living in London or hearing the stories about me made up by village locals who hadn't ever even spoken to me. I was, depending on who's story you heard; a rich bloke from the south who was trying to buy up the village, under the witness protection scheme or was hiding out from a criminal gang in London, I could take my choice. I wanted to go home to nice beaches, expensive beer, holidaymakers by the million and my Mum and Dad and young son and daughter.

I returned home and set about finding out if any of my old stomping ground sold hi-litable beers. Not far from my parents house was the Bermuda Triangle, it was called the Bulls Head before I moved away and used to resemble an old ladies parlour complete with old person and was not overly popular with those of working age. Now it was privately owned by a German woman and run by a beer lover who liked to stock the unusual. I'd found my new home!

The bi-annual workload (I couldn't face buying a new one every year) of hi-liting was approaching and I happened to confess my apprehension to the barman in the BT. He asked if I knew Mike who came in on Sundays. As I didn't go in on Sundays I said that I doubted it, but the barman said I should meet him as he also had a book that he recorded his beer drinking in, and we could "swap recipes". I decided to seek out this fellow hi-liter and popped in on the Sunday lunchtime. A rather eccentric looking chap stood quietly at the bar, not talking to anyone except occasionally the barman, and drinking his pint from a flowerpot. I listened in on his occasional discussions and they were always about what was in the cellar, or what was due for delivery. He even got the guy to get him a sample from a cask that wasn't even on the pumps! I thought I'd better introduce myself.

Mike had a stunning revelation to show me, he didn't hi-lite the beers in the book, he actually wrote them down in a notebook of his own. He even recorded the ones that weren't even in the book. This was earth shattering to me, I'd seen loads of beers (and tasted a few) that weren't in the book, I just assumed they didn't count as real so made no note of them. Mike advised me that these beers were the better ones to get, much rarer than the ones that were actually in the book, I was doubly disappointed. Needless to say, I went out and got a notebook of my own. Made arrangements to accompany  Mike on his Saturday trips to the Evening Star and Quadrant in Brighton (when no decent festivals were on) and started to become a fully fledged ticker as Mike said we were called. This developed into attending nearly all the flood of beer festivals that could be reached by train in a day, as well as the trips to brewpubs that don't sell to the free trade and daily mooches around Southampton in search of the elusive tick.

The penultimate development was a chance meeting with a guy who mentioned special interest web groups to me, one in particular he recommended was on Yahoo and was called Solent Scoopers. I then found that there were quite a few people who ticked beers, at least 30 or more, maybe even up to 50 or so nationwide I thought. I got into chatting with Nick Little who had set up the web group, he was a mine of information. No idea where he found out the sort of things he knew, but did he know things. I found out that certain "breweries" didn't actually brew their own beers at all, that commercially available bottle conditioned beers counted and that some people even bottled their own at festivals. He also knew about most pubs throughout the south that sold an interesting guest beer, and was more than willing to pass this information on. It was only a matter of time before Scoopgen was born and the truth about the numbers involved in the hobby became obvious to me. Not only that, but some tickers had more accurate gen on their subject than MI6 ever had on Iraq. What with those non technical types that I had met at festivals who didn't know a mouse from a chip and so weren't part of the internet ticker society, there seemed to be thousands doing the same thing. But of course they aren't doing the same thing, some have to drink pints, some count a mouthful. Some bottle up, some hate the practise, some count virtually anything, in any state, others only want top quality product. Some only count regular beers, some count one as new if the brewer changed his overalls since brewing the last batch.

I have had the pleasure of some of Mary's specials at both the Brown Bear and Lower Red, trammed myself around the delights of Sheffield and Manchester. Crawled round the Derby triangle, took a holiday based in Huddersfield to visit as many microbreweries or their taps as possible and later in the year did the same sort of thing around Telford.  I've worked festivals, advised pubs and even brewed a few beers. I've done the, at least one festival a week, routine. Paid a fortune in travelling costs and got more beer glasses than most pubs. After all this I'm now BORED with it!

Yes this is the confession, I, Headmixer, am bored with beer ticking. I'm bored with being treated like a January sales idiot, made to wait outside the building in all weathers until the doors open. I'm bored with spending 8 hours every Saturday sitting on trains and only about 6 hours actually drinking. I'm bored with drinking tepid, tired beer in a draughty hall with nowhere to sit. I'm bored with finding out that the beer I just imbibed isn't actually brewed by them but by XXXX. I'm bored with searching out advance lists, checking it against my book only to find half of them aren't available when you get there. I'm bored with spending money on an unknown beverage that may or may not taste like Appletize mixed with cocoa powder. I'm bored with getting a badly logoed souvenir glass whether I want one or not. I'm bored with searching out that elusive pub only to find it has Adnams bitter as a guest this week. I'm bored with brewers who think that shoving a bit of carrot through the spile hole constitutes a new beer. I'm bored with new beers from breweries that traditionally only made 3 regulars up until they heard of tickers. I'm bored of thinking that a pub isn't any good because it only sells 3 beers and I don't need any of them. I'm bored with seeing Harry drink a half and tick off 6. I'm bored of only having the option of looking at men most of Saturdays. I'm bored of only talking about brewery relocations, contract brewing and whether bottlers should be melted down in their own plastic.

This year I have, and it's taken a lot of effort, deliberately missed many festivals. I've stopped doing the rounds of local pubs in case they have a scoop and weirdest of all, deliberately drank a beer I'd had before even though winners were available! It is now April and I've only been to 2 festivals, one of those was because I meet a mate there, and only there, once a year. I've been drinking in pubs that are completely untickworthy, I've spent some time finding out who my wife and kid are, and I've drank more (non tickable) beer on a Saturday around my local area than I ever could if I was travelling 
around ticking. I feel so much better for it that I'm going to carry it on. I do miss conversations with certain tickers I used to meet at festivals, but then again I'd also have to put up with others I'd rather I didn't know. I'm not saying that I've totally given up and I'm certainly not about to revert to Stella, but taking it easy, being ethical about what I will and will not drink and going for quality brewers rather than just any old winner is my M.O. nowadays. So if you see me at a festival with a Summer Lightning or a Red Smiddy (I wish) don't think, "surely he must have had that before", as the answer will be yes I have, but I just don't care!

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Scratchers are a pain in the arse - by Billy Whizz.

Now that I have your attention, let me say that I haven’t fallen out with any of my many scratching friends, nor have I given up on the hobby completely myself. I am trying instead to speak from the point of view of many pub landlords and managers who have tried and sometimes failed to please us.

The fact is that serving us scratchers is far from easy, and this relatively volatile and demanding sector of the drinking public is more readily lost than gained. There’s nothing we like better than a pub with several (preferably eight or more) constantly changing guest ales at least some of which are going to be new to us. However, if something should go wrong and the number or rarity of the beers were to diminish, we are inclined quite quickly to delete this pub from our itinerary. Then their options are to reduce the number of beers on sale, to waste a lot of beer, or maybe to try to build up other parts of their offering. This becomes a slippery slope, and the place ends up with a rock-bottom reputation – and in a hole, as far as we’re concerned, that it’s very difficult to get out of. Look at the Beer House – a number of false dawns but still in the doldrums. As I’ve said to several people, I think the only way back would be for a landlord with an established reputation among scratchers to re-launch the place according to the old formula – thereby filling it with enough thirsty punters to shift eight or more beers at a time from day one. Otherwise, the volume of real ale consumed will never support the number of handpumps needed to make a credible scratching pub of it, given that it’s completely fallen from favour.

To maintain a constant search not only for newish beers but also ones that have not yet appeared elsewhere on the patch requires a dedication bordering on obsession, otherwise no-one could keep it up for year after year. If the person is not an avid real ale drinker themselves, it’s a recipe for burnout or madness.

Try, then, to apply this to the pub chains that have come and gone as scratching havens over the years – Tap and Spile, Tut and Shive, Boddies Ale House, Hogshead and latest of all Wetherspoons. Especially in the case of managed houses, everything tends to depend on the manager’s own knowledge and dedication. By and large, this is not trained into them by the chain’s own management – in fact, they are far more likely to restrict than to encourage their personal enterprise, because of the twin gods of branding and volume discounts. I think this goes a long way to explaining the life cycle of the chains listed above as far as us scratchers are concerned. Managers, even if encouraged, don’t tend to stay in one branch for long, and if someone tries to press them into a corporate mould, most will either comply or decamp – with the same result for the beer choice.

The scratching market has probably never been more difficult to satisfy, nor to reconcile with the demands of pub owners. The levels of information, communication and organisation among scratchers are all formidable these days, so keeping one jump ahead needs a real tour de force. It is tempting just to settle for a string of mildly unusual beers that end up pleasing nobody, then to consider the guest beer thing a failure and just stick to the same few familiar brews all the time. Makes the cellarwork easier, too. At the other end of the scale, some scratchers appear to be on a treadmill and are in danger or creating the same condition among those who serve them.

We are a niche market. The nature of this is at best not understood by pub chain management, and at worst consciously avoided. Just as the future of real ale in Britain probably rests most of all upon the survival and growth of small local microbreweries, the future of scratching pubs is going to be carried by independent and dedicated small owners and operators.

If your local ‘Spoons happens to be really good for guest ale choice, consider it a blessing, but if it isn’t, don’t bother complaining – in the grand scheme of things, it’s not going to change.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we scratchers are a pain in the arse. We have to rely on those who love us to serve us, and accommodate our very particular demands.

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Wetherspoons - a force for evil?  by Gazza.

A lot of you will know my views on Wetherspoons, but for those that don't, I will outline them here.

I used to like Wetherspoons. Years ago, when I worked in London a lot, they were the only real choice of decent beer (except the Wheatsheaf) and I used them a lot. When they began to expand beyond London, I thought that this move was doomed to failure - a "bar too far" or some other bad joke, but I was wrong. Well, sort of.

I maintain that if Wetherspoons had maintained it's policy of good beers and cheapo not bad food in a large open plan bar frequented by a mixed clientele they would, by and large, have failed to crack the provincial market. Why they have suceeded so dramatically polarises views along the lines of "I hate them" and "I love them". I'm firmly in the "I hate them" camp, but not just through some blind backlash against ex-financial service buildings being used to peddle alcohol. My dislike is fuelled by a dislike of the cynical betrayal of the very people who made them popular in the first place - real ale drinkers.

From now on, I will call Wetherspoons by the name I feel they deserve - McSpoons. I believe that the two operations are very similar. Both provide questionable quality products to the masses who are brainwashed into believing they are worth indulging in. Both have loads of special offers to persuade you to buy more than you want to ("go large", "free pint with a meal" etc). Both have branches in almost every high street. Both encourage the "you know what you'll be getting" mindset, where customers who have had their sense of quality destroyed by the fast food invasion of the last 20 years think along the lines of "well, I know Wetherspoons/McDonalds isn't the best, but I know I'll get OK food/drink and after all, I don't want to waste money trying somewhere I don't know, so....". Sad, but true. They both aim at the same target audience, young people with lots of spare cash. I could go on, but I think you get the picture now.

My main problem with McSpoons is, in my view, their runaway train-like pursuit of fads. By this I mean "shooters" (silly little plastic glasses filled with luminous industrial alcohol), alco-pops (clear bottles filled with primary coloured industrial alcohol and artificial flavourings), bottled beers (filled with cheap, industrially made UK copies of poor quality beers from abroad with well known "brand names") and so on. Basically, McSpoons have given those drinkers who used to frequent their "pubs" to drink decent beer the heave-ho. Maybe we don't drink enough, or, more plausibly, maybe our chosen drink doesn't contribute enough to their bottom line - after all, I'm sure the price per unit of alcohol is much higher for alcopops than real ale. Basically, their bars are now populated by hordes of cheap alcohol fuelled aggressive brain-dead idiots at the expense of a mixed clientele. This has ensured the real ale drinkers have moved elsewhere.

But it goes deeper than that. Even the real ales have declined in choice and, in my opinion, quality. Not so many years ago, McSpoons used to run regular beer festivals with 10 beers specially brewed for them. Not any more. All you get in 95% of the houses nowadays is the same well known brands chosen for ease of cellaring and price, not quality. Fair enough, some outlets (as to me, they're not pubs anymore) have good managers who insist on selling good beers, but these are few. Some outlets sell a local beer, which is good, but here lies another problem - beer quality.

In my view, the beer quality in McSpoons has declined dramatically. The introduction of chiller units onto the beer lines result in cold tasteless beer, presumably designed to appeal to those who think Guinness served at absolute zero is a good idea. There seems to be a lack of enthusiasm towards real ale at the majority of outlets, insofar as there are lots of "Sorry, not available" pumpclips on show but not much in the way of decent beer. The core range, always pretty poor, has plumbed new depths with Sheps Spitfire - purely personal, but to me this is the liquid most tasting of chemicals apart from a pint of line cleaner. So, you can't have any of the limited guest list, as they're all "sorry not available", you'll have to make do with a freezing cold pint of industrially made "beer" in a huge barn full of kids lashed up on primary coloured concoctions and seething from a massive intake of E numbers. No thanks. I'll go somewhere else.... if there's anywhere else left after McSpoons moved in.

When a new McSpoons arrives in a town, a lot of people will try it as they would any new pub. Fair enough. The problem lies with them selling cheap beer as a loss-leader subsidised by other products, so the regular drinkers who don't really care what they drink will gravitate from the local's pubs into McSpoons, therefore reducing the turnover of the other pubs, maybe making real ale unviable. Therefore we get the situation where most other pubs don't sell real ale as it's not viable, but McSpoons only sell cheapo junk. Choice? there is no choice. If you're lucky, there will still be a few bars selling decent real ale in town, full of disaffected ex-Wetherspoon drinkers. This is how, in my view, McSpoons have made real ale a minority drink in many towns. They are not the champion they make out, that label fell off long ago.

Now I know that all this is "market forces" and Wetherspoons are a business like everyone else. Fair enough, this is a so-called free market. My big problem, apart from their conversion from "appeal to everyone" to "appeal to rich youngsters" is their size within the marketplace. I don't like companies that get so big they can dictate to the non-thinking majority what to do - after all, if you throw enough advertising revenue at anything a lot of people will eventually believe it. Big business is ruining our way of life - from Tesco, Wetherspoons, McDonalds - they're all to blame. I'm not trying to excuse high prices or bad service in normal pubs or shops, which I fully acknowledge, it's just asking why large companies can thrust cheap products at the market to coralle the customers in at the expense of others? I know supermarkets do it with baked beans at 1p a can or white sliced bread at 5p a loaf, but is it right? I blame Thatcher. All this "me, me, me" and "sod you Jack" culture can be laid at her feet. And, in 10 years time when the whole world is run by 3 global mega-corps selling us the same crap with different labels, don't say I didn't tell you so. Get out and support the small producers and those who sell their goods. It's the only way to ensure they will be there in the future.

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Where Beers are from, by Steve Westby.

I was given a bottle of a beer called "Rhatas" along with three other bottles in a box for Christmas.  The beer was distinctly off and I chucked it down the sink (despite being best before 02/2004), but that is not what I am whingeing on about this time.

The bottle is clearly labelled "Whitby's Black Dog Brewery" with the address of St Hilda's Business Centre, Whitby. The blurb goes on to say "the logo and name for the Black Dog Brewery were inspired by Bram Stoker who, having spent time in Whitby on holiday, went on to write the most famous horror story of all time Dracula. The locations in the book are based in and around Whitby and the Black Dog brewery is situated in an old work house on the east cliff near the abbey and the famous 199 steps. We brew a variety of ales at Black Dog where our combination of traditional brewing methods and modern customer orientated management ensure superb quality and consistency"

All well and good, but the Black Dog Brewery stopped brewing in 2000 and the beers are now brewed elsewhere, in all probability at Hambleton Brewery at Holme On Swale. So beer is being marketed on the strength of where it is brewed even though it has actually come from somewhere completely different!

This situation is not as unusual as you may think. Ruddles County for example is not brewed in the quaint Rutland village of Langham but is actually brewed by Greene King in Suffolk. In fact the old Ruddles brewery was long ago bulldozed to the ground and "Ruddles County" is now brewed to a different recipe and much lower strength to the beer you may fondly remember on sale in the Trip in the seventies and early eighties. Similarly Old Speckled Hen is no longer brewed by Morland in Oxfordshire but is now also brewed by Greene King. Even much (but not all) of the beer sold as Theakstons has been nowhere near the quaint Yorkshire town of Masham, but comes out of the Tyne Brewery in Newcastle. Nearer home "Home Bitter" is brewed by Everards in Leicester and you will have your own opinion about how similar this may be to the beer that used to be produced in Daybrook.

But it is not just the big boys that are at it. If you ever see any beers labelled "Lichfield" they do not originate from a microbrewery in the town of that name. The Lichfield brewery was closed in 1998 and in recent times they have actually been brewed by Tower or Highgate breweries. The pump clips however give no indication of this fact. Similarly "Lloyds Country Beers" have not been brewed at the John Thompson Inn in Derbyshire since March 2002 after which they have come from breweries like Leadmill, Tower and possibly Featherstone. As for "Steaming Billy" beers, there never has been such a brewery and the brews mainly now originate from Grainstore in Oakham and beers labelled "BMG Brewing" are brewed by Tower.

The worry is that if we do nothing to discourage beers from non-existent breweries this idea could grow. More and more breweries would think "sod this for a game of soldiers, this brewing lark is hard work, I will jack it in and just buy cheap beer in from somewhere else and flog it as my own". Take it to its logical conclusion and you end up with just three or four breweries brewing all the cask ale in the UK and the former brewers now operating as wholesalers and rebadgeing it to call it whatever they liked.

It does not seem fair on genuine microbreweries who work hard to promote their products and build a reputation, when other companies can come along and flog brews that give the impression that they are from real craft breweries when they are nothing of the sort. Not that I am claiming that any of these companies is intentionally setting out to mislead drinkers but there is little doubt that most people are not aware of what is happening in many cases. If it was mandatory to show the true brewery of origin on all pump clips drinkers would be able to decide for themselves whether they wanted to drink it or not.

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TVs in Pubs - by Steve Westby

Ok I admit it, I’m an avid Coronation street fan. So much so in fact that my mates reckon I am a dead ringer for Roy Cropper – bastards! When I get back from holiday I look forward two things – several pints of real ale and then putting my feet up and watching two week’s worth of Coro.

However, I may be a big fan of Jack Duckworth and company but I don’t want to watch them in the pub. In fact I don’t want to watch any chuffing television programmes in the pub. I go to the pub for several decent beers and pleasant conversation, or if I am on my own (quite often, can’t think why) a quiet read of the paper. I certainly don’t want pro-celebrity skateboarding, world championship gurning, naked hang gliding or any of the other excuses for cheap programming that blare out from the ever-increasing number of tellys that are appearing in more and more pubs.

The trouble with these flaming intrusive goggle boxes is that no matter how hard you try to ignore them, you nevertheless find your eyes irresistibly drawn towards the garbage on the screen. I caught myself watching wrestling on the one in my local the other day, for crying out loud – chuffing wrestling, it’s not even a sport, just a violent kid’s programme. And have you noticed how all of a sudden a whole load of rugby fans have appeared out of the woodwork and jumped on the bandwagon, all claiming to be experts on a game that I bet most have never watched before in their lives? Now we have that on the flaming pub tellys as well and without doubt it is the most boring game ever invented.

I accept that large screen televisions do have their place in some pubs, the loud music and sports bars for example, or if you must in the public bar of multi-roomed pubs. But please, please can we have our traditional pubs back and the televisions vanquished to the tip.

My village local is an excellent pub by all accounts; indeed it has just won a CAMRA award. It has a public bar with large screen television etc., but for those who want to relax and chat there is a separate comfortable and much quieter lounge. But would you chuffing believe it, this room is spoilt by a television over the fireplace that is never switched off, no matter what crap is being shown on it. Try as you might, you just can’t stop your eyes being drawn to the chuffing flickering screen.

Why don’t they switch it off and suggest to anyone that wants to watch the sumo wrestling, international conkers or Gravesend versus Kettering that they should go and watch it on the great big chuffing screen in the bar?!! Then we can return to our convivial conversations and get a bit of chuffing peace and quiet. After all, that is what the traditional English pub should be all about.

Right I’m off to take Hayley for a pint in the Rovers. Thankfully there’s no chuffing television in there – well not yet anyway!

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I'm so bored with the UK - by Gazza.

When I'm drinking in the UK, if there's no decent Belgian beer to sup, I'll drink real ale. Most people reading this will either agree with me, or wonder why I'm drinking "foreign" stuff when there's so much good British beer about. Simple. I'm getting very bored with British beer!

The main problem is the lack of styles we have here. Basically, we have mild, varying strengths of bitter, strong ale, stout and porter although the last 2 are pretty indistinguishable nowadays. Fair enough, there are some very good British beers such as Roosters Yankee, Oakham Bishops Farewell, Phoenix White Tornado and Kelburn Red for example, but there are also a lot of very similar malt'n'hop tasting beers. 

Fair enough, you say, I should accept that out brewing culture revolves around malty drinks with a smack of aroma hops, but I'm finding more and more that most beers are dryish, slightly malty fluids with a hint of bitterness. Going round a town scooping 10 of these soon becomes very tedious. I'm all for the setting up of new breweries, but I think a lot of them could try and use some more hops or try some new styles.

For example, I love Belgian Iambic beers. These are anarchistically brewed insofar as no yeast is added to the beer; the yeast (and other things) inoculates the cooling wort overnight as it sits in a shallow copper tray in the brewery roof. It is then fermented in wooden casks for a number of years before being bottled. Imagine this being done in Britain...? Well, yes it is! The Melbourn bros brewery in Stamford produce beer basically this way and apart from being a bit sweet and a tad on the weak side are a fair interpretation of the Belgian style. However, they are not available in pubs, just in bottles in the free trade.  Says it all about our brewing and pub trade, really.

This, IMO, is the root cause of the lack of diversity in British beer - the fact that it as all sold in cask in pubs and any extreme or unusual beer won't sell fast enough to empty the cask before it starts to oxidise. If more beers were sold in bottle, as they are in most other countries, we might have a chance of getting some more adventurous beers rather than safe middle of the road draught ale. The current trend amongst younger people for drinking beer (and other unmentionable fluids) from bottles may have one upside; these people now think that beer comes from bottles and may be more receptive to special beers in them.

The recent surge in interest in Belgian beers and cafes in the UK is encouraging. The British are becoming more appreciative of Belgian beers so more Belgian style cafes are opening, but unless a sea change occurs in our ordinary pubs our home grown real ale will continue to be bland, safe and will continue to wither in volumes. We need to start to brew and bottle more interesting, innovative beer styles and, more importantly, sell them in pubs to more people. This is real ale's lifeline and I hope it takes it.

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FULLERS - by Simon Fyffe

My first ever cask conditioned beer came from what looked like a small pole on the bar of the Oval Cricket Pavilion in Summer of 1980. This was not my first beer but it was the first that I could say was absolutely nectar.  Later that day I found out it was Fullers London Pride. At about that time, I often used to go out on a Friday night with a few school mates and I mentioned this beer. Someone mentioned Fullers owned a pub in Northolt (The Plough) and so off we went. London Pride was on here too but it came from a 'box' on top of the bar and was nowhere near as good. However, shortly after I discovered another pole on another bar and found this was something called ESB. This was absolutely superb. Although, at that time I knew nothing about 'real ale', I associated beer from pole good, beer from little box, not so good. 

These 2 beers were regular favourites until about 1991 when I found a sudden change to London Pride and a change, but less so, so to ESB. I started asking other drinkers about this and most were adamant that nothing had happened. There was also a smaller group who thought something had and these were usually those who drank lots of different beers. The answer was 'Conical Fermenters'. Although the beers were ok, I found a gradual decline in quality on the fewer occasions I drunk them. Things were still not so bad with Fullers as they were introducing some interesting seasonal beers eg Hock (superb when on form, usually in the free trade), IPA, Porter and Golden Pride. However soon after, these were discontinued and in came Honey Dew (yuk), Jack Frost (dull) and some other seasonal that just is not worth drinking. My old favourite beers were also gradually going downhill.

Into the 2000s and I heard directly from someone in the know that Chiswick and ESB recipes had been changed and were no longer dry hopped which was what enhanced their flavour. (No, I did not count them again). Funny that their long standing brewer had just departed and they were recording ever increasing profits. I still enjoy drinking pints of 'old favourites' but I feel that all the above beers are just not really worth bothering about any more. Last time I was out in pub, of someone else's choosing, I chose Guinness over London Pride and that is sad. Don't tell me my taste buds have changed or I am now more critical (well I am) but some beers never changed over nearly 20 years eg Brakspears Bitter (before the brewery closed). 

Maybe all is not lost as BC 1846 is still very drinkable and they are about to introduce Porter for a while. I wonder if it will be toned down though.

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Music at Beer Festivals - by Steve Westby (19/09/03)

My idea of hell is to be at a beer festival where the beer is good but where they have just a single room and there is live music on! I don’t go to a beer festival to listen to chuffing music; I go for the friggin' beer!

Some festivals are so chuffing geared towards music that you wonder if it is a music festival that happens to sell real ale rather than a real ale festival with some ancillary entertainment. In fact if it is a music festival with beer should it be operated under the name of CAMRA, indeed should CAMRA even be underwriting the financial risk?

Beer festivals should be seeking to attract all age ranges from 18 through to 96. A choice of music is a very personal thing. You may have friends and partners with which you share a lot in common, including perhaps attending beer festivals, but that doesn't mean you are going to like the same sort of music. Indeed the nature of music is such that the taste of one person can be intensely disliked by another. Being a miserable bastard I dislike it all, particularly when I am having a few chuffing pints.

This tends to particularly be the case across the age ranges, whilst someone aged say 25 (e.g. my daughter) may like garage, house or rap music, someone of say 54 (e.g. me) may find it not only distasteful but actually painful. There is also the fact that the older you get the tolerance to volume levels become less and loud music at my age actually does hurt the ears.

As for chuffing jazz, the dwindling numbers of people who like jazz seem to have a tendency towards liking real ale. However I can tell you that the majority of real ale drinkers can't abide jazz and it will cause them to actually leave a room where it is being played. I was in the Bell in Nottingham on Tuesday when a jazz band came on in the main back bar - well the room emptied as the customers immediately made for the two front bars where the "music" couldn't be heard!

In my view any music at a beer festival should be ancillary to the main event (which is the beer). It should not be overloud and intrusive and preferably it should be in a separate room so that you can choose to listen to it or not.

Finally, back in the days when we only had one hall at our festival, no matter how we tried, cutting the power at one point, we could not get the bands to realise that the customers were not there primarily to hear them and to turn the volume down to an acceptable level. One night I happened to be on the door when the band turned up. "Where do you want us mate?" they asked. "In the chuffing pub across the road" was my response. Needless to say their first song was dedicated to "that short, fat, miserable bastard on the door".

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Bottle Conditioned Beers - by Gazza, August 2003.

I hate bottle conditioned beers, me. Actually, I hate British BC beers. What's wrong with the industry in this country when we can't produce any beers worth drinking? The only people who came anywhere near making decent stuff, King & Barnes, shut. Admittedly I've not tried every BC in Britain, but most of those I have tried are, frankly, unpleasant. Overtly fizzy, tasting of wet cardboard and not at all "moreish".

What a difference a few miles makes. Over in Belgium they certainly know how to bottle beers. I suppose it's because most beer sales over there are in bottled form that they have to do it properly whilst we here are just playing with it so small are the quantities. Anyone who has tried a lot of Belgian beers will know what I'm talking about here. Most of them are very fizzy, but at the risk of sounding like a railway announcer it's not the wrong kind of fizz like we get in the UK. The fizzy head subsides quickly, leaving a rocky head with (usually) plenty of "brewer's lace" around the glass. Then there's the taste. The beers don't all have the "samey" taste we get, they all taste different and the individual flavour characteristics come through. Just to cap all this, the aroma is pretty good too.

I've a few ideas why this lamentable state of affairs is how it is. As I've said, Belgians need to get the bottling right as most of their sales is in this format. Another seems to be out of our hands - alcoholic strength. It's not a secret that beer with a higher alcoholic count keeps better than weaker beer, and it also matures better as it's less likely to go off. As most Belgian beers are 6% minimum and any below this usually draught only, I can see why our BC beers show poorly. I've also a hunch that the bottle size plays a big factor. We tend to use 500ml, whilst they use mainly 330ml or 750ml. The 330s are usually drunk fresher, whilst they keep the big bottles for longer to mature them before consumption. Our 500ml falls between the two stools and as the beer is not strong enough to survive long, is either too fresh or past it's best.

But it's not just that. We don't take BC beers seriously enough and the bottling standards aren't all they should be I suspect at some producers. Fair enough, there have been improvements in the last 10 years, but I still can't name a British BC beer I'd go out and buy now. I can, however, name a lot of Belgian beers I'd love to go out and buy if only I could find them over here. The perverse thing is that many pasteurised beers in the UK are far more drinkable than their BC counterparts; explain that one. I think I'll have a Cantillon 2001 Kriek and consider it.

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It Makes Me So Chuffing Angry!  (22nd July 2003) by Mr Westby.

Being a short, fat and very irritable person there are a lot of things that get on my chuffing er, breasts but there is one thing in particular in a lot of pubs that makes me want scream.

Until a couple of years go we had a splendid pub just off the city centre, it sold an ever-changing range of real ales and was a friendly and well-run pub. It’s still there but a change of owner saw a decline in the beer range and the good times ended. But in its heyday this boozer was a classic and I rated it very highly, except for one major chuffing irritation. All along the fairly long bar were bar stools and as the pub got busy, as it did every night, these stools filled up. Only one problem with this, you couldn’t get to the chuffing bar to get served! What made it worse was that the people sat on the stools used to get annoyed that you were leaning across them to try to buy your beer. Chuffing ridiculous!

There are loads of other pubs with the same problem. And its not just a city centre thing either, we have the same problem in the two pubs I use in our village. And have you noticed that the people who choose to sit on these stools are often a particular type? They tend to want to be the centre of attraction, not talking just to the person next to them but the whole pub and woe betide the bar staff if they stop listening to them and go off to serve a customer.

Can you think of any other sort of establishment where they put barriers up to stop their customers buying their wares and handing over money? It is like Tescos putting the tables and chairs from their coffee shop across the checkouts so you can’t get your trolley past!

Now is the time to take positive action against this menace to society! Follow my lead and every time you see a bar stool become vacant pick it up and relocate it to the far side of the pub where it can’t get in anyone’s way!

This story hasn’t got a happy ending either. The owner of the splendid pub mentioned above has recently opened a new one and an excellent place it is as well, lots of real ales and highly recommended by me. Before it opened the owner showed me round and I noticed that it had a relatively short bar. "Now you are not going to put any bar stools there, are you?" I asked. He assured me he wouldn’t, he said they used to drive him mad at the old place, particularly when a certain rotund CAMRA member was sitting there blocking out the light.

So what did I find on opening night? You guessed it, a row of chuffing stools in front of the bar! Oh I chuffing-well give up.

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The Inebriate Rantings Of A Short, Fat And Irritable Festival Cellarman (July 03)

On Customers
Who do we run beer festivals for? The chuffing customers that’s who! Not directly for the benefit of the organisers, staff, local publicans or the curry house round the corner. So let’s start giving the customers what they want rather than taking the easy route and “doing what we always do” because we can’t be arsed to change and anyway the numbers are only dropping slightly year on year.

What is this rotund little pillock going on about? Well there’s lots of things like, for starters, the opening hours, the beer selection, the so called entertainment, beer rationing, festival glasses, pricing and if you can stay awake long enough more is explained below. 

Besides what does the geriatric old fart know about it anyway? Not a lot, I may have run fifty or sixty festivals over the past fifteen years or so but then so have a lot of other people, I suppose I am just a mouthy git and besides Gazza asked me to do it.

On Festival Opening Hours
If you spent two or three hours travelling for a day out at somewhere like Alton Towers I bet you would be well chuffed if they came on and announced that they were shutting down for two and a half hours in the afternoon to give the staff a break and to do a bit of housekeeping. Particularly if they said, it’s ok you can come back in at 5, although you will have to pay again, but never mind there is some nice scenery to look at while you are waiting and by the way there are several Little Chefs and Burger Kings where you can get a nice cup of tea.

Yes it would be insane. So how come many of our larger beer festivals have the chuffing audacity to shut up shop in the afternoon, throwing customers out into the street with the cheery words that some of the local pubs are open! Most of these festivals are run by CAMRA, the very organisation that successfully campaigned for flexible licensing hours so that pubs could open when the customers wanted to drink in them!

I went to the 2002 Peterborough festival, an excellent festival in many respects and one that seeks to attract customers from further afield than just the local area. I left home at 9.30 and arrived at the festival at 12.30. Two hours later I was thrown out of the festival as it was closing and spent the next two and a half hours in the local pubs. I then went back in to the festival at 5pm for an hour, but then had to leave to get the train home. 

So for a day out I spent three hours in the festival and two and a half hours in the local pubs. Sod that for a game of soldiers, the local pubs are very good but I can visit them any time, I went for the chuffing festival! Well I ain’t going again till they bring in all day opening and that goes the same for any other festival.

So the staff need a break do they? Well how do you think other festivals manage? By staggering the breaks across the day that’s how. At Peterborough there were staff waiting around for someone to serve at the lunchtime session – hardly a good use of resources. As for closing to enable housekeeping tasks to be done, there’s nothing that can’t be organised so that it can’t be done in advance or while the festival remains open.

And would you believe it – the 2003 National Winter Ales Festival in Burton closed in the afternoons. Yes a chuffing national festival that people were expected to travel some distance to! And despite the complaints I have heard a whisper that they are going to do something similar in 2004!! Talk about contempt for your customers. 

On Beer Festival Glasses
When I came home from the pub the other night I fancied some of my collection of smelly cheeses that had been maturing in the fridge for weeks. But when I went to look it was nowhere to be seen or smelt! Straight away I new where they were, so I got a torch and went outside to hunt in the dustbin. Yes as expected there they were sitting on top wrapped in a carrier bag waiting for me to fish them out and spread the particularly mouldy blue one on my water biscuits before placing them back in the fridge in a new carrier bag.

I wasn’t surprised to find them in the dustbin, my missus can’t stand the smell and every so often when she thinks it is affecting the taste of her stash of chocolate bars she chucks the whole bag full of my stinking delicacies into the wheelie bin. But this time was different; alongside my ponging package was a whole load of beer festival glasses!

Perhaps I should have expected it really as the management had been warning me for some months to shift some of my dozens of festival glasses out of the kitchen cupboard, not unreasonably I suppose as you could no longer shut the door properly. Well I fished the glasses out of the dustbin as well and have donated them to our festival tombola.

But the point is chuffing festival glasses are a pain in the arse. At first they were a novelty and something a bit different but after all these years and festivals I am sorry but I don’t chuffing well want any more thank you!

I am not advocating that festivals shouldn’t produce commemorative glasses for those who want them. I am just saying that we should be able to take in our own, government stamped, glass or be able to get a refund if we decide to buy one there. Many festivals do this but there are still some who insist on you buying a glass and won’t allow refunds.

And finally for now
No I don’t chuffing well look like Roy Cropper off Coronation Street. He looks like me!

Coming next the gobby old bore sounds off on beer selections and music at festivals.

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