The one and only Jimmy Hill!The ticking pen mustn't be forgotten!Pulling the scoops through a handpump.Getting into the habit.A trayload of winners, fresh from Sal's cellar!Oak casks are the way forwards...Mick the Tick skiffling.The Beer House, Manchester circa 1991 - them were the days!Keeping some bottles cold in a bag of snow on a train in Croatia!A good flail never hurt anyone.

  The shadow of the Scoop 

Last Updated :11/01/04

....by Billy Whizz

Iím strictly a second division scratcher. I started in June 1991 and am now on 9,400 beers (of which I bottled less than 10). In January 1994 (at just over 1,000), I was on the point of giving up, since new brews were becoming hard to find. There was then an "explosion" in special beers, so I set off again and am still going: I hope to reach 10,000 by around the end of 2003. However, although Iíve made lots of new friends through this pastime, the total itself matters less and less. One reason for this is that I think the whole thing has now got out of hand. An increasing number of scratching pubs and festivals are desperate for new beers, and are putting such pressure on suppliers that it is hard to resist some kind of corner-cutting in order to satisfy this demand. Added to this, there has been a rise in contract brewing of one breweryís label in another breweryís plant. In spite of sustained pressure, there is still no regulation of beer labelling to ensure the consumer gets the information they want and deserve.

When it comes to rebadging, I have no doubt that most people in the supply chain act in good faith. Of those that donít, my own opinion is that retailers (pubs and festivals) are the main transgressors, followed by some breweries, then lastly some distributors. Iím fairly certain that some of the beers claimed to be new differ from previous offerings so slightly that the changes are either imperceptible to drinkers, or within the normal gyle-to-gyle variation inherent in processes using natural materials.

Itís got to the stage where, in spite of rigorous enquiries, we donít even know ourselves exactly what we have drunk, let alone what we claim to have drunk. The whole thing has become rather mechanical, especially for those who bottle beers to be consumed later. Naturally, scratchers with plenty of time to travel the country have the rewards of this constant change of scenery, and the pleasure of regularly seeing friends from far and wide, to add to the enjoyment of consuming beer (which, one imagines, must be greatly reduced if it has been in the bottle for a few days). I am not such a person. I have a living to earn, and lots of other calls on my time, including a range of different hobbies. Being within "striking distance" of 10,000, Iíll continue to keep score (whatever it means), until I reach this total. I look forward, however, to the time when I can put all thoughts of such targets behind me, since they seem increasing artificial these days. From then on, Iíll just get to one or two festivals a month (keeping in touch with my friends), visit the known scratching pubs when Iím in the vicinity, but forget the grind of amassing more entries on the database. I know the score, and I have better things to do.

Does anyone else feel the same? I wouldnít be at all surprised. There are certainly breweries and pubs that are treated with great circumspection by scratchers Ė and a growing feeling, if not of disillusionment, of uncertainty on the part of many of my fellows. The "special ale" suppliers need to take note that they are dealing with reasonably intelligent people who often go a long way to find out the truth. If this means that rather fewer new beers are available in future (but still over 150 a month, for those with railcards, plenty of time and really efficient livers), I suggest that would be better for everybody!