I'm a frequent visitor to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There's a website and book dedicated to reviews of Newcastle pubs, bars and nightclubs that never ceases to entertain me – The Burglar's Dog. Don't let it put you off, it's a great beer town!
Yesterday's Times magazine carried an extract and recipes from Big Gord's new book "Great British Pub Food."
"The Great British pub has a unique place in British life"... and so on.
Something bothers me. Yes, I know, it's the picture of Ramsay and his chum clutching what appear to be pints of Guinness. It's black, it has a creamy head and there's a golden harp branded glass. OK, I know Guinness is in thousands of British pubs, some huge percentage market penetration but, well, it's an Irish brand and they boast it's all brewed in Dublin. To plonk something overtly Irish in a British pub book is inelegant, to say the least.
This strikes me as a lack of attention to detail on the part of Gordo. Either that or some well-rewarded product placement.
I am reminded of a cheffy documentary I saw a couple of years ago. The young hotshot Aussie chef at some high profile London restaurant is seen swearing and shouting at all and sundry in the kitchen in the manner popularised by Gordo. One specific macho rant aimed at some cowering junior went something like this: "flavour, flavour, flavour, never stop thinking about it, your tastebuds never have a day off, they're your most valuable skill, your tastebuds will never let you down, learn how they work and taste everything." Later, the loudmouth chef was seen at home relaxing after a long shift shouting at people. He kicked off his shoes, slumped in front of the telly and .... wait for it .... opened a can of Stella.
CAMRA's website now includes chat forums. They've made them public but, as far as I can see, closed to posts from non-members such as me. If I was mean-spirited I'd be tempted to think this was a deliberate attempt to silence dissidents – perhaps I'm being too cynical.
Fair enough, now uk.food+drink.real-ale attracts more tumbleweed than posts, CAMRA-types need another spleen-venting forum.
Entertainingly (to me, at least) they've chosen to make the forums searchable by keywords and in doing so have provided an insight into the issues that fire up the rank-and-file.
Let's have a look at some keywords:
"pubco" - 11 matches
"flavour" - 10 matches
"hops" - 3 matches
"malt" - 4 matches
"Darling" - no matches
"micro" - 7 matches
And, last but not least:
"The following words in your search query were ignored because they are too common words: price"
As yet it's early days for the forum so it isn't really fair to claim such a small sample actually tells us anything useful, still it will be interesting to watch.
CORRECTION: "Anonymous" (IP address St Albans) informs us that the forums are open to non-members. I apologise. Now everybody, form an orderly queue...
What kind of grindingly unfunny "sense of humour" creates this sort of thing?
Time after time beer drinkers who don't drink cask ale are asked "why don't you drink cask ale?" and time after time imagery is high on the list of dislikes. OK, imagery is a nebulous and ephemeral concept but I'm pretty certain the brand "cask ale" includes beer mats with dismal drawings and contrived wordplay.
It astonishes me that companies like Black Sheep probably have a marketing budget but ill-considered rubbish like this still enters the public domain.
Vratislav (5%) - Cheap proper Czech lager from Tesco. I enjoy this beer, I've usually got a bottle or two lurking in the fridge. It's by no means the best lager I've ever tasted but it's head & shoulders above the industrial dross that dominates the market. I've never noticed any problem with skunkiness despite green glass. Highly recommended for when your mates expect you to have some lager in. I put the name "Vratislav" in Ratebeer and get 6 results - anyone which of the 6 it is?
Until last night's episode I'd been enjoying Oz and James Drink to Britain. Firstly, it was nice to see beer getting some sympathetic media coverage, and secondly, they seemed to have done their research.
Unfortunately last night's episode (watch it here) was a big let down – shoddy and shallow.
Bugbear number 1: Given the rare privilege of sampling a 139 year old beer James May offered the trite comments "it's corked", "it's horrible, it tastes like it was strained through Magwitch's underpants, it's rotten". If I was Steve Wellington, minder of the old beers, I would feel very insulted that this TV ignoramus couldn't even make a sensible and perceptive comment on the flavour. I've tasted three or four beers from this collection and I know that they don't resemble anything you'd find in the pub. They more like a mysterious form of fortified wine something like a peculiar Medeira or Port with a dose of malt syrup – Tetley or Stella they ain't.
Bugbear number 2: The final sequence was an uninformed anti-lager rant. Anti-lager rants are what you expect from loudmouth CAMRA neophytes, not from renowned drinks writers and their sidekicks. Clarke repeated the oft-heard but lazily simplistic idea that lager's boom was due to clever advertising brainwashing beer drinkers - "a television advert could finally make people drink something they viscerally didn't want to drink". The duo then went on to taste lagers ("oh God, do we have to?" - Oz Clarke, "the least we can do is try the stuff" - James May) with curry. Isn't that a bit obvious? Lager and curry eh? How many milliseconds thought were given to that scene? ("Which lager goes best with curry? - Does it matter, would we notice?" - Oz). The duo went on to say disparaging things and make grimaces at some well-known dull lagers (I think I spotted Kinfisher) – but where was the necessary reminder that there are countless brilliant lagers in the world? No-bloody-where.
This beer has been a major influence on my life. I first came across it in the mid-nineties. I was (and still am) entranced by layers of flavour. It doesn't call itself an IPA but surely that's what it is. Brewed since 1974 it is the mitochondrial Eve of the whole IPA revival.
Rochefort 8 My favourite of all the Trappist beers. I particularly enjoy the long herbal hoppy finish which, it seems to me, isn't shared by its big brother Rochefort 10 although the 10 is generally rated higher. I haven't done a Rochefort v. Westvleteren head to head taste test but I suspect the Rocheforts would win. My natural scepticism suggests to me that super-rarity lifts people's perception of the Westvleterens.