Saturday, 9 December 2017

News in Brief #59

Gunboat diplomacy? BEERMAT diplomacy is 21st Century

Spoons Boss Enters Brexit Negotiations

Representatives from the European Union were suprised this week when, sitting down to the table for discussions on the UK's imminent departure, they were confronted not by David Davis and Theresa May, but by Wetherspoons CEO and mullet-projector Timbo Martin. "As a major employer, who is better qualified than me to conduct these talks?"

"They wanted to open preliminaries on the Northern Irish border," yelled Timbo  "but I showed them I meant business by simply putting a big pile of my beer mats in front of them. Read these,  I told him, and said I wasn't budging on any of my positions."

"I told them I wanted the flow of cheap food and cheap workers to continue, but I want no interference on anything else.  I could tell by the shocked looks on their faces that they knew I was right. That's how to do it, I told the politicians. I learned how do that dealing with local councils."

Chief EU negotiator Michael Barnier said "We listened to Mr. Martin and will consider his suggestions with all the seriousness they deserve."

The talks continue.
Money well spent

CAMRA Circles Reveal All

After the recent financial embarrassments at The Campaign for Real Ale, we have asked the ultimate insiders for their views on these matters - the CAMRA branding circles.

"We've heard a few things, yeah." said Large Circle "But we have been rather busy what with having to appear on the Good Beer Guide, the local mags and 190,000 membership cards."

Small Circle chimed in "We're quite well remunerated as we appear everywhere with CAMRA these days. Some within the organisation have questioned why we were needed for a major rebranding when they're struggling for money. But, hey, we keep being paid."

"The most important thing about CAMRA now is the logos and the constant reorganisation," continued Big Circle "Real Ale can look after itself, we're sure."

CAMRA head Colin Valentine was unavailable for comment as he was busy packing up his desk toys.

Acceptable methods, dudes

Bud Gear Hunting Reveal Journalistic  Methods

Much-maligned beer website and certainly-not-paid-for-by-big-beer thing Bud Gear Hunting has told a rapt audience how it goes about it's business.  "Lots of people think we just wibble on about how awesome beer is and all that," retorted BGH UK editor Curt Mattis to a packed conference hall "but there's far more to it than that."

"For example, one of my duties as UK editor is to scour the news sites and see if any journo is, like, going 'off-message' about all the stuff we're promoting."

"Say someone at the Morning Advertiser implies he brought up the problem of Sexism in the Beer industry first," explained Curty "when it was, like, us, obviously.  Then we make sure we get all our Twitter fans to dogpile him, force him into an apology and hound him off social media. These things are IMPORTANT, dude."

Asked if this could be construed as bullying by the people concerned,  Mattis replied "No. Bullying isn't a problem in the beer world."

"Beer people are, as I always say, GOOD PEOPLE."

Friday, 27 January 2017


Average sexist pumpclip, yesterday

What with Donald Trump being elected US President, sexism is in the news. Apparently,  Mr. Trump is not as progressive on consent issues as most people would like him to be. In fact, he's been quoted as saying that you can "grab some pussy", and "they'll let you do it if you're famous." As Victor Lewis-Smith would say, oh dear.

Over the last few days, the searingly honest Mark Johnson of Beer Compurgation has written a couple of blog posts about Sexism in the Beer World and how it's implicitly condoned by lack of contrary comment by a lot of the people involved. He's angry, and he has every right to be given his recent experiences. Whether calling out those responsible will change anything is another matter altogether. 

Sexism is problem in society in general, not just in the beer world. The Beer World (unfortunately) is a "boys club" and casual sexism, such as dodgy names and pumpclips, is allowed through without demur as the people in question don't see the problem. You can pretty much write off the generation that grew up in the 60s/70s/80s as they're products of a much more openly sexist age. The best you can hope for is to shame them into not behaving badly in public (this is probably what happened to Johnson at MBCF - people with sexist views considering a Beer Festival a "safe" place to say what they like and do as they please).

You can educate the younger generation of men not to do this by reasoning, but the problem with them is they grew in a time where porn (which demands women are treated as objects) is all too easily accessed by young minds incapable of dealing with it critically. Alas, again all you can really hope for is they don't express sexist views or behaviour in public.

So, no, I don't hold out a great deal of hope for the XY-chromosoned section of humanity changing any time soon, but I wish Mr. Johnson every success in his attempts.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017


A few years ago, there was a blended whisky on the market called Bailie Nicol Jarvie.  While not the highest seller in the "Premium Blended" sector,  it was highly regarded by it's buyers and regularly got good reviews from the whisky pundits. Unusually, it was made with 65% malt whisky, as opposed to the 30% you find in Bell's, Grouse etc.

There were regular mutterings about how LVMH (the company who owned the brand) could knock the stuff out at £18 a bottle. Some even said things such as "I hope BNJ never becomes popular,  they'll never be able to make it viable." 

And so it came to pass in 2014. LVMH discontinued it. The 65% malt they put in it was worth more than they could sell it for as BNJ. Being a maker known for the "Luxury Goods" sector, they decided to withdraw from the blended whisky market. Had the brand been as strong as say, Johnnie Walker (a bottle of JW Black has increased in price by 50% since 2009), they possibly could have increased the price commensurately, but the average BNJ punter was reckoned to have been unwilling to stump up the extra £7.

Events like this are starting to happen in the beer world. Cask beer is reckoned to be, as the experts put it, "a faff".  The sheer effort of brewing it, casting it, delivering it and getting the empties back is a pain, and even after all that,  there's no guarantee the pub they've sold it too will look after it or serve it properly.

What most sectors in the food and drink sector do when faced with such things is simply reduce package size or increase prices. The former is out, as beer is sold by the pint and drinkers would take a dim view of having a Toblerone done on them.

The latter is just as difficult for many reasons. Cask drinkers invariably have some kind of formula in their heads about what a pint "should" cost, and God help any pub that goes over this. This varies from place to place. In Preston,  a 4% cask bitter is usually priced at £3, but in Lancaster (20 miles away) it's generally at least 50p more. As most people, even now, rarely travel to drink, it's not often noticed.

With the (frankly ridiculous) every-growing number of breweries and (sadly) decreasing numbers of pubs, this price is being pincered.  Pubs and punters want it cheap, and there are always breweries willing to cut corners to offer their beer as cheaply as possible.

The main loser in this is the"premium craft cask" producer. They simply can't compete with someone brewing two barrels at a time in their (hopefully clean) garage with their lower duty rate and overheads.  And a lot of pubs simply want cheap, new beer and will gravitate away from the premium brewers towards the shed merchants.

My fear, and indeed my prediction, is that brewers of Premium Cask will do a Buxton/Cloudwater and simply abandon the cask market with all it's vagaries for the keg market with it's better margins. The cask market will be left to National and Large Regional brewers with their economies of scale, and the garage and 2bbl people with their clapped-out Transit van and their well-thumbed local order network.

I pondered this yesterday in my local micropub while drinking a £2.90 pint of Hawkshead Lakeland Gold. The days of this sort of thing are numbered, I thought.

I hope I'll be proved wrong, but I fear I won't be.