Saturday, 22 April 2017

EMBER, GOING DOWN THE

Photo : Simon Everitt 

One of the great joys of pubs in the UK is the sheer number of varied locales and experiences available.  Whatever your own personal desires and comfort levels are, there is usually a pub nearby that will suit you.  People even write blogs about this stuff,  I hear.

Of course, many people aren't really seeking varied experiences. No. They just want a drink. They want everything bog standard, and maybe even identical everywhere they go.  These are people for whom even Wetherspoons are too risky. After all, they may not like the carpet.

Where there is a market, there will be someone there to provide the desired service or product.  And for seekers of the identikit pub, there is Ember Inns.   Everything, and I mean everything is the same no matter which one you have unfortunately found yourself in. Big pillar outside. Standard menu. Line up of beers from large regional breweries (they even now have their own 'Ember Ale' so as to provide an option for those who are disconcerted by having to choose between Thwaites and Moorhouses). Massive and probably fake fireplace. Blackboards proclaiming about something called "Chip Tank". You get the idea.

For example, I was once reading a Twitter post from one unhappy blogger who had found himself in one of these places. He posted a photo of it and I thought "What's he doing in the Black Bull?" (my local Ember). It turned out he was in Exeter.

There is a rumour, totally unsubstantiated of course, that there is a factory in China churning out Embers for the export market to the UK.

Still, gives pub tickers a chance to play "Ember Bingo" (see above), and for that we should be grateful.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

DUDE, AWESOMING LIKE A


If you ever want to bear witness to the encroaching homogeneity of beer culture, simply log on to Twitter and follow a few beer-type people.  One thing you will notice is that many of them are always drinking.  Pictures.  Pictures of cans.  Pictures of cans at a barbecue.  Pictures of cans at a barbecue with mountains of burnt meat.  Often with cats in the background. But this is just their regular life.  What do they do for enjoyment?

To discover such things, you have to wait (if you can) until the weekend.  This is playtime for Beer People.  The whole world is out there to be experienced. It has many wonders and joys to be embraced. And, as you will often notice, it usually has a Craft Bar with numerous taps and a fridgeful of AWESOME beer.

Found rarities will be proclaimed; all their beery mates will be @d (for information purposes, of course, not to provoke envy); love, laughs and fun in the sun.  All that cliched nonsense.  But most of all there will be a selfie of some bearded member of the "beer cognoscenti" smiling, while holding a glass of something both ridiculously strong and hideously expensive.

They all do it.  Whereas some people hang around theatre doors waiting for celebrities to grab a mutual photo with, beer people like nothing better than to be seen with the latest fashionable limited edition.  That they could have grabbed an empty can from the next table for this purpose is a situation not usually imagined.

People once had fun with other people when they went out. Now they have to be seen to be consuming the right things and making a permanent record of the fact.

And as long as they're seen, that's the whole point.  Dude.

Monday, 10 April 2017

HANDPUMPS, SMILING BEHIND THE

"Please come to our pub.  Look, we put this photo on Twitter!  Look how happy we are!  Look at all these pumpclips!  We've even mentioned all the breweries' accounts by name!  And CAMRA! But for information!  Not attention! Not for retweets and likes or anything!  Please come to our pub and drink our beer.  It's really quiet and our over-ambitious cask ale line up is going off.  Please, we beg you.  We'll take the Marillion off the jukebox!  We'll clean the toilets!  We'll even put Titanic Plum Porter on! Please!  We're desperate!"

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

REGULARS, THE


It happens rarely these days,  but occasionally some us go to pubs we've never been to before. Imagine the scene - it's Friday evening, and you're tired of the places you frequent regularly. But there's THAT pub you always pass but have never entered.  Oh well. Why not?

So you go in. It's empty. Empty, but for several people parked right in front of the bar. Of course, you cannot see the drinks offer because they'really blocking the view. You shuffle up slowly and, after a minute, one person sees you and moves to the left. Great. At least now you can order something.

So, you have your drink. What now? You could sit in the unpopulated, cavernous wasteland that is the rest of the pub. But no. That would seem, well, standoffish. You park yourself at the end of the bar, hoping to look neither over-friendly nor snobbily distant.

You try to pick up the banter. It's mainly about some guy called Mike, who is presumably one of the regulars who for some reason is absent tonight.  You can't quite pick up the nuances of the tales of what he was caught doing this week, but it sounds decidely unsavoury. Everyone else laughs anyway.  Then the politics talk starts. All suitably ill-informed,  but this is their pub so you keep quiet. Then someone remembers the football game is on and beseeches the barman to put it on the big screen. He does. Loudly. Soon the volume is matched by the customers shouting at the TV.

By now, you've nearly finished your drink. "Same again?" you're asked. You politely decline, explaining your bus is due in five minutes. And you leave, feeling a wave of relief as you walk out onto the pavement. Thank god,  you say to yourself,  that's over.

Then you go to your usual haunt, which somehow no longer seems quite as tedious as before. You order a drink, block the bar and talk complete bollocks that nobody but your fellow regular bar blockers will completely understand.

Because, after all, life is nothing if not the constant expression of hypocrisy.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

KEG, EVIL


If you were a CAMRA member, life used to be simple.  There was cask conditioned beer (or "Real Ale" as they termed it themselves) and there was KEG beer.  Bitter, lager, stout. Didn't matter.  It was all mass-produced, adjunct-laden, expensive fizzy filth.  And many CAMRA members, if not nostalgic for the days of Watney's Red Barrel, preferred the simple dichotomy.

Then the new wave of brewers arrived with their IPAs and Imperial Stouts.  And because they were taking their cue from America, they put them in kegs and used carbon dioxide to dispense it.  And, despite these being the antithesis of bland keg beer, a lot of  CAMRA members didn't like it.  It was from a keg.  And keg is evil.

To be honest, these fundamentalists were few in number, but they filled the local CAMRA magazines and the CAMRA newspaper, "What's Brewing", with their views.  Reading these copious missives about the forthcoming keg takeover brought to mind those apocryphal Japanese soldiers captured on isolated islands in the 1960s who thought World War 2 was still ongoing.

Needless to say, a lot of CAMRA members, even many in lofty positions in the organisation, drink this "craft" keg beer.  They're just not allowed to talk about it in their own publications lest it be seen as not "promoting cask ale".

The world will move on.  The future will happen whether the diehards like it or not.  But it will hurt. By god, it will hurt.

Monday, 13 March 2017

COMMUNICATION


Back in the Dark Ages, by which I mean around 2008, anyone wanting to appreciate the subtleties of beer had to do it the old-fashioned way.  They first had to find the beer they wanted, then buy it, taste it, and write their own subjective impressions of what it's qualities were.  Looking back, it makes one wonder how the whole beer scene survived.  I mean, such a multitude of opinions.  Who knew what to think?

Thankfully help was at hand.  Noticing a gap in the market, a certain type of person charged through it like a gap on a bar on a Friday night.  These people were known as the "Beer Communicators" and they came from various backgrounds.  Some were bloggers who had overwhelming enthusiasm for how AWESOME the beer scene was and, like, needed to tell everyone about it,  Some were already "media professionals" who had an interest in beer and saw communication about it as a potentially profitable sideline to going to dismal local gigs or rewriting news agency copy.  And some were, undoubtedly, people who neither knew nor cared about beer, but swotted up on it in an effort to gain some sort of career prospects.

What none of the above were much interested in was the quality or veracity of information they were disseminating.  After all, beer is a fairly saturated industry.  One more sale is one fewer sale for someone else.   So based on whether they liked the beer itself or the people behind it, they talked their favourites up to the expense of others who, in their opinion, were lesser regarded.

And this is why they were called "Communicators" rather than "Journalists".  Journalists ask questions because, in most cases, they seek the truth and wish to make that truth known.  A Communicator is merely someone who spreads the word, true or not, because they're an inherent part of the industry.  If the industry is "done down", then their potential revenue stream is likely to be reduced.

In Beer Communication, there is no Bad News. BEER PEOPLE ARE GOOD PEOPLE, and making money and taking market share is a lesser concern, despite such an ideology going against all known rules of good business..  If, like, everyone is good to each other, then beer (or more to the point, the beer being promoted) will become so wonderful, the industry will grow forever.

Of course, the said Awesome Breweries are gradually being taken over by larger concerns, so the Communicators have to realign themselves to the new reality.  Watching them do this is one of the few amusing things left in the beer world.  But as long as the freebies and access keep coming, everything stays Awesome and inconvenient truths are glossed over.

Some have said they should drop the Journalistic pretensions and just come out as Public Relations people. But that wouldn't be, like, awesome, man.

CLUB, THE WORKING MEN'S


In the very early 80s, whenever my parents were fed up of me (which was often, I hear), I got given to my grandad to be entertained.  Salt of the earth, my grandad.  A forklift driver in a wallpaper factory. Apparently never had an accident, despite rarely being sober enough to walk the streets legally.  Anyway, during these occasions I was usually taken somewhere that was explained to my four-year-old self as "Grandad's special pub".

When I was older, I worked out the official name for this place was Galgate Working Men's Club.  All I knew at the time was it had a snooker table (which I was never allowed near), a cellar underneath which the floor was audibly hollow (which I was never allowed near), and a noisy and colourful fruit machine (which for some reason I was allowed near).  Of course, I was only allowed five 10ps to play with, and as my capacity for fizzy pop and scampi fries was limited, I reckon any surplus winnings went to Grandad's next pint.

When I got a little bit older, I was no longer invited to Grandad's Special Pub.  Perhaps I was more tolerable to be around for my parents, or perhaps they didn't want me "corrupted" by the alleged malign influences there.  I usually heard my Nan ranting about someone called Maurice Ryecroft who apparently led Grandad astray (though, to be honest, I think he needed precious little leading) and, worse, had a dog that worried the local sheep.  After that, I was only taken to the more salubrious environs of the Green Dragon, the local Yates & Jackson pub.  Though always outside with my pop and crisps.  This was the 1980s after all.

My Grandad is long gone. As is his Special Pub.  And presumably Maurice Ryecroft and his dog also.  There are, I hear, working men's clubs still going, but as their milieu is in terminal decline it won't be long before they're gone too.

Perhaps the "working man" in the old sense of the word no longer exists.