Monday, 31 October 2011

Beer vs wine at the Thatchers Arms last Friday

So there we were on Friday night, wine in the ring with beer. An affray at the dining table perhaps: five courses, each one striding to the table like a wanna-be champ, a glass of wine and a glass of beer on each side, trainers of gastronomic ability, jabbing the air, feeling the mood, supremely confident. In the wine corner Tim Atkin, Master of Wine, author and journalist and the wine guy on Saturday Kitchen; I’m in the beer corner. The venue: the wonderful Thatchers Arms, in the middle of the north Essex countryside, a delightful centre of good food and drink (especially beer), whose young landlord Mitch had organised the bout (and let’s not forget the Don King of beer evangelicalism, Hardknott Dave Bailey, the man who set up the whole Twitter campaign that led to this evening). Fresh from winning an award at SIBA, Dave was there with Hardknott Ann, along with a glove puppet who used to be big on British TV until his star waned and he was replaced by Bob the Builder and a myriad other fantasies of the middle aged.

Enough of conflict metaphors. It’s wasn’t a battle, it wasn’t a war, it wasn’t even a fight. It was an attempt to celebrate good food, good wine and — above all from my point of view, good beer. I’ve not met Tim before and I thought him a great guy — he drinks beer as well as wine and there was none of the closed mind syndrome that I have occasionally come across with wine drinkers (admittedly of the more elderly, snobbish variety). 

First up was a carpaccio of venison loin with beetroot and port and mustard vinaigrette — I chose Duchesse de Bourgogne, banking on the sour-sweet character of the beer to lift the flavour of the venison, the sourness interact with the vinaigrette and the earthiness of the beetroot. Tim chose a 2008 Casa Riva Carmenere Gran Reserva from Chile, a good red wine I seem to recall. The winner, as voted by the audience, was beer. Phew, at least I would win one round. Then we had home smoked mackerel fillet with pickled samphire and lemon dressing. I choose Adnams Explorer, though I had toyed with Pilsner Urquell — I wanted a higher level of carbonation to cut through the oiliness of the fish, but also a firm tropical fruit sweetness to counteract with what I thought would be both the salt on the fish and the brininess of the samphire. I wasn’t sure about this match, the mackerel was more smoky than I had imagined, it was delicious but I felt that the Explorer got a bit lost. Then things perked up in my mouth and the beer seemed to act like a complement to the dish, an extra ingredient. Tim chose a 2010 Telmo Rodriguez Gaba do Xil from Spain, honeyed and apple-like — the two of us had chosen similarly fruity drinks. Again beer won, though there was a sting in the tale to come.

Third course was a Sri Lankan red chicken curry with cardamon rice — IPA you might think, but I went for Schneider Weiss, thinking of carbonation cutting through the heat, and the banana and clovey notes adding their own spiciness to the dish. Tim chose a 2008 Cape Barren Estate Grenache/Shiraz/Mourvedre from south Australia. Beer won again and it felt like half time during an Arsenal match with the game in the bag and as a Gooner I know what that means… Mitch announced a recount of the votes for the second course, there had been a mistake and wine had actually won. So now it was 2-1. 

The four course was a lemon tart with raspberry coulis and sadly Adnams’ Sole Bay was trumped by the Moscato d’Asti from Italy that just added another dimension to the dessert (even the Hardknotters agreed on this) Sole Bay is a lovely beer and we were very lucky to have some as I don’t think there is much left in the country. So that was 2-2 and the chocolates were brought on. I had originally thought of Leifmans Cuvee Brut for this finale, but for some reason, disregarding all my normal doubts about matching dark beer with chocolate, I went for Ola Dubh in a 12 year old Highland Park cask. Lovely beer but the chocolate effectively overwhelmed the notes of tobacco box, coffee, vanilla and oak that the beer has, leaving only the bitterness to stand there as naked as the Emperor with no clothes. Tim chose a Lustau San Emilion PX sherry from the Jerez region — I found it too oily and sweet, a torrent of sweetness bursting through the banks of perception and drowning the chocolate. The result, after a show of hands, was a draw for this dish, which I reckon was a good result for the dinner all round. I do believe that that the Cuvee Brut would have stormed away but on the other hand there was a conviviality about the dinner that was light ages away from the recent storms that have beset the world of beer communications. As wine writer Fiona Beckett noted on her twitter feed after the result went out, ‘good result which reflects the truth that neither beer or wine is better, just different ;-)’

Neither Tim nor myself were paid for the evening, and the drinks were provided by Adnams and Slurp, while local food producers also helped. The night raised £550 for Amnesty (Tim’s chosen charity) and Help for Heroes (my chosen one).

Sunday, 30 October 2011

World Beer Awards 2011 results

Like most beer writers and beer bloggers I do my stint as a judge — the first time being at the White Horse in 2000 for the Beauty of Hops competition (or was it the fish and chips and beer one?). Bit overawed at the time to be in the company of the likes of Mark Dorber, Roger Protz and Oz Clarke and then sitting next to Michael Jackson and discussing beers with him (I recall him saying something along the lines of that he’d never correctly identified a beer when blind judging — suspect that was to put me at my ease, especially as I’d held up a beer and mused on whether it was Landlord). Since then, many competitions later (but never the GBBF, not sure I would like it, too early a start and the same goes for GABF though I was tempted to apply after 1001 Beers), I get a paid gig as the chief European judge for the World Beer Awards (Roger Protz is overall chief judge, while Stan Hieronymus is the US boss and Bryan Harrell does the same over in Japan). The judging panel includes the likes of Jeff Evans (himself consiglieri for the IBC awards and the only judge who drank his whole measure of Utopias, which made for an entertaining journey back to London from Norwich), Ron Pattinson, Melissa Cole and a variety of brewers. We had three rounds, two of which covered just European beers, while the final one also featured the American and Asian/Australasian beers picked elsewhere around the globe. 

So what happens? The beers are submitted in bottle and yes breweries pay to enter and they are sifted into a variety of style categories, which I gladly admit do need clarifying (which we will be sorting out in December). A lot of good breweries enter and there are some surprising results (the Mongolian Pilsner Borgio was truly good), so if you want to look at the awards in their full entirety then go here. Best beers in the world? Why not? There’s a pretty experienced judging panel blending brewing professionals, experienced writers who’ve been around the block several times and new kids on the blog (like I was all those years ago). There was debate, questions, clarifications and some brilliant beers — the winners are a snapshot of what we tried at the time and I can honestly say that Weihenstephaner’s Vitus is a glorious drop of beer.

Friday, 28 October 2011

The Three Tuns in Bristol

Three Tuns Bristol. Good little pub this, belongs to Arbor Ales, good brewery, coming up with some excellent beers, one of which I had last week in the Red Lion in Cricklade, good pub that as well, frontage festooned with hanging baskets, that’s what you get for being in a town that wins Britain in Bloom. Back to Bristol though, great city for drinking at the moment, good breweries in the shape of Arbor, BBF and Bath Ales (confusing that they are called Bath but based in Bristol, think there might be a case for pedants to raise merry hell). Back to the Three Tuns though, you can read what I think about it in Saturday’s DT or just go straight to the link here. Cheers. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Beer vs wine at the Thatchers Arms this Friday

Good grub but it’ll be a bit more sophisticated this Friday

For me beer and food matching is about the occasion when beer intensifies the flavour of the food, adds something to it or alternatively when the ingredients in the dish lift the beer skywards and reveal an hitherto unknown dimension. Or it could be when the two of them collide and come up with something totally new — a gastronomic particle accelerator.

Harmony: it’s akin to the moment when the woodwind, the strings and the brass all come together in one grand symphonic hug, perhaps during Schubert’s ninth symphony or a great shambling moment in Elgar’s Bach Fantasia when all seems lost, when all seems chaos, but as the instruments all seemingly topple over order asserts itself and all is harmony — or maybe I could point you in the direction of Sonic Youth and the Jesus and Mary Chain who were good at that sort of beer and food matching, as was the sound I once heard when crossing Waterloo bridge and the sound of a helicopter flying over dovetailed beautifully with the rat-a-tat bludgeoning of jack hammers on the South Bank.

For me then it’s about bringing flavours together and getting on with each other — and it doesn’t always happen in beer and food. I made moules marinières once with Pedigree and the long boil gave a harsh bitter note to the broth; cheese — artisanal Cheshire — as I found out the other night, with a Czech Svetly Lezak does not work, the dairy fats seem to separate and become hideous individuals — or Dairylea at the very least.

It’s not rocket science, it’s not the black arts — it’s trial and experiment, punk rock, Sebastian Junger hitting the dirt in a hole in Afghanistan, your favourite jeans, frayed and frowning at the damage that time has done. It’s beer and food. 

All this is just a preamble to the food vs beer event I am co-hosting with Saturday Kitchen’s Tim Atkin on Friday night at the Thatchers Arms in Mount Bures, Essex. There are a few tickets left so if you want come along then call landlord Mitch on 01787 227460 — it’s also all for charity, we’re all giving our services free, while the beers and wine are being donated by Slurp Beer and Adnams. And as something to whet your appetite here’s the menu with the chosen beers.

Carpaccio of Venison Loin & Beetroot with a Port & Mustard Vinaigrette 
Duchesse de Bourgogne 

Home Smoked Mackerel Fillet with Pickled Samphire & Lemon Dressing 
Adnams Explorer (though I did toy with Pilsner Urquell)

Delicate Sri Lankan Red Chicken Curry with Cumin, Chilli, Ginger, Tomato, Black Mustard Seeds Cardamom Rice & Poppadums (medium hot)
Schneider Weisse

Lemon Tart with Raspberry Coulis
Adnams Sole Bay

Homemade Dark Chocolate Petit Fours
Harviestoun Ola Dubh 12 Year Reserve

Friday, 21 October 2011

Great British Pubs — I awake up and realise I have a book to promote

I write for a living, sometimes edit, have produced magazines, but these days it’s mainly writing and researching for articles that fill my days (though I still enjoy sub-editing, there’s nothing like roasting an inept writer’s words Flashman-like in front of a roaring coal fire as I rediscovered during the editing of 1001 Beers To Rule The World With Before You Die — no names I’m afraid). Writing books is part of the job.

The latest one is out at the end of the month — it’s called Great British Pubs and is published by CAMRA Books. Coffee table book for the recession perhaps, nice paper, not glossy though, colour pics, a chance to write, my take on pubs, mine alone, no other writers, an echo of George VI in the summer of 1940, something along the lines of thank heavens for no allies to pamper (I wonder if Garrett Oliver felt the same after a while?). Over 200 pubs get a page each and I’ve written 500 word profiles of each one, trying to see the pubs from a totally different angle than a guide book (yes the opening hours are there and the phone numbers but it’s a bit like a lot of my DT columns — I’ve tried to paint the colours of the pub).

For instance, the Dolphin in Plymouth name checks both TS Eliot (the women come and go…) and Beryl Cook (and would usually end up in a painting by her) — and in a marvellous piece of serendipity a group of Cookesque women bustled into her old local whilst I was sitting there one blustery Saturday afternoon. Is the Rake a fop or a garden implement? Cask is a room, but a room filled with many earthly delights. In Laxfield you can set your watch by the sight of the Kings Head’s locals emerging from their homes when the church clock opposite strikes six. The Bunch of Grapes has good grub, whilst the jalapeno omelette at the Anchor in Walberswick is an ideal breakfast start up. The Red Lion in Cricklade (where I thoroughly enjoyed a glass of Stroud Brewery’s Brewers Garden with a pea fritter and chips yesterday), the Pub in Leicester (Beckett-like in its minimalistic name), the Black Boy (see the stuffed baboon in his kilt), the Three Tuns (both in Bishops Castle and Bristol) all appear within these pages. You might not like every pub here but it’s an honest attempt to write about pubs in a way that tries to bring them to life and makes the reader want to wend their way there (and god knows they need the support, the pubs that is not the readers), whether it’s in search of a session at the Babbity Browser, an I-do-like-to-be-beside-the-seaside moment at the Lord Nelson or the Turf or just a canoodle with Sarah Hughes at the Beacon. It’s about beer and people, for as I have written in the introduction:

‘Beer is the currency with which we spend our time in these pubs, the rich seam of gold that makes British pubs such a valuable part of our national heritage. We are a beer nation, a beer country and we are part of the beer belt of northern Europe (the German speaking lands, the Czech lands, the Nordic countries, the Low Countries, even the northern part of France where beer always takes its rightful place on the table); we are the sons of John Barleycorn, who according to the old poem must die every harvest before being reborn in the following spring — the golden promise of resurrection.

‘People. Then there are the people as well, the people who tell stories (for what is the pub but a place where stories are told), the people that define the local neighbourhood, the people who make the jokes that lighten up the pub and lest we forget the people who serve behind the bar and keep the whole show on the road. The pub is a public house where people gather. Yes they gather to drink beer but they also gather to pass the time of day, to celebrate their good fortune, their marriages, their birthdays, a winning steak on the horses, to meet their friends, to remember their friends. I go to the pub to meet people and drink beer.’

It’s out on November 1 —so don’t forget: we are a beer nation.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Fly-fishing, beer and it

Perhaps one of the hardest things to talk about is cancer, or as I might prefer to call it — it. Currently, I know of at least two people who are living with it and also a couple who have had it. Ceri Keene is one of those who had it and one of the ways she dealt with it was going fly-fishing with a charity called South West Fishing for Life — this helped her a lot. I don’t fish, but I love fish and I love trout, and Ceri put out a cookbook called Fishing for Life, whose proceeds go to the charity. It’s a cracking little collection of recipes, from local chefs, the British Trout Association, friends of Keene, Keene herself and Tom Aitkens. It’s a good cause but the reason I wanted to write about the book (rather than it) was matching a beer with one of recipes — in this case potted spiced trout (one of Ceri’s recipes), which is wonderful with fresh bread from our local bakers in Dulverton — but when I made it on Sunday I thought of a couple of matches. First up: Kindl Berliner Weisse. Not the best of ideas. The beer was sweet and sour and worty and kept the chilli spice back for a while but then allowed it to rampage across my palate with the ferocity of a bad-tempered honey badger. The beer in general was a pale and pallid imitation of what I remembered, apricot ripeness hints, sweet fruit juice of the sort my son used to drink in the pub before he graduated to cola, and those damnable sweets called fruit sours. The best Berliner Weiss I have had recently is the one made by Bayerischer Bahnhof in Leipzig (it was also Bretted) so I won’t be bothering with Kindl again. Next, I tried it with the more amenable Cantillon Iris, dry hopped, a fusion of grapefruit and orange — the beer seemed to add even more spice to the dish, though without losing its own indelible character. It was a good accompaniment to something that might be a bit tricky (mayo and trout oiliness, chilli spice, clarified butter on the top) — both the beer and dish seemed to have something to add to each other, which for me is what beer and food matching is about, whether it’s a juicy plate of sausages or a spoonful of caviar (Leipizger Gose I think). As for the book if it is something that interests you please do buy it and help a wonderful charity and get some great trout recipes. BTW did you know that there is a fishing fly called Summer Lightning? Just thought I would say. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Easy peaty, Suffolk Smoky

Oh look what the postman has brought today, a couple of bottles from St Peter’s, unasked for, unexpected, how nice of them. Haven’t had their beers for ages — went there in 2005 (or was it 06?), but was driving some members of the British Guild of Beer Writers around on a Suffolk visit, which was a pain as I really wanted to tuck into their Cream Stout. So let’s have a look: first opened there’s this appalling nose of lint, TCP, bandages; the Islay effect I suppose (never been fond of it myself, but then I don’t drink whisky). And then I think it’s like the sort of old canvas tent I used to sleep in when out on Snowdonia with mates (not that sharing tents with mates lasted that long after 10 pints and a curry). It’s got that whiff of the outdoors, the tent, the climbing boots, the age but also a sweetness that saves it from being too savage. On the palate it’s bready, smoky, peaty, phenolic, and seems to marry well with the cashew nuts I have been cooking for a curry. It then sits in the glass and gets as mellow as some Forties crooner on the pull, but still retaining its semi-edgy peaty, medicinal edge (a member of the nascent Rat Pack perhaps?); there’s a sweetness in the palate that I rather like. There’s also a this-side-of-good harsh bitter note in the background — on first tasting I did think that it might need more alcohol to give it a fatness and maybe some darker malt (it poured into the glass with a very light and translucent chestnut brown), but it’s improved. It’s got that right balance of a challenging start which is then followed by a more appealing sweet smokiness — the TCP is still here but for me it’s an easy, peaty kind of beer. Make of that what you will. 

Friday, 14 October 2011

I ♥ beer

Monday afternoon in the pub. Sun shines on the passage of people in the street, rays reach me at the table at the end of the bar. Two men next to me, old friends I think, meeting up again after a while. Sharing a bottle of something from Mikkeller, ‘this is beer, beer without all the bullshit,’ says one. ‘The other declares, ‘it’s as strong as a glass of wine but it’s not rough and not Special Brew.’ They purr and pour praise on the beer from a great height. Treacle says one, port says the other. Another? And as I tune in and out, contemplating a glass of Hofbrau’s Munchen Oktoberfest (delighted with its strong bitter finish), I once again realise how much I love sitting quietly and studying beer, in Craft Beer Co, far away from all concerns about what beer is, who it is for, what round or square hole it falls into. I simply adore beer and all that comes with it — and Craft Beer Co is one of those great bars that I drink beer in, as you can read in tomorrow’s Daily Telegraph here.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Degradation at Fuller’s

Degrade. What a fascinating word. The enemy’s forces are degraded, in other words blown up and slaughtered. We degrade ourselves or we degrade others. Degradation. But then when I’m underground at Fuller’s, in the Hock Cellar, air raid shelter chic with brick ceiling and a sense of subterranean safeness, the word is used much more positively. Beer degrades and becomes something higher in its sensibility.

The purpose of going to Fuller’s is to join in with head brewer John Keeling on a tasting of all the Vintages produced since Reg Drury kicked off the series in 1997 (Keeling’s first one designed solely by him was in 1999). This will be the last one that features them all as stocks of some (especially 1998) are being degraded.

When the Vintage was first produced we never expect that people would be as interested in it as they are,’ says Keeling to the assembled, ‘we certainly never thought that interest in the beer would last this long.’ But it has — time being the common theme that all the Vintages share. Time is also an ingredient in Vintage, the passing of which sees the beer degrade from the moment it goes into the bottle. Yet this is a good thing. The degradation adds something to the character of the beer — fresh is good, but degradation is also good.

The starting line was Fuller’s latest release, 2011, featuring a boozy orange nose and almost Cointreau-like in its citrusy brightness; hints of petrol (as in Riesling) also rocked up and decided to take a bow. On the palate it was flighty and then creamy and fat, showing off some pepperiness and then a dry finish. I rather enjoyed it. 2010 had a nose that reminded me of orange glaze for roast duck, while in comparison to 2011 it was much sweeter while the oranginess was more pronounced. On the palate Bakewell tart notes chattered away alongside hints of white pepper, perhaps it might work with Chicken Korma.

The tasting continued: here a hint of Drambuie and there a cherry brandy fieriness and sweetness and over in the corner some calvados — the 2007 made me think of saison with its spicy notes. 2005 was all orange marmalade on toast with raisins and Muscat as a starter. Oh look here’s dandelion and burdock on the nose of 2004, Marmite and marmalade when 2002 came along and the millennium’s expression was honey glazed almonds, ripe apricots, a creamy, peppery, fruity, zesty beer with a strict corrective finish (‘I’d pair this with woodcock,’ said former White Horse doyen Mark Dorber to my right; I thought Lancashire cheese). The final one — 1997 — had a beefy, marmalade character though the orange notes had become muted and the alcohol not as expressive. Last year I tasted the same beer and this is what I wrote: ‘Nose: malty (butter toffee), aromatic, spicy, slight hint of chocolate. Taste: delicate, spicy. Finish: silky smooth, seductive bitterness.’ I reckon this beer has a few more years in it.

And as a coda to this fascinating tasting, Keeling then went and admitted: ‘Brewers still don’t thoroughly understand the aging of beer.’ Which means that having tasting all these Vintages and found them fabulous, ringing endorsements of the desirability of aging beer, I can only surmise that brewers like Keeling are magicians and magnificent intellects, alchemists, bridging the gap between art and science. Specialists in the art of degradation.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Is stainless steel sexy?

Is stainless steel sexy? Of course it isn’t, unless your bag is getting off on a collection of stainless steel knives and forks (don’t do it, they’ll outlive you and as far as I know no coupling between man and cutlery has yet to produce even a silver spoon). And yet the word sexy is all too often used to describe a brewery that is basically glass and stainless steel (and I have been as guilty of it as much as the next man). 

Take it another way: would you spend an evening with (and a fair bit of money on) a piece of stainless steel? Of course you wouldn’t, though there is probably a word to describe people who want to frot themselves silly with stainless steel (plus a helpline and a celebrity Vanessa Redgrave on standby for emergency appeals to the media). But then on the other hand there’s a certain sense of beauty about the aesthetic appeal of this photo of stainless steel brewing kit. There is something about it that catches the eye, even if you haven’t got an GCSE in metal media work.

What is it I wonder? Is it the shininess — does it work on the same principle that drives a magpie to make away with some shiny bit of tat it might see in the hedgerow? Or is it the fact that it is light and reflective in the sunlight streaming in from the cool Lancashire countryside outside? Maybe it creates a sense of homeliness in the same way lifestyle ads encourage people with no money to believe that the perfect house can be theirs? Is it aspirational perhaps? I feel that there is almost a hint of Vorticism art about the striped light reflective nature and the way the light plays on this ‘sexy’ slice of aluminium. It’s like camouflague, but there is also a natural sense of life (the yellows might be alive) — but then there is also the reality that this is taken in a brewery. 

Breweries certainly can be places of beauty, but I would say that we are talking a certain sort of beauty (certainly not the sort of beauty one would associate with Scarlett Johansson). Is it the beauty that the trainspotter sees in a big hunk of metal blowing steam all over the place, or the gorgeousness that a petrolhead discerns in some old Aston Martin? In other words, a specialist beauty. Does anyone feel the same as I do — that these brewery shots show that stainless steel can have a certain aesthetic quality. But why, for me that is the big question — why do I, a confirmed sceptic about the values of science and making things in school and college, now find myself stirred by these assemblies of stainless steel? Is it something to do with what they are used to make perhaps? That could be it. If they were used to make milk or petrol then I would be utterly uninterested. On the other hand the fact that they are part of the Moorhouse’s new £4 million plus brewery means something. And I like Moorhouse’s beers and so I like their kit, which I visited at the end of last week. 

It’s a bit like going to a gorgeous looking pub where there is nothing decent to drink (nothing to drink here, move along). Would I feel the same about the kit at Budweiser, John Smith, Carling whatever? Of course not. i think it’s a case of the sexy stainless steel being made even more sexy by the thought of what goes through the kit every day. So then does that make stainless steel erotic rather than sexy? Answers on a postcard please.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Beer talks

Beer for men?

Back into the fray I go, tonight a corporate beer and food tasting somewhere in the northwest of the English regions. Looking forward to it, a chance to spout off, hang around, drink beer and tell people about it, talk like I’m in the pub. But on the other hand, in a quiet moment, when all is still, it does make me wonder why those of us that communicate about beer feel that that we have to talk about it in front of crowds (and then there’s an easy answer: it’s a living and it can pay well and like most others in the confined world of beer writing it’s something to do with ego masquerading as education — but then I never understand why beer writing has to be about education as well; rather than educate, I have no intention of making people disown what they drink, they can find their own way to it, which they will — and surely education is what breweries pay their marketing people for; in fact that is a beef of mine at times, beer writing can sometimes come across like being beaded by the drunk guy in the pub who knows a little more than you do, and what do you do but nod your head, cut out the white noise and get back to what you enjoy doing, a drunk teacher perhaps). People will come to good beer without people prodding them on the chest and saying you must drink this. 

For over a decade I have been doing beer talks, a variety of ups and downs, sometimes all of it coming together at the last minute, a bit nervy at times, I remember some occasions when I used to take a deep breath, pretend I was doing something worse like parachuting into D-Day before pushing the door open into the pub where 10 strangers were waiting for me to tell them about beer — and then I remembered (only a couple of years ago — doh) that I used to stand up in front of people and sing, albeit hiding behind a microphone and in company with three other guys (including DJ Harvey on drums) — and that made all the difference. Being in the band, I eventually had fun, though my first gig (as just the guitarist) was a bit nerve-wracking. There was nothing like the adrenalin you get when a song is going good and people (all three of them) are starting to dance (you have to talk with Zak Avery about making money through music). So after all this I still wonder: why do beer writers decide that they need this extra curricular work?

Pete Brown was on the radio the other day, while Marverine Cole was tittering along with Alan Titchmarsh on some show from the Midlands, though all C4 could find for their otherwise excellent piece on craft keg was a ‘drinks writer’ who writes a lot about wine and who then got his dispensation confused with his production (on the subject of craft keg, or whatever you want to call it as I refuse to call it a revolution, it won’t overturn the order of things in the rather confined space of beer but it will offer another choice — the revolution will be a matter of consumer choice as well as being televised). Maybe the people they wanted were in Denver (and before anyone asks, it’s not something I would like to do, I have no desire in being on the telly). Maybe it’s the nature of the beast with any specialist writing: Michael Jackson had his beer hunting committed to film, while Roger Protz was a regular face on some food show a few years back. Maybe it’s just the case that is such a specialised subject the media need experts.

I like doing tastings because I like meeting people and because — it’s a major reason I go to the pub — I like spending time talking with people, whether it’s about beer, sport or whoever has been sleeping with whom. Beer makes for good conversation except when it becomes didactic and it’s not just the CAMRA souls who get that way — I have seen a messianic gleam in the eye of those most indifferent to CAMRA when they have got going on beer. 

And so all this leads me to mention that come October 28, myself and Melissa Cole will be taking part in a wine vs beer dinner at the Thatchers Arms in deepest Essex, thanks to the kind invitation of landland Mitch. For the wine side, Tim Atkin will be pitching for the grape (and who knows who else will pull their cork out) and Melissa and I will be bigging up barley. The menu is done and we’re now thinking about the beers. It’s for charity as well so that’s another plus. Tickets are £35 and it will be a well worth doing do. So why not come along and see beer and wine writers do battle royal in the most hospitable way (in a pub) — and to think I was just going to write about the Pretty Things’ Jack D’Or. Funny thing beer, you never know where you go with it.