Category Archives: Tomfoolery

Above the treeline

NEWS IN SHORT with apologies to M. L.

Manchester’s cutting-edge new-wave ‘beer’ scene was rocked to its foundations today by a shock announcement from local stalwarts Bongwater. According to Bongwater CEO Gavin Awesum-Straighte, the company’s groundbreaking leading-edge ‘beer’ strategy is no longer viable. Going forward into 2017 and beyond, Bongwater now dismiss ‘beer’ as “weary, stale, flat and unprofitable” and say their aspirations lie elsewhere. “Our paradigm-shifting bleeding-edge combination of relentless innovation, technical perfection at all costs, great big shiny steel fermentation… fermenterator… fermenty things and what was the third thing? Oh, right, that was the third thing. No, what was the fourth thing? Oh, yeah, money. So the innovation, the technical perfection, the fermenterers and stuff and the fourth thing which was no don’t tell me I can get this the fourth thing which was of course… money. Yes, lots and lots of money. Lovely money. So yeah, anyway, we’ve got the innovation and we’ve got the technical perfection, which you’ve got to admit is cool, and we’ve got the… shiny things… But the money is kind of – yeah. That’s basically the problem area.”

“So where do we go now?” asked Awesum-Straighte rhetorically. “What do we do? How do we carry on? Can we carry on? And if so, how? What do we do? Where do we go? Are there any questions? And if so, are there any answers? I’m glad you asked me that. The answer is – well, it was right in front of us all the time. The answer is ‘beer’. We’ve spent lots and lots of money making ‘beer’, and we thought that we were going to make lots and lots of money making ‘beer’ – I mean, that seems fair, doesn’t it? Anyway – looks like it’s not going to happen. So, what do we do? The answer, again, is ‘beer’. We’re fed up with it. Relentless innovation, technical perfection, big shiny… shiny things, and what good does it do us? I’ll tell you what good it does us, it does us no good at all.”

“So we’re getting out of ‘beer’. You want ‘beer’, you go to Granite, you go to Bakewell Brewery, you go to Medlock Ales if you really want to. We’re taking our relentless innovation and our technical perfection to customers who will appreciate us. Going henceforward, Bongwater are going to be Manchester’s foremost suppliers of selected strains of marijuana for personal medicinal use. It’s new, it’s innovative, it’s technically perfect, it’s new and best of all it’s totally legal. Well, it is in some of the cooler parts of America, and that’s really where we take our lead from these days.”

“Looking into 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022…” Awesum-Straighte said, before being nudged by a colleague and starting again. “Sorry, where was I? Looking into 2017, looking into 2018 and looking into the heart of the Very Future Itself…” The meeting was then adjourned to enable Awesum-Straighte and his colleague to stop giggling and send someone out for some brownies or maybe a Mars bar, no, wait, two Mars bars. Each – I mean, obviously. Cool.

Reaction to the news has been mixed. “This is a shock announcement that will rock Manchester’s cutting-edge new-wave ‘beer’ scene to its foundations,” said one ‘beer’ somel sommell somnambu expert, adding “Whichever way you look at it, it’s got to be bad news for CAMRA.” “It’s definitely bad news for CAMRA,” said another beer communicator, before shaking his head and adding, “I mean, obviously.” A dissenting opinion came from Derek Spikey (Medlock Ales). “Marijuana? They’ll never make it work. Naah, you want to check out my new line of artisan traditional-styled crystal meth. I tell you, it’s good gear – not that you’ll ever hear that from CAMRA!”

 

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Blue velveteen again

Night was falling rapidly and rain spattered the pavements as we embarked on our evening mission. A fearless band of battle-hardened topers, prepared for a long evening’s pubbing, foregathered at Never Say Never, the atmospheric Tibetan eaterie famed for its real ale and authentic Himalayan pork scratchings. Some familiar faces were on hand – Big Len, WG and Cajun Bill were soon joined by Green Vera, JoJo, Motormouth and Anthony Burtonshaw. Needless to say, the beer flowed and so did the repartee! JoJo was concerned that we might be driving other punters away, but most of us thought that the people on those tables had just decided to move away at the same time (“it’s not as if anything actually smashed,” Big Len pointed out). Golden Hind Yellowjack was sampled, and was variously rated “tasty and refreshing”, “tired and unconvincing” and “is that what I’ve been drinking?”. We would have stayed to check out some of the alternatives, but time was short. “Time is short!” said Cajun Bill and he was right. We moved on.

Just down the road, Café Paradise was serving its usual eclectic range of real ale, craft beer, real cider, speciality gin, over-proof rum, high-class cocktails and coffees-with-a-kick to its usual eclectic clientele of mums and toddlers. With only four staff on hand behind the bar, we all had plenty of time to reconsider our choices while we waited for our halves. New arrivals were filtering in; Sandwell and Dudley arrived together, to nobody’s surprise, and promptly got into an argument with Snowy the Beer Monster. Zenith Mango and Mint Old Ale was sampled and rated “off”, “I think it’s just… no, it’s off” and “no, that’s definitely off”; Ulan Bator An Ale That Is Pale was variously rated “really good”, “just like all the other hop-forward pale ales”, “OK, it is just like all the other hop-forward pale ales, but it is a really good one” and “mmm, yeah, maybe”. “Wagons roll!” said Snowy and we moved on.

Outside in the wet, the wet rain was lashing down wetly, while the darkness was darkening to an even darker degree of dark. The welcoming light of the welcoming open door of our next destination cast a welcoming glow on the wet dark pavement, welcoming us in (get on with it – Ed.). We could see that Bleep and Booster was a bit busy, but our intrepid band wasn’t going to be put off by a little thing like that. Once we’d all got in and closed the door behind us, the bar was a bit on the crowded side, but it was manageable – I think almost everyone had at least a square foot of floorspace. It wasn’t chilly, either! I was thinking of making notes on my beer, but five minutes after we’d arrived it had all gone; perhaps it evaporated. I didn’t fancy my chances of getting another, so I stayed where I was, admiring the bar staff’s crowdsurfing techniques and exchanging recommendations with Big Liz and Small David. Twenty minutes later who should turn up but the ever-elusive Metalman; the last I saw he was in the third rank at the bar, deep in conversation with Sandwell and Dudley. He said he’d catch us up, but I didn’t see him again. “Move ’em out!” said Small David – he’s got a surprisingly loud voice – so we did.

Down the road, Scran lived up to its name, plying our hungry band with a choice of amuse-bouches: for the vegetarians, a tartlet of goat’s cheese and red onion marmalade served with a quenelle of celeriac and mustard-seed puree on a bed of pressed radish and candied chestnut bound with a woodruff emulsion garnished with preserved sorrel leaves drizzled with walnut oil, in a basket; for the meat-eaters, half a pork pie. Needless to say, the pork pies didn’t hang around for long! Neither did the beer – I think I’d worked up a thirst in the previous bar. Half a pint of something pale and hoppy with with half a pork pie; half a pint of something black and stouty with another half a pork pie – food matching doesn’t get much better than that. I caught up with Big Len and Mister Jones; we talked about beer, as far as I can remember. It was a very nice half an hour, but like all half hours – indeed, like all half pints, not to mention half pork pies – it was soon over. “Hey ho my dearie-ohs!” said WG, calling time on this stage of our adventure in his own inimitable way; I stuck a couple of tartlets in my pocket for later and we moved on. (I found them again this morning.)

I went for a second half at our next port of call, too. Ordinarily I would have stuck to the one, but Very ‘Umble is no ordinary bar – and its in-house beers are no ordinary beers. On the grapevine I hear that sales have slumped a bit since the introduction of their eccentric “full names only” policy, but the bar still insists on it: as they say, you don’t point and mumble when you’re in Very ‘Umble! So I went to the bar, took a deep breath and ordered a half of And Hast Thou Slain The Jabberwock? American Amber Stout, which I followed up later with a half of O Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay! Imperial Pale Ale. (Word to the wise – make sure you pronounce the punctuation!) It was nice stuff, though I wasn’t sure where the paprika and wild garlic notes were coming from in the pale ale; I’d have asked at the bar, but I didn’t fancy going through all that again. Our party seemed to have grown again; WG was holding court at one end of the table, while in another corner Geoffrey of Monmouth was arguing about bicycles with Green Vera and Small David. “Is it about a bicycle?” I considered interjecting, but as it clearly was there didn’t seem much point. A party of roving tumblers came across to our table at this point and conducted some very impressive table-top juggling before our very eyes; what they did with two silk handkerchiefs, a pencil and a beermat defies description, not to mention belief. “Hello Kitty!” said Jimmy the Hat, and we moved on. (I kept meaning to ask him what he meant. Maybe next time.)

At the Lamb and Flag, three different beers and a cider were sampled and pronounced “disappointing”, “wait, did I order cider?”, “‘anging” and “…hmm”. I wasn’t too surprised – I don’t go to the Lamb for unique, interesting and high-quality beers. (But then, I don’t go to the Lamb.) Danno disagreed with Robbo and Kevino about the pub’s pricing strategy and a lively discussion ensued around the table, centring on the feasibility or otherwise of (a) non-conventional supply chain models in brewing and (b) that thing they did with the silk handkerchiefs, the pencil and the beermat. The juggling was assessed and variously rated “physically impossible”, “just a matter of skill and dexterity”, “a matter of physically impossible levels of skill and dexterity, more like” and “yeah, well”. “Excelsior!” said Danno – rather loudly, if I’m honest; people looked round – and we moved on.

The Quartile is the opposite of the Lamb in many ways; if I tell you that the Lamb offers cheap but undistinguished beer, colourful soft furnishings, bright lighting and cheerful and efficient staff, that tells you most of what you need to know about the Quartile. And so it was that I sat on the edge of our group, in an under-lit corner of a quiet and sombrely furnished room, looking out onto a dark street, drinking beer in a style I didn’t recognise from a brewery I didn’t want to admit to not having heard of. Mind you, I was pretty far gone by this point, so I wasn’t bothered. The decor certainly didn’t put a damper on the conversation: I can confirm that both Big Liz and Cheesy Pete have very strong views on the subject of Amsterdam, although what those views are now escapes me. “Oi oi!” called Motormouth and we moved on.

The evening’s festivities were due to terminate at celebrated alt-folk craftorama the Bird in t’ Hand – or the Bird in t’ Hand o’ t’ Man wi’ t’ Bag in t’ Box to give it its full title. Our experience here was mixed. I had a very nice half of Totally Craft Sammy the Stegosaurus (a West Coast-style IPA), but the venue wasn’t as welcoming as we might have liked. It seemed that the upper floor had been double-booked by a local Wiccan coven and a group of neo-dadaist performance poets. By the time we arrived any risk of unpleasantness had passed – the two groups were getting to know each other through an impromptu rap battle – but it did mean that that floor was pretty much out of bounds to casual visitors. This wouldn’t have been so bad if the monthly thrash metal disco hadn’t been in full swing on the ground floor. Some of us tried to get into the spirit of the thing, but for me it was too much, too metal, too late. “Come on, get down and do the funky boogaloo!” called Anthony Burtonshaw, but by that time I’d already moved on.

All in all, it was an evening of good beer in good company, not to mention good half pork pies. Shame I made it all up.

Author’s note: any similarity between this wildly improbable fabrication and Trafford & Hulme CAMRA’s Chorlton Challenge is entirely coincidental. (Apart from the bit about good beer in good company.)

Money Saving Expert

I went to the Font the other night. For those not familiar with the Font, it’s a double-fronted bar, extending a long way back from the street. It’s a fairly big, cavernous place without much in the way of internal divisions, furnished with an assortment of sofas, hard chairs, coffee tables and dining tables. The night I went it was rather dark and very busy – I couldn’t find a table and ended up perched at the bar, although given the lighting (and given that I’d brought a paper to read) this was probably my best bet anyway. About half the clientele seemed to be under-30s in groups, with the remainder dividing between youngish couples and youngish families; I estimated that my arrival had raised the average age by about six months. I didn’t see anyone I knew and didn’t really expect to.

As for the beer, they had eight hand pumps and sixteen keg taps; I had a pint of (cask) Magic Rock High Wire, which was superb. I made a few free-associative tasting notes, from which I remember “smokily aromatic”, “stern and unforgiving” and “creamy beast”. (After my thought processes had thrown out “creamy beast” I got a bit self-conscious about the whole thing.) A really lovely beer, anyway. After claiming my CAMRA discount I paid £3.15 for it, a saving of £1.05.

I also went to the Sedge Lynn the other night. For those not familiar with the Sedge Lynn, it’s a converted snooker hall. It’s a hangar-like space with a high, vaulted roof, extending a long way back from the street without any internal divisions; there are a few booths with upholstered bench seating, but the furniture consists mostly of hard chairs and small round tables. The night I went it was very busy and (as usual) very well lit; I couldn’t find anywhere comfortable to sit but did get a small round table to myself. About half the clientele was made up of groups of middle-aged men, with the remainder dividing between middle-aged couples, middle-aged men on their own and fairly young families; I estimate that my entrance had precisely no effect on the average age. I saw two people I knew and had a chat with one of them.

On the beer front, they had ten hand pumps and seven keg taps; I had a pint of (cask) Acorn Rakau IPA. This was a very nice NZ-hopped IPA; quite light and drinkable but with a definite fruity hop character, backed by a bitter finish which built over the length of the pint. After using a CAMRA token I paid £1.75 for it, a saving of 50p.

The Sedge Lynn, of course, is a Spoon’s – and as such you don’t expect to be entirely comfortable there, just as you don’t expect to be getting the best beer in the universe. (This, of course, explains the consternation which was felt last year when, probably due to an administrative error, Spoon’s briefly started serving the best beer in the universe.) As it goes, on the night I felt a lot more comfortable in the Sedge Lynn than I had been at the Font. (Although, to be fair, the Font is great if you can get there early doors and bag a sofa.) As for the beer, that Acorn IPA was a very nice beer. The High Wire was better, but I paid nearly twice as much for it (80% more, in fact) – and, hand on heart, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it was that much better. Is it worth £3.15? Definitely – in fact I’d say it’s a bargain at that money. Is it worth £4.20? Only in the sense that if I did pay that much for it – which I’d only do if everything else was even dearer – I wouldn’t feel too badly ripped off. Is the Acorn IPA too cheap at £1.75, or even at £2.25? Sorry, don’t understand the question.

It’s horses for courses: if you want to drink truly excellent beer at a good price, while feeling physically uncomfortable and socially out of place, the Font on a Saturday night is the place for you. If, on the other hand, you’d rather drink good beer at an excellent price, while feeling only mildly physically uncomfortable and socially awkward, you’d be better off with the Sedge Lynn.

(Either way, you’d be mad not to join CAMRA.)

Golden Pints

What’s been good in 2013? Here’s my ‘Golden Pints’ post. I’ve dropped all the categories I’m not interested in – and added a couple of my own, with a view to making it a record of my experiences rather than just a list of beers I like.

Best UK Cask Beer

I called this one a while back. It has to be Ticketybrew Pale Ale. Very variable, but actually not in a bad way. A mighty beer.

Best UK Keg Beer

I’ll say Marble Vuur & Vlam, of which I had a third one night on my way home from the Beech. Also a mighty beer, and I guess there’s no point complaining that it would have been mightier still on cask.

Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer

I was very impressed with Harbour IPA.

Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer

That would be De Struise Pannepot.

Best Overall Beer

I guess this should be one of the above category winners, but (SPOILER) I don’t want to give everything to Ticketybrew. I’ve been really impressed by JW Lees’ Manchester Star, both in bottle and (more recently) on draught – a proper stonking old Burton. Plus if you drew a line between Pannepot and Ticketybrew Pale Ale, it would definitely be somewhere in the middle.

Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label

Ticketybrew (by a short head from Red Willow) – elegant, immediately visible on the bar and always nice to see.

Best UK Brewery

I quite like the look of what JW Lees are doing at the moment, especially when free beer is involved. But the prize goes, after some consideration, to Ticketybrew. They’re new, their range is quite narrow and in a few years’ time they may just look a bit one-note. I don’t think so, though – I think they’re on the verge of great things.

Best Overseas Brewery

Rochefort (but ask me again in a month’s time; the Orval I bought on holiday is still aging).

Pub/Bar of the Year

Last year I nominated Pi, with De Nada close behind. A year on and I’ve more or less stopped going to Pi – my main haunts are De Nada and Font, unless I’ve got Spoons’ tokens to spend. But I’ll be perverse again and nominate another pub entirely: the Beech, a proper old pub which seems to have cracked the virtuous circle of beer quality and demand (as I hoped it would when I wrote the linked post), with a range that always includes Landlord and usually includes something from Salamander or Oakham. Busy Suburban Pub Serves Decent Beer Shock.

Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013

The Font Chorlton, which opened last March, has given me some of my peak beer experiences of the year, but I don’t much like it as a bar – it’s not the most relaxing environment. (It’s possible that 50-year-old solitary drinkers aren’t their core demographic.) So I’ll give it to the only other bar I’m aware of that opened this year – Out of the Blue. Well worth the detour, as long as the length of the detour is two miles or less; otherwise, perhaps not so much.

Supermarket of the Year

Definitely Carrefour. Over here, Sainsbury’s have their Great British Beer Hunt, even if the execution is rather variable; Tesco have a surprisingly good American range; and Morrison’s four-for-£5 deal across all their bottled ales is very hard to beat. (I don’t know if it’s a permanent thing, but it certainly seems to be on whenever I go into Morrison’s.) But I might never have encountered the Harbour IPA but for the GBBH, so I’ll nominate Sainsbury’s.

Independent Retailer of the Year

Chorlton is bizarrely over-supplied with beer shops – it seems as if the tiniest, grottiest off-licence will sell you a Summer Lightning or a Bengal Lancer, and for the more upmarket ones the sky’s the limit: can of Hitachino Nest with your Mars bar, sir? I don’t frequent any of them much – I have a strong psychological resistance to paying a great deal more than supermarket prices for beer that probably won’t be a great deal better. But I do like Tiny’s Tipple, despite the awful name. (While I do like small dogs – and Tiny seems to be a very nice small dog – I’m not really thinking ‘dog’ when I’m in the market for beer. Besides, it’s not his tipple, is it? At least, I hope not, for the sake of his tiny weeny canine liver. H’mph.)

Best Beer Blog or Website

I was actually in the queue to throw plaudits at the feet of Boak & Bailey (assuming that’s what you do with plaudits), when it struck me that there’s a beer blog I’ve enjoyed even more than theirs this year: Pete’s. Pete spruced up his blog towards the end of the year, and the new look seems to go along with a change in style – his writing voice seems clearer now (if that makes any sense at all), as well as being more forthright and, frankly, more grumpy. It works for me, and I hope he carries on in the same vein. He also gave us the best description I’ve read in a long time of getting drunk on cider.

Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again (of the Year)

Back in 2009 I bought a bottle each of Marble Decadence and Special, followed in fairly short order by bottles of the raspberry (lambic) and cherry (kriek) versions of Decadence. (Then they carried on producing specials – some less affordable than others – and I stopped trying to keep up.) Since the blighters only bottle their specials in 750 ml – and I’m the only serious beer drinker in this house – all four bottles stayed unopened until I could find an occasion both special enough to justify opening a tenner’s worth of bottle and relaxed enough for me to drink fairly hefty amounts of very strong beer. This Christmas it was finally the turn of the last of the four – the Special, a 10.7% barleywine. And it was… fine. OK, it was better than fine – rich, heavy, herby, complex, undertones of hop bitterness, lots of generally good stuff going on; it just wasn’t much better. I could taste the heat of the alcohol, for one thing, which didn’t seem right – least of all after four years in bottle. So farewell then, socking great bottles of short-run beers with double-figure price tags. It’s been fun… just not that much fun.

Disappointment of the Year

De Garre and the eponymous tripel, in Bruges. Shorter: the bar was uncomfortably brightly-lit, uncomfortably noisy and uncomfortably packed with loud beer geeks, and the beer was just disappointing – very heavy, very ‘hot’, and very much as if somebody had brewed a half-decent tripel and then decided to up the ABV to 11% (perhaps in a spirit of juvenile competition with Het Taktikel Nukleare Pinguïn down the road).

Discovery of the Year

I was lucky enough this year to taste two of the more localised famous beers of Britain, in one case for the first time. The Blue Anchor Spingo ales I had in August were very nice – especially the Flora Daze, and especially especially the, er, Special – but the real eye-opener of this year was Batham’s Bitter. (As recommended by Pete. Great minds…) What’s it like? Well, you know how it tasted, the first time you drank a pint of beer and really enjoyed it? It’s like that. You know the way that a pint of good old-school brown bitter – Woodforde’s Wherry, say, or Harvey’s HSB – you know the way it builds and develops as you get down the glass, till when you drain it you just fancy another one? It’s very like that. You know the flowery delicacy of an abbey tripel or a really good perry? It’s surprisingly like that. And you know how sometimes a pint of 3.8% bitter is just the best thing you could possibly have – even, or especially, after you’ve been drinking big stouts or IPAs? It’s exactly like that. (Batham’s is actually 4.3%, but doesn’t drink even that much strength.) It’s light, it’s thin, it’s sweet (it’s made with actual sugar, purity freaks) – and it’s beautiful.

Blogging Resolutions for Next Year

I will drink more session bitter. (I’m defining ‘session’ as ‘<4.5%’; apologies to Ding, but if Batham’s Bitter isn’t a session beer I don’t know what is.)

I will not mention that the keg version of a beer was inferior to the cask (or speculate that it would have been if I’d had the cask). More generally, I will stop going on about my experience of ‘craft keg’ beers, unless it changes interestingly (e.g. I find one I really like.)

I will try and stop going on about ‘craft beer’. Really. (But note the word ‘try’!)

And above all: I will remember that this stuff is supposed to be fun.

Happy New Year!

Alternative beverage suggestion

Something for the weekend, just for the hell of it (and because I’ve been humming it all day).

You can find out more here. (NB May lead to expansion of your record collection.)

A ticker is born

Around the 27th Stockport Beer and Cider Festival in 20 beers, give or take a few:

1. Marble Barley Wine
2. Marble Emancipation
3. Red Willow Witless II
4. Fyne Ales Jarl
5. Marble Decadence
6. Red Willow Shameless
7. Bollington Goldenthal
8. Quantum SK2
9. Blackjack King of Clubs
10. Fyne Ales Sublime Stout
11. Marble Bennington
12. Worthington White Shield
13. Fuller’s London Porter
14. Happy Valley Dangerously Dark
15. Fuller’s ESB
16. Fyne Ales Bell Rock & Hop IPA
17. Ilkley Lotus IPA
18. Liverpool Organic Shipwreck IPA
19. Buxton Dark Knights
20. Okell Maclir
JW Lees Manchester Pale Ale
Worth Coppice
St Feuillien Grand Cru (bottle)

1-20: beers I picked out on the programme, in descending order of desirability
In bold: beers I ended up having
In italics: beers that weren’t on

You’ll notice a rather high level of italics, particularly towards the top of the list. I wasn’t entirely expecting all three of the strong Marble beers advertised to be available, but I didn’t expect that none of them would be. I’m gutted to have missed Witless on cask, too, and the Bollington and Quantum beers both sounded rather fine. Looking on the bright side, the top five beers I did have were all excellent; it was particularly good to make the acquaintance of Jarl after all this time, especially as it didn’t disappoint.

Not sure why I didn’t get to the Buxton or Okell beers. Worth Coppice used up a Mild Magic token, as did Marble Bennington. Those are the only two milds on the list, despite my having gone armed with four MM tokens; when you’ve seen 24 milds, you’ve pretty much seen them all. (Except Bennington, which was distinctive – as you’d expect from Marble – and rather fine.) I left my other two tokens lying around for a passing mildophile to snaffle. Lees’ MPA was on the festival charity stall, and it just spoke to me. As for the St Feuillien Grand Cru – which, at 9.5% over a 330ml bottle, was approximately four times as strong as the thirds I’d been drinking upstairs – it was excellent; one of only a handful of beers at the festival whose taste I can still bring to mind. I have to confess, I’d only turned up at the bottle bar in the first place because of a rumour going round that they were accepting MM tokens in exchange for British bottled beer. Not the case, sadly – somebody had got MM tokens confused with volunteers’ tokens. But I was feeling flush, and my tick-list was looking rather sparse – particularly in the skull-splitter department – so paying money for some Wallonian loopy juice seemed like a good idea. As, indeed, it turned out to be.

I’m not moaning about the lack of beers. (Well, maybe just a bit about the Marbles.) I’ve come to the conclusion – if I may address the Festival collectively for a moment – that it’s not you, it’s me. There was some terrific stuff on – as well as the beers I’ve mentioned already, there was Marble Pint, Red Willow Wreckless and Endless, Magic Rock High Wire and Curious, a Dark Star, a couple of Buxtons… I wasn’t tempted by any of it, though. This is partly because of where I live, and partly – I’m afraid to say – because I’m a ticker. And I’d never even realised. The evidence is there, though – the disregard for mild, the thirst for novelty, the disdain for established beers, even the St Feuillien Grand Cru. The shame of it.

What’s to become of me now? What shall I do? Where shall I go? Here, I suppose.

The moving finger

DOUGAL: Right, Ted. Looks like an ordinary blackboard, doesn’t it?

TED: Yes.

DOUGAL: That’s what I thought – but watch this! You see? You can rub off the letters!

There was a time when you didn’t see blackboards in pubs, except next to the dartboard or listing the food specials. These days they’re much more of a fixture, particularly in craft beer bars & places catering to beer geeks. Apart from the neighbourhood Spoons, all my local boozers have at least one. There’s one odd omission, though – see if you spot it as you read down this handy list of The Bars and their Blackboards. (You can’t buy entertainment like this, I tell you.)

HILLARY STEP: one (cask, cider and keg)
DE NADA: one outside (cask and cider), one inside (cask, cider and keg)
FONT: two (keg and cider)
PI: one (doesn’t really count – used sporadically for new & interesting beers on tap or bottle)
MARBLE: two (cask regulars and guests)
BEAGLE: two (keg and cask)

Apart from Pi – a bar which has blackboards quite literally coming out of its ears, but only really uses them for food and slogans – there’s one bar that stands out: the all-new and ultra-whizzy shrine of beer that is [the] Font (I have to keep remembering that definite article). Eight ciders, listed on a blackboard with producer, a.b.v. and price; sixteen keg taps, their respective beers listed on another blackboard with brewer, a.b.v. and price; eight handpumps and, er, that’s it.

I think I know what’s happened, though. Last time I went in, I asked the woman serving if they were going to put up a blackboard for the cask ales. She said they weren’t. I said I thought it would be a good idea. She nodded, smiled, then gave me a yeah-but sort of frown and said:

Thing is, they’re changing all the time.

So that’s obviously the problem – they didn’t ask around, and they’ve got stuck with one of those ordinary blackboards. Easy mistake to make.

From past archives

Yes, I’m still here. This is a column I wrote in 2005, for a magazine I used to edit. The reason for all the techie references is that the magazine was aimed at users of the IBM iSeries range of computers, which had a loyal user base but almost no marketing. What’s more interesting is that it appears to be set in the Marble Beerhouse in Chorlton, then (as now) my local; the first couple of beers referenced may have had something to do with the cloudy beers the Marble was turning out at the time, having gone all-veggie without, initially, having a substitute for fish finings. As for the last one mentioned, I’m pretty sure I had a pint of that in Brighton the other day.

Since IBM’s announcement of the iSeries Initiative for Innovation, speculation has raged about the true extent and scope of the initiative. Does this signal serious, long-term commitment to the platform on IBM’s part, or is it merely a defensive reaction to Microsoft’s Midrange Alliance Programme? Who are the 69 vendors currently involved, and what do they vend? What should we call it for short—‘iI for I’? can that possibly be right? What about all that stuff about running OS/400 on cell phones, what’s that got to do with anything? And this stuff with ISVs is all very well, but what about some more advertising?

In search of a break from questions like these, I recently organised an extensive in-depth session devoted to establishing the comparative merits of the beers available at my exclusive local ale boutique, the Docker’s Armpit. Having sampled the “Old Hazy” and the “Old Furry”, I was lingering over a pint of “Muddy and Cruddy” when my attention was caught by a sudden increase in the moisture level of my shirt sleeve. On closer inspection, I discovered that somebody had knocked over my pint.

“Phil! Sorry about that—you’ll be wanting a replacement, right? Muddy and…? Sounds great. Get me one while you’re there, would you? Cheers.”

Cheers, I muttered, wondering what my old friend Malcolm Gargle, IBM insider and iSeries enthusiast par excellence, was doing there and what a person had to do to get a quiet drink these days. Returning from the bar, I discovered Malcolm brandishing a mobile phone and holding forth to an audience on the next table, all of whom were clearly struck dumb with enthusiasm.

“…you’ll see Cell processors in PCs, XBoxes, PS2s, digital TVs, phones, the lot. What’s more, they’ll all run OS/400! This phone, for instance—well, not this phone obviously, but a phone just like it could run the same operating system as an eServer i5! You could IPL it and everything! All you’d need would be another phone running a Linux partition, to manage it, obviously, and—”

Sit down and drink your beer, I enthused. I then took the opportunity to raise the topic of the iSeries Initiative for Innovation. Malcolm was eager to explain, but kindly agreed to do so without standing up.

“The iSeries Initiative for Innovation—the iII, as I call it—is just the start. I can reveal that we’re soon going to be rolling out the iSeries Initiative for Integrated Industry Innovation. Beyond that—well, I can’t say too much, but there’s talk of putting the initiative on a permanent footing. They’re thinking of calling it the Independent Institute for Improved Initiatives in Intelligent Interactive iSeries Innovation.”

That’d be the IIII… no, sorry, the IIIII…

“Let me have a go at it. The IIIIiI… how many was that? Never mind, we can talk about it in the morning. The initiative’s really taking off, anyway—even the other eserver groups are responding. There’s going to be a big push to get AIX into more doctors’ surgeries, with the pSeries Programme for Perfect Prognostic Practice. As for the zSeries crowd, they’re working on a knowledge visualisation programme: the idea is to use the mainframe’s processing power to generate a kind of virtual panorama, representing all the inquiries that people are making at any one time.”

That would be the…

“The zSeries Zodiac of the Zetetic Zeitgeist, obviously. The PC server people have let us down, though. I told my xSeries opposite number about it, but he just said ‘Oh, very funny’ and hung up on me. Wonder what he meant? But I’ll tell you, one thing’s for sure—this will stop people asking what the ‘i’ in ‘iSeries’ stands for. It’s really going to put the iSeries brand on the map—make it a name that people will… er…”

Remember, I suggested. What does the ‘i’ stand for, anyway?

“No idea. It’ll be one of those words. That’s the thing about marketing—these names don’t have to mean anything, they just have to create the right impression. Have you finished that drink, by the way? I was wondering about having a pint of the ‘Really Quite Genuinely Unpleasant’. What do you reckon?”

O Dalek, I love you

On the 1st December 2010, Antony Hayes (who seems like a sound bloke) left the following comment on my rather excessively contentious post Down with Craft Beer!:

The term “craft” conjures up images of my granny’s crochet club.

Big breweries can make great beer – Castle Milk Stout for one.
Real ale is often oxidised.

Using “real ale” or “craft beer” to mean “good beer” is sloppy.

Judge the beer in the glass – not how it got there.

On the 22nd April 2011, this follow-up comment appeared:

yea i agree with you antony, it should be how it tastes not how it was made the end result is what count.

I didn’t think much about this rather vacuous comment, until I noticed the name of the commenter: a certain “electric kettle”, whose user ID links to an electric kettle review site. It’s spam, in other words – spam that’s not only good enough to get through WordPress’s filters but good enough to fool a human, viz. me.

On the 19th of April 2011, Skynet became self-aware; it launched its attack on the human race two days later.

Just saying.

(Happy Easter, btw, and apologies for the long silence. Normal posting will be resumed as soon as possible.)

Cream tangerine

Best comment:

Someone send this guy a double IPA…just for shits and giggles.

Really I should have given them my address, to see if anybody would. As it was, I had to buy one myself.

What follows is a bit of an oddity, as it’s a review of a beer I didn’t actually like. But it was distinctive and memorable, and after the initial shock it was quite fun to drink in a slightly masochistic way. I’ll leave it unnamed, because of the whole ‘not actually liking it’ thing (and also because those guys get quite enough publicity already… damn, I’ve given it away now).

Brewing instructions

  1. Brew an IPA. Stronger than that. No, get on with you, stronger than that. Boil it down or something. Freeze it, whatever, I don’t know. Use your initiative.
  2. Get a whisky barrel. Still some whisky in it? Great. Not a problem.
  3. Get some marmalade. Scratch that, get lots of marmalade. You want that whisky barrel totally full of marmalade, OK?
  4. Bonfire. Big bonfire. Build us a bloody great big enormous bonfire. Just do it, OK? Whisky barrel goes in there. Right in the middle. No, no, right at the bottom in the middle. Well, I thought it was obvious. Build it back up. Yeah, and then light the bonfire – I mean, obviously…
  5. Go back and check on that IPA. Put in some dry hops or whatever. Yeah, bit more. OK, OK, not that much… never mind, it’ll be fine.
  6. How’s the fire doing? All burned down? Great. Check on the barrel. Nicely charred? Great, bring it out. Well, I thought you’d wear gloves for that part. Come on, I can’t think of everything.
  7. OK, so off comes the top of the charred smoke-blackened caramelised-marmalade-stuffed whisky barrel, and in goes the IPA. Funnel. Use a funnel. Well, put it down and go and get one, then.
  8. Then we carefully position a bottle underneath, like so… and we wait.

Basically I thought this went way, way over the top, in several different directions at once. Dialled down several notches it might have been quite pleasant; if they’d got those flavours working together instead of exploding separately it could have been really good. As it was, I found it physically hard to drink. A very interesting beer, though, I’ll give them that.