Category Archives: Wibble

Roll up! Roll up!

All the fun of the festival! Yes, it’s another beer festival – Chorlton this time.

I’ve been to Chorlton Beer Festival, held every year in the outbuildings and grounds of St Clement’s Church, most years since it started in 2005; I’ve still got fond memories of the BrewDog Zeitgeist black lager I had there once (and that’ll be at least ten years ago now). So the lineup of attractions this year wasn’t entirely unfamiliar. In rough order of appearance, there was:

The Hip One (On Cask!)
Always nice to see a cask beer from a fashionable brewery who you don’t always see cask beers from, if that’s grammar. Cloudwater Mr Green’s Bouffant is a strongish pale ale, and it was pretty nice. (It’s no Zeitgeist, but what is?)

The One With The Flavourings
I couldn’t say no to RedWillow‘s pink peppercorn saison (a Faithless), particularly when there was a gap in the bar between me and it. I realised afterwards I’d been at the keg bar – and I do hold to the general position that any given beer is almost always better on cask – but they didn’t have this one on cask, so never mind. Anyway, the carbonation and chill didn’t seem to do it any harm (and it was a warm night).

The Crush At The Bar
Or, as it turned out, not. I wimped out of volunteering this year, as indeed I have ever since my rather strenuous – and very dry – experience at the festival in 2015. But the bars seemed to be much better arranged this year; I don’t think I ever noticed a bar that was two deep along its full length, let alone three. Maybe next year. (If they’ll have me – if they’ll let me back in, come to that. But more on that later.)

The Other One With The Flavourings
I was a bit disappointed by Stockport‘s Raspberry Porter, having really liked the brewery (and indeed their porter) before now. You know how in Sam Smith’s raspberry beer you can actually taste raspberries, it’s not just a syrup flavour? Not like that, sadly. (But Stockporter’s still ace.)

The Seating Situation (featuring Staring At Strangers)
I believe there were enough chairs, and to spare. It’s just that it’s not always easy to get at the one empty chair halfway down a long table (backing onto another long table); and it’s not easy (in another sense) to sit yourself down, as a lone punter, in one of the two empty chairs in between two groups of six, which was generally what was left by mid-evening. (Were they even empty? Were they keeping them for their friends?) So I spent a fair amount of time leaning against the church or perched on various bits of wall that shelved outwards, sometimes directing hard stares at people who seemed to be particularly profligate in their use of seating. (The three people chatting, standing up, in the middle of a cluster of eight empty chairs – I saw you.)

The Murky One
Track Helios – a Stockport Beer Festival home-brew competition winner – was everything you’d expect from a New England IPA: it was fruity, it was creamy, it was zingy, it was… completely opaque, and frankly rather unattractive to look at. So I drank it without looking at it. But it is a great-tasting beer.

The Food Situation
Having eaten before I came out, I wasn’t in the market for a full meal, but after a few beers you always fancy something… But what? I’d scouted out a couple of food stalls where everything seemed to be large-ish and priced around the £8 mark, and was musing grumpily on how this was Not what I wanted At All, when I caught sight of the answer to my prayers: a stall selling pork pies. Lots of pork pies. All different. A couple of different vegetarian options even. I bought one – £3, for a proper handful – and was well pleased. Festivals everywhere please copy.

The Cold Fizzy One
So there was this keg bar, and some of them were only on keg, and it was a warm night, and… What can I say, Beatnikz Republic/Atom Blanc Atomium (white IPA) is a really nice beer.

The Advancing Inebriation (also featuring Staring At Strangers)
No thirds at Chorlton, and some of these beers were rather strong (although I regretfully decided to swerve the Cloudwater Human Meanings at 8.5%). Rather sooner than anticipated I found myself sitting with my back to the church, gazing vaguely ahead of me and thinking rather slowly. I remember noticing a very tall woman who looked a bit like Thom Yorke, and wondering if she found that difficult. On getting up to go for another drink, I realised I’d been looking at a fairly tall man who looked a bit like Thom Yorke.

The One You Don’t Remember Afterwards
A classic sign of actually getting drunk at a beer festival is that, even though you’ve made a list, when you look at it later you’ve got no idea what the last beer on the list was like. (Or sometimes the last two or even three beers.) Blackedge Porter falls into that category this time. I do remember the guy serving me recommending a different porter, which – unlike this one – was on cask; I didn’t go for it, though, possibly because it was the Stockport and definitely because he’d already started pouring this one. I’m pretty sure this one wasn’t bad, anyway – I’d have remembered that.

Then there was a feature you don’t get at most festivals:

The Argument With A Clergyman
Chorlton BF runs on tokens, sold in sheets of £10 a go; this is on top of an entry fee, which also gets you a programme and a (non-returnable) glass. Partly-used sheets of tokens can be refunded on the way out. Some years ago, the organisers caused a bit of a row – literally on the night(s) and figuratively afterwards – by implementing a policy of not refunding partial sheets and holding on to the difference, for the benefit of the church. This is not something CAMRA approves (and the festival is sponsored by CAMRA), so they’d promptly stopped doing it. However, subsequent festivals have featured signs at the refund desk, asking visitors to consider not getting a refund and donating the value of their unused tokens to the church. Now, I don’t have many issues with the Church of England in general – and I dare say St Clement’s in particular could make good use of my money – but I have got a bit of a thing about making conscious choices: when I donate money, it’s because I’m choosing to donate money. Rattle a tin and I’ll often choose to put money in it; sell me a programme and I’ll usually choose to buy it; just don’t borrow money from me and then say, hey, here’s a thing, how about we keep it? This kind of ‘nudge’ technique, extracting the cash by replacing a deliberate donation with an unthinking default, is something that annoys me intensely whenever I see it (and I’ve seen it in lots of places beside St Clement’s, of course).

I’d seen the sign as I came through the churchyard on the way in, I knew where I stood, and by the time I was leaving I’d had plenty of time to think about it all. Asking at the tokens stall, I was redirected to the refunds stall, which was staffed – probably not coincidentally – by a man in a clerical collar. When he asked if I’d consider donating the money that was left on my card, I declined, giving him a polite but firm prepared statement: No issues with the church… like what you’re doing here… when I donate… choose to donate… so yes, thanks all the same, but I would like my money back. He wasn’t best pleased, and reacted as if I was the first person to be so awkward all evening (and, to be fair, I probably was the first person to make a speech about it). But he turned to his cashbox, and I prepared to take my £4.40 and leave with a good grace, feeling slightly ungenerous but satisfied that I’d made my point.

Then he took £4 out of the cashbox and explained that he was only giving me back the whole pounds. I did not have a line prepared for this – and I was, as I may have mentioned, quite drunk at this point. I don’t think I swore, but I certainly expressed some surprise and disappointment. His response, rather to my surprise, was not to try and mollify the ranting drunkard who’d just appeared in front of him, but to explain that this was in fact the festival’s policy, and even to indicate the small print on the sheet of tokens which had (apparently) notified me of this. (The chance of my reading any of the said small print was non-existent – I’d already handed the sheet over by this time, and in any case it was 10.00 at night.) Outmanoeuvred and out-documented, I turned to go – but then remembered CAMRA’s previously-expressed policy on the non-refund thing, and turned back to advise my new friend that he was in breach of this policy. He got quite flustered (I suspect I was getting rather loud by now, which I do regret) and offered me 50p, “if it matters so much to you”. But the money, of course, didn’t matter to me – and I certainly wasn’t going to take any money off him that wasn’t mine – so I left it and walked away, highly disgruntled.

It’s a shame; it was a bad note to end the evening on. (To clarify, I wasn’t involved in the planning, so I don’t know if the ‘whole pounds’ thing is covered by the festival’s arrangement with CAMRA or not. It doesn’t strike me as particularly good practice, though.)

Conclusion: The Negatives
As I’ve said, there were no delays getting served and no trouble finding affordable food. There was live music, but it was kept to a level where it was no nuisance to anyone who wasn’t in the mood; there were no queues for the loo, either, although as a man I was well provided-for. (None of the portaloos dotted about seemed to be designated for women only, while men had the added benefit of a block of urinals. This may be one for the organisers to keep an eye on.) More importantly, none of the beers I liked the look of had run out (and I was there on the second night); none of the beers I had was in poor condition; and I did not regret having any of them. Overall, it was not a bad little festival, and I would not rule out going again this time next year – as long as I’m not barred.


Ready reckoner

Or: using multiples of 71 for fun and profit.

Why 71? Well, you know how a standard US 12-oz bottle is 355 mls, which is 5×71, whereas an imperial pint is 568 mls or 8×71? Well, you do now. And you know how 14 71s is 994, meaning that an imperial pint is near as dammit 8/14s or 4/7s of a litre? Well, thank me later.

You can probably see where I’m going with this.

Third Half 330 ml 12 oz US 2/3 pint
500 ml Pint
Third  = 2/3 4/7 8/15 1/2 8/21 1/3
Half 3/2 = 6/7 4/5 3/4  4/7 1/2
330 ml 7/4 7/6  = 14/15 7/8 2/3 7/12
12 oz US 15/8 5/4 15/14 = 15/16 5/7 5/8
2/3 pint 2/1 4/3 8/7 16/15 = 16/21 2/3
500 ml 21/8 4/7 3/2 7/5 21/16  = 7/8
Pint 3/1 2/1 12/7  8/5 3/2 8/7 =

To use, pick one row – or column – and memorise it; you can derive all the rest from it. Either that or print it out.

(As for why you’d want to use it, haven’t you ever wondered how to compare a pint at 6%, a 500 ml bottle at 6.8% and a US 12 oz-er at 9.6%? Now you know: they’re all exactly as strong as each other.)

UPDATE Removed the ‘US Pint’ entries and added ‘2/3’, that being a measure people reading this are actually likely to see.

Gratuitous equine dentistry while you wait

A few weeks ago, in common with a number of other bloggers, I was sent a box of (eight bottles of) beer by a company called Beer52, which was launching a subscription service where you pay them a monthly fee for a monthly box of (eight bottles of) beer. I didn’t break out the bunting at the time, pointing out that (a) while I do write reviews (and will invariably write something about anything blog-relevant which I’m sent) this blog is not part of the advertising industry and does not feature posts beginning “Those nice people at XYZ” and ending “why not drop them a line quoting BLOGAD?”; (b) the company’s initial approach to me had been so tired, unoriginal and impersonal that it looked almost, but not quite, exactly like spam; and (c) the freebie itself was equally impersonal, and frankly a bit unimpressive in terms of PR – while a free box of beer does mean quite a lot to me as a punter, to a company whose business is sending out boxes of beer it’s just some spare stuff. Also (d) I wasn’t sure about the price point – the price you actually pay if you take up the service, that is, once you’re past the first month where a discount may be available. (The full price is £24 per month.)

But I plugged it, and I mentioned the discount code they gave me, so there you go.

In the storm of adverse publicity which my post didn’t inspire, in which fellow bloggers didn’t denounce me as an ingrate or express bafflement at my refusal to ‘play the game’, a point which wasn’t made repeatedly (or at all) was that I hadn’t said anything about the actual beer. Be that as it may (or, er, mayn’t), I didn’t say anything about the actual beer, and it was a bit of an omission. So here goes.

Summerhall Barney’s Good Ordinary Pale Ale 3.8%
Too ‘ordinary’ by half. Tasted of nothing in particular. A good thirst-quencher, perhaps – particularly at that strength – but in that case, why is it in a 330 ml bottle? If I’d spent £3 on this I wouldn’t be pleased, to be honest.

Grain 316 Extra Pale Ale 3.9%
This was a lot more like it. Very pale, very hoppy – mostly the ‘dry’ end of hoppy rather than the ‘fruit salad’ – and very nice. I could drink a lot of this; 500 ml, in particular, would pose no problem at all (yes, this was another 330 ml bottle).

Top Out Staple Pale Ale 4.0%
Better than the Barney’s, but a bit raw and twiggy; there was a creamy quality to it which I wasn’t sure about.

Church Farm Harry’s Heifer 4.2%
The third new brewery to me (I had heard of Grain) – and I’m afraid I haven’t yet found one I’ll be seeking out again. This was a best bitter, and a bit on the sweet and heavy side for me.

Oakham Citra 4.6%
This surely needs no introduction – a mighty beer. I was surprised to see it in this box, though; it’s currently on sale at the Wythenshawe branch of B&M Bargains for £1.79. (To be fair, perhaps what it’s doing there is the real question.)

Stevens Point Brewery Black Ale 5.2%
Another small bottle (355 ml). I’m not a style Nazi, but it did bug me that I couldn’t work out what this was meant to be. I’m a big fan of contemporary porters and strong milds and dark old ales, and it didn’t strike me as any of those. Well made – not at all twiggy – and pretty nice, but just a bit unadventurous; a B+ rather than an A. (Stevens Point beers are available in our local Tesco’s, although not this one (or the next one).)

Stevens Point Belgian White 5.4%
Another tick in the “OK, fine, nothing actually wrong with it” column. (Also, another small bottle.) American brewery does ‘Belgian’ witbier. I kind of wish they wouldn’t, but the actual beer was… well, fine.

Ticketybrew Dubbel 6.5%
This was the first beer I tasted from my current favourite brewery, and I think it’s fair to say that this is the beer they’ve gone on to great things from; it doesn’t stand up to their stout, let alone the pale ale or that amazing bitter orange thing. But back to the beer I’m actually reviewing. It’s a good one. A dubbel it ain’t, really, but if you told yourself it was from a Belgian commercial brewer mimicking the abbey style you’d probably fall for it. Really very nice.

So that’s three beers that didn’t really work for me, two that were fine but no more than that, and three greats. I’m happy to have got them free. I’m not sure how I’d feel if I’d paid £24, though, or even £14.

(Other reviews are available; here’s a less curmudgeonly view from Paul Bailey.)

¡Bien! ¡Bien! ¡Super super!

If only they could both lose…

In a statement the Portman Group said: “The independent complaints panel considered that the Oxford English Dictionary definition of ‘loco’, listed as ‘crazy, or off one’s head’, was problematic when used in relation to an alcoholic drink, as it could suggest irresponsible or immoderate consumption, and that care must be taken when using the word on packaging or promotional material.”

Jim Sloan, President of Phusion Projects, said: “We respectfully disagree with the decision of the Independent Complaints Panel of the Portman Group. Phusion Projects has made clear from the outset that the ‘Four Loko’ brand name was intended to refer to the product’s unusual flavours and its four original ingredients.”

Got that? Four as in four (original) ingredients; Loko as in… um… ‘loco’ meaning ‘crazy’, obviously, but referring to unusual flavours. Oh, those crazy flavours. (Flavours include grape, coconut, watermelon, peach, lemon and lime, lemonade and cranberry lemonade.)

We’ve been here before. Four Loko is, basically, loopy-juice; it’s made with malt liquor in the US and with grain alcohol in Europe, with a variety of flavours (all of them sweet), and sold at strengths of 6%, 8% and most commonly 12%. One other thing: it’s sold in cans, of 23.5 US fluid ounces – just under two standard 12-oz bottles, in other words, or 695 ml. That’s an awful lot of alcohol, in readily-neckable form.

And those four (original) ingredients? One of them is alcohol (which at least has the virtue of frankness). Another is taurine, the substance which gave Red Bull its name and whose properties, despite a huge multi-year natural experiment in adding it to soft drinks, remain unclear. The other two are caffeine and guarana, which – whatever else of an exotic and rain-forest-y variety might be in it – is a natural source of caffeine. So, effectively, it was Two Loko: alcohol and caffeine. It’s a powerful combination, and works in (let’s be honest) an enjoyable way; when I was younger and had fewer responsibilities I once spent an entire day going from bar to bar in Barcelona, alternating wine and espresso. (I didn’t have a lot to do the next day.) But neither alcohol nor caffeine is actually good for you in large quantities; the combination, by keeping you alert for longer, makes it easy to drink potentially harmful amounts of alcohol, while simultaneously making it easy to drink potentially harmful amounts of caffeine. Mixing alcohol and caffeine in large quantities (such as 695 ml – just under a pint and a quarter) and at high alcohol concentrations (such as 12%), is basically a bad idea. Put it another way: if you drink a can of old-style Four Loko you’ve basically just drunk 2/3 of a bottle of Buckie (“the UK’s version of Four Loko”, confirms Vice magazine).

Jacob Sullum of the right-Libertarian Reason magazine has tried to defend Four Loko on two occasions, on general “keep the government out of my business” grounds, but it’s a tough pitch. The best he could come up with was to point out that making the cans resealable (to reduce the temptation to neck the entire can) wouldn’t actually stop anyone necking the entire can if they wanted to (true, but so what?); that coffee is used in some cocktails (which aren’t usually served in glasses holding 695 ml); and (my favourite) that “A can of Four Loko contains less alcohol … than some big bottles of craft beer.” A can of Four Loko contains 83.4 mls of alcohol; for an Imperial pint to deliver that much alcohol it would need to be 14.7%. Those are some big bottles of craft beer.

Anyway, a couple of years ago and in the wake of some horribly predictable and happily only near-fatal excess consumption incidents, the powers that be in the US decided (to Reason‘s chagrin) that the whole alcohol/caffeine thing was bad news, and Four Loko was reformulated to contain alcohol and, er, that’s it. So that’s One Loko, then – only not Loko in the sense of… er… can we get back to you on this? Which is where we came in: with Phusion Projects gamely trying to push their 12%-by-volume grain-alcohol-and-Starburst three-pints-of-lager-inna-can confection in the UK, and our old mates at Portman gravely ticking them off for being so irresponsible as to suggest that getting drunk might be enjoyable in some way. As I said at the top, if only they could both lose!

Price tag

The mystery’s solved: apparently it is about the money.

Here’s a press release I received recently. It refers to a report produced by the agency which sent it, but since they didn’t send me the report – or a link – I don’t know any more about it than you. This is the complete text of the press release; I haven’t made any changes (or corrections) except to edit out the name of the agency, to spare their blushes.

Redefining ‘Craft’ Beer

The craft beer market is currently undergoing unprecedented growth across America, Europe and Australasia. Despite the hype, there has been a lack of an industry consensus to the ‘craft beer’ definition. A new special focus report by [agency] redefines its meaning.

In the US, the Association of Brewers defines craft brewers as small (annual production of 6 m barrels of beer or less), independent (less than 25% of the brewery owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not a craft brewer), and traditional (a brewer who has either an all malt flagship or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavour). Whilst this definition has worked well locally, transferring it to other markets can prove problematic. Most consumers would define a brand such as Leffe as a “craft” beer, however, the brand is produced by A-BInBev, and therefore would be excluded. Similarly, when the UK DoomBar brand was acquired by Molson Coors, it would have ceased to be a “craft” beer.

In the absence of an existing global definition, [agency] has sought to define craft beer in its own terms. Following extensive consideration of the segment globally, [agency] presents a definition of “craft” beer as a segment primarily made up of Premium and Superpremium priced speciality beers – excluding flavoured beers, super-strength lagers and Stout. This would include products made by microbreweries, but would also encompass products like the Belgian Abbey & Trappiste Beers; the French Biers de Grade; Premium English Ales; Wheat Beers; and Seasonal Beers.

Kevin Baker, Account Director at [agency], says that “there will inevitably be areas where a subjective judgment is required. This definition does mean that some brands that are not normally considered as Craft Beers are included. However [agency] believes that from a consumer perspective the line between craft and speciality is extremely vague and porous and that it makes sense to include these brands”.

This information is based on findings from the [agency] report ‘The Craft Beer Phenomenon’ published in September 2013. The report is part of a mini-series on added value in the declining beer market, which also includes ‘The Premium Beer Market 2013’ and ‘Sweetening the Pils – The Market for Flavoured Beer and Beer Mixes 2013’.

So there you go: craft beer means speciality beers – not including flavoured beers, super-strength lager, or stout – just as long as they’re sold at “Premium or Superpremium” prices. Leffe is craft; DoomBar [sic] is craft, at least if you pay enough for it; Punk IPA is craft if you pay premium prices to get it on tap, but presumably not if you buy it in a can at the supermarket; and Chimay is craft in Britain but not in Belgium (where it’s slightly cheaper than chips).

All of this tends to confirm my starting position, which is that ‘craft’ can’t be defined in any way that says anything informative about the beer. If it means anything, it means ‘beer that somebody wants to sell as craft’ – and this report tells us why they might want to.

Be silly with beer

There’s a famous essay by the American philosopher Harry Frankfurt called “On Bullshit”. To cut a long argument short, what Frankfurt refers to as “bullshit” is a wholly instrumental use of language – talking entirely for effect, without any regard for the truth of what’s being said. Bullshit isn’t lying, Frankfurt argues; it’s worse than that. Someone telling the truth will be able to back up what they’re saying, explaining why they think it’s true and how it relates to other true statements. (“I’m late because my train was delayed; they were fixing something before it set off, and it must have broken down again because we stopped for half an hour in the middle of nowhere. It’s never happened before, I hope it doesn’t become a regular thing.”) Telling a lie is the opposite of telling the truth, but the two things are also very closely related: somebody telling a lie is always conscious of what the truth is, and what they say will be guided by reference to the truth they’re not telling. (“I’m late because my train was delayed; I went straight from work to the station, and the thought of stopping for a drink never even crossed my mind. If you can smell beer it’s because somebody spilled a can on me on the train. Which was delayed, as I was saying.”)

Bullshit is worse than lying: the person bullshitting doesn’t care whether they’re telling the truth or not – or even whether they’re telling a consistent story. All they care about is getting the right effect. (“I’m late because my train was late again – it’s always late, it’s unbelievable. Well, not always always, but it’s always been late recently. I had to run, as well. I didn’t make it in the end, I was stuck in the station bar for ages. Of course I was on time getting there, it must have been running early, I don’t know. It’s just so unreliable, that train.”)

In other words, bullshit is using language purely to produce the right kind of impression. Bullshit pollutes debate and devalues language, according to Frankfurt’s argument. It’s not a new phenomenon: advertising is full of bullshit; political debate is an odd combination of reasonably truthful debate interspersed with steaming piles of bullshit. (In this country, at least; the bullshit-to-truth ratio seems to be higher in the US and some other countries, e.g. Italy.)

Changing the subject for a moment, I had a half of Acorn Gorlovka Imperial Stout last night which was superb – easily a match for the Red Willow Ageless DIPA I’d had just before it. Acorn is a brewery I hadn’t paid much attention to until recently, but they’re producing some terrific stuff just at the moment – the (very) dark bitter Legend and the self-explanatory milds Darkness and Lightness have all been excellent. Acorn, Red Willow, Dunham Massey, Marble – I love those guys. Really love them.

But I’ll chew my own hand off at the wrist before I call them “craft brewers”.

I’ve read Dave’s latest. I like Dave, I like his beer a lot, and the Fuller’s collaboration sounds great. But what is this actually saying?

Craft beers have a real story behind them. Real personalities. Real people. People who care about touching base with the drinker who buys the beer. People whose inspiration shines through not only in the beer itself but also the fact that they take time to communicate what the beer is about. People who are not just influenced by accountants, and shareholders who care only about their dividend, but are also influenced by wanting to inspire the drinker.

There are only two interpretations I can come up with.

  1. It’s a roundabout way of saying “Craft brewers are people who (a) make beer (b) talk about how great their beer is and (c) do it on Twitter.”
  2. It’s bullshit.

At the moment I’m leaning towards 2. All this stuff about passion and authenticity seems so subjective and unverifiable as to be beyond challenging – and if something can’t be challenged it can’t really be talked about. All you’re saying when you call somebody a craft brewer is that you want to hang the label of “craft brewer” on them, because they’re great and craft brewers are great. It doesn’t seem to add anything to discussion of beer and brewers, and I think ultimately it actually detracts from it. This vacuous, unchallengeable label is being bestowed as a badge of merit – and that means it can be used to justify poor performance (of course every bottle isn’t the same!”) and sharp practice (of course you have to pay a bit more!”).

“Craft beer”, in short, is bullshit. But I’m not using that as the title of the post – once is enough.

PS The actual title of the post is what you get if you start with “Craft beer is bullshit” and then play with Google Translate for half an hour. I think it’s a great improvement.

Cold sweat breaks out


…no, that’s not going to work.

LADIES! Do you like LAGER? Do you like GLAMOUR? Do you like MEN STARING AT YOUR CHEST?

…OK, maybe that’s a bit too direct.

LADIES! Do you like LAGER? Do you like BEING BEAUTIFUL? Do you like to SHOW OFF YOUR ASSETS?

…that’s it! We have a winner!

I think that’s pretty much how the conversation went.

I’m talking about a poster campaign that Holt’s are running at the moment, following the relaunch of their own-brand lagers Crystal and Diamond. (I have to admit, this is all news to me – but apparently Joey’s do in fact have two house keg lagers, and apparently they are called Crystal and Diamond, and apparently they have just been relaunched. And if you know any more about it than that, you know more than I do.)

The relaunch involves jumping on the “extra cold” bandwagon – both Crystal and Diamond are now available “Extra Cold”. The relaunch – accompanied by a price rise, according to the ad agency – is backed by a series of posters with the slogan “Some things are better extra cold”. I’ve only been able to find one online, on the ad agency’s site: it’s here (warning: not safe for work).

Yes, their jokey example of something that’s “better extra cold” is… a pair of nipples.

Now, I can’t honestly say that my immediate reaction to this poster (and the other one on the same theme I saw in the same pub) was entirely negative; I’m a heterosexual male and there weren’t many people in the pub (or any women), so I didn’t leave until I’d had a good look at both of them. (The posters. Fnarr, fnarr. Settle down.) But… well, really. Looked at from the point of view of a woman – or of a man who likes to share pubs with women – this can’t be a good way for a brewery to decorate its pubs. Come to that, it’s not something I would have expected to see in 1992, let alone 2012. I wouldn’t necessarily expect Holt’s to do anything as modern and go-ahead as trying to attract women drinkers, but it would be nice if they didn’t try to repel them.

I was going to add that the list of things that are “better extra cold” doesn’t include beer anyway, but I have to admit that I’ve never drunk Holt’s Crystal (or Diamond); maybe tongue-numbing refrigeration really is the best way to approach them.

Wakey wakey, rise and shine

Apparently they’re banning booze again in the USA. Well, some booze:

A few weeks ago in New York a group of college students gathered at a vigil. They sang songs, and held candles as they mourned the passing of a friend. The scene can be seen on YouTube. What makes it slightly surreal is that the gathered crowd is lamenting the demise of an alcoholic drink, Four Loko. From Monday, Four Loko will no longer exist in its original incarnation – as a mix of alcohol and caffeine in a can – on the orders of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

(That’s ‘Monday’ as in the 13th of December. Sorry, I’ve been busy.)

Yes, it’s those evil caffeinated alco-pops. Add caffeine to an alcoholic drink and anything could happen:

one 23.5oz (694ml) can contains as much caffeine as a tall Starbucks coffee. It is a combination those who drink it say tastes great and makes you feel good. But others describe it as a “blackout in a can”, and blame it for landing a number of students in hospital.

“Blackout in a can” – whew! But isn’t this just teenage legend? (My son (15) is convinced that vodka and Red Bull will kill you. He didn’t get that from me, but I’m not in a hurry to enlighten him.)

Apparently not: it seems there are genuine health concerns.

Last month, the US Food and Drug Administration called on the top four manufacturers to take them out of circulation by 13 December. Dr Joshua M Sharfstein, the FDA’s principal deputy commissioner, said evidence suggested that the mix of caffeine and alcohol posed a “public health concern”. Four Loko will continue to be on sale, but now without the caffeine.

The FDA’s action came after some highly publicised scandals, in which the drinks were reported to have caused serious illness, including one at Ramapo College in New Jersey. “My friend had [a] little under three cans in one hour,” explains a student at the college, James Kulinski. “He didn’t know what he was doing. He was a mess – he had no motor skills and no ability to communicate.”

That’s strong stuff, that caffeine. I mean, there can’t be that much alcohol

The fruit-flavoured energy drink contains 12% alcohol, making it about three times as strong as a regular beer

well, OK, but there can’t be that much alcohol in one can

one 23.5oz (694ml) can

and it’s not as if a strong malt liquor is going to appeal to younger people

Four Loko is available in eight flavors: Uva Berry (Grape), Fruit Punch, Orange Blend, Watermelon, Blue Raspberry, Lemon Lime, Lemonade, and Cranberry Lemonade.

or inexperienced drinkers…

James has tried Four Loko and Joose and isn’t a huge fan. He says most people who drank it on campus were “inexperienced drinkers” who saw it, at around $1.50, as an inexpensive way to get drunk.

So, to recap, the jokers behind Four Loko were selling a fruit-flavoured drink containing almost as much alcohol in one can as a litre of Special Brew, at $1.50 a throw, in a country where under-21s can’t buy alcohol. What was that, James?

“My friend had [a] little under three cans in one hour … He didn’t know what he was doing. He was a mess – he had no motor skills and no ability to communicate.”

James, your friend drank the equivalent of eight pints of Jaipur (or Dobber) – or nine 330ml cans of Gold Label – in an hour. Damn right he was a mess. (He also effectively washed that lot down with three cups of coffee – and all for a total cost of $4.50. Whatever else you can say about this stuff, it’s really cheap.)

But, as we’ve seen, the FDA has sprung into action, removing Four Loko from sale. And it’s not just the bottle-of-Buckie-inna-can merchants that the FDA have gone after. (Buckfast also contains caffeine, incidentally; presumably they don’t export.) New Century Brewing’s Moonshot ’69 has also got the cease-and-desist treatment. A 5% beer (without any fruit flavourings) brewed by a one-woman company, Moonshot doesn’t share a lot with Four Loko, but what they do have in common is caffeine: the FDA are getting involved because “caffeine was put directly in the [beer] as a food additive and was not naturally occurring, as it would be in a beer brewed with coffee”. Well, you can’t be too careful.

But at least Four Loko is off the shelves. Or rather, it was, for as long as it took them to take out the caffeine – which wasn’t very long. So kids who have reached the age of 21 thinking of alcohol as a forbidden pleasure can once more enjoy the freedom to get wrecked, for a couple of dollars, on a drink that comes in eight refreshing fruit flavours.

What this story says to me is that abstinence and over-indulgence are two sides of the same coin. Each one feeds off the other, and neither of them represents a psychologically healthy attitude to booze. Where alcohol is concerned, “little and often” has to be the best policy – for the mind as well as the body.

Never mind the weather

Name this beer! (No, they haven’t named it already.)

Yes, I’m still here. I’ve been working on one very long post for the last few nights – it’ll be great when it’s finished. I’m also planning to enter Zak’s competition – but you can’t see that one till it’s finished either.

In the mean time, here’s another compy you might want to have a crack at, also closing on Friday. This also marks a personal milestone: after the first beer I’ve been sent to review, here’s my first press release. (On reflection the beer was more fun.) You don’t get any of this stuff out in the general-purpose blogosphere, I tell you.

Butlins is launching a premium real ale as part of its 75th birthday celebrations and is challenging the nation to brew up an appropriate name for the beer.

The birthday beer will be produced by world famous brewery Marston’s in the home of British Brewing, Burton-on-Trent, and will be available in bottles and on draft [sic] at the three Butlins beachside resorts.

Said Butlins MD Richard Bates: “Whoever names our beer will become part of Butlins history, because both their name and the beer’s name will appear on the label together.
And who better to bottle our heritage, than the Great British public!”

The Butlins Beer is a premium English pale ale, described by the brewers as “golden, zesty and hoppy”.

The winner will pull the first pint at a celebratory event at Butlins, be treated to a VIP break on resort – and also enjoy a VIP visit to The Marston’s Brewery, known as ‘the Cathedral of Brewing’, to witness the creation of their new brew.

Visit www. butlins. com/ beer for more information or email your name suggestion to realale @ by 26 November 2010, providing your full name, age, address and telephone number.

So there you go.

I’ve got slightly mixed feelings about this story. On one hand, the association with a company whose image is still stuck in the 1950s – i.e. before the majority of the population was born – surely can’t be much help in pitching real ale to the young, edgy, brand-aware crowd; viewed from the perspective of the average Style supplement, it could almost be calculated to make real ale look like an old man’s drink. On the other hand, an awful lot of people don’t see the world through Style supplements; an awful lot of people don’t drink real ale; and an awful lot of people pass through Butlin’s in Bognor, Minehead and Skegness. Never mind the image, feel the footfall, in other words.

On balance I think this is the main thing. This initiative is going to put what will hopefully be a pretty decent real ale in front of a lot of people who don’t currently drink it, in a setting where they’ll have ample opportunities to acquire the taste. It’s going to be an ale with a very ordinary image – but I think we sometimes forget that an ale with an ordinary image would actually be a very good thing. Good one, Butlin’s (and Marston’s).

The competition closes on Friday, so there’s still plenty of time to get your name in – have at it. (But you can’t have the obvious one, because I’ve just suggested it.)