Further thoughts on Beer choices

I was going to write a post about why although I enjoy beer and know more than many people about keeping and drinking it, I am not and never will be a beer blogger or beer expert; it centred around my disinterest in beer reviewing on a personal writing level and my rather more serious inability to care about technical terminology and professional food-matching but apparently casual beer categories are trending (See here, here & here). So instead I  shall jump on the bandwagon tell you what I give a shit about when I am picking beers.

I am not a scooper or a CAMRA spokesperson/committee busybody/member, I am not a beer sommelier, I am not (as mentioned above) a respected beer blogger or writer but I am a publican and a drinker. As such I can comfortably tell you that in the last decade I have tried over 5000 different beers and have prepared comfortably over 15,000 firkins for sale (no I didn’t count, yes it hurts) and although I didn’t write each one down I remember more than you might imagine.
Choosing beer will always have two elements for me… would I sell it in my pub and would I buy a pint of it.
With that in mind I tend to use the following 4 basic judgements: Is it in good condition/poor condition/off?; Is it well-made or thrown together?; Is it interesting or boring?; Do I enjoy it or not?

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Work at t’Mill & Losing touch

I haven’t really talked much about my volunteering at the archive here (normally discussing it over at my other blog) but it deserves a bit of a mention since it is currently my only truly regular activity outside of the domestic sphere.

The archive itself is dedicated to Mills and milling heritage and operates from a lovely listed building about 40 mins walk from my house. I don’t really have enough background in archives to have any idea how it compares to others but they are certainly working hard to do things right both in terms of procedure and with regard to making sure the material is used rather than simply stored.
The theory is that I go two afternoons a week – the minimum commitment for a volunteer is supposed to be 1 full day a week but in a fit of self-awareness I acknowledged mornings are hard for me and therefore 2 afternoons are more achievable and also get me out the house twice rather than once a week. However, I still struggle; it turns out that going into an office ticks all of my social anxiety boxes and that heading out of the house in the middle of the day might allow me to wake up appropriately but does also give me time to worry about going. Usually once I get there I can relax unless someone tries to talk to me or worse I need to ask someone a question… which fortunately doesn’t happen very often because actually cataloguing stuff is pretty straightforward and I now know as much or more about it in this context as anyone else. (It is more interesting than it sounds too)

Its good to get out of the house, and not just to walk the dog, because I am finding socialising pretty daunting at the moment. Not being at the pub means that people notice when I walk in and then I feel pressured into making conversation but without the safety-net of a bar between us. This effectively means that I only go in when there is someone with me and worse I have been semi-avoiding other bars in town because I know that there will be people I know in them as well. I need to push myself to break through this not just because its bad practice to ‘give-in’ to my anxiety but also because otherwise I will end up totally out of the loop with regard to new beers and best-sellers. I need to know what is available, what tastes good and what is doing well in the area if I am going to retain my position as ‘guru’. I don’t want to lose touch with what is going on in the world of beer just because I am currently between jobs, especially if I am going to order beer for next year’s beer festival and even more especially if I am ever going to run a pub of my own…….

Beer ordering

I’m not realIy sure why I let Kitten talk me into doing the beer orders for the festival with her.
She has always been more CAMRA orientated than me – and where I let my membership lapse many years ago she meandered her way into young members officer and branch secretary over the course of our mutual pub careers and though I have volunteered at our local festival for the past 11 years I have always avoided the controversy that accompanies responsibility.

Last year, however, beer ordering did not go smoothly and this year’s festival needed something of a serious overhaul in that department (2 people quit the role because of other commitments and 2 more were made redundant because of the problems they had). My boss was fairly quickly persuaded that she should take the role but declined to do so without my support.
Right now I am finding hard to remember what I thought I would get out of it…
In some ways we make the perfect pairing – she fronts the publicity and charms people into their support whilst I provide structure, she does bursts of intensive activity while I provide non-stop back-up (its a lot like how the pub still runs and the conversation I had with my previous boss when he left). But right now as she juggles the many roles she has taken on and I keep trying to work out where I am going, I wonder whether anyone noticed. I won’t know whether or not I did an ok job til the festival has been and gone (I’m already disappointed with my efforts) but the question is whether or not it will make a difference to my professional standing within the industry and what happens next…

Drink my beer people!

Stillages and Cephelobopping

This weekend its been all about beer and music.
Kitten has decided that father’s day is to be our annual beer festival – a decision nearly jeopardised by the failure of head-office to send us an insurance document for 4 weeks…and further troubled by the atrocious weather. Nonetheless beer and stillage were ordered and duly settled in the bar, it was exciting and new and interesting. The only thing missing was enthusiasm.

There has been a bit of a slump both in customers and staff of late. We are not completely strapped for cash – don’t get me wrong, all of our customers need the solace of somewhere to go to complain and a sympathetic drink- but there is a dullness that no amount of pep can fight. Our core clientele are broke and grumpy, they are working longer hours and have little money to show for it, socialising is a chore. The unexpected masses make irregular appearences which seem neither based on holiday nor weather but bourne of a desparation to go and get drunk. Staff on the other hand are all immersed in RL, busy balancing their own finances and romances and less than engaged with the life and process of a pub community. It is hard to retain an interest in the things which draw people in when everything seems against you and other parts of your world are more pressing.

However, whining about the pub aside (cos gods only know it is nothing new) I went to see the boys play a gig! Magpie and Thor are 2 parts of a 3-piece prog-metal thrash-funk jazz band. They ahve been playing together for maybe 6 years and gig about every 6 months which I guess must be standard for laid-back amateurs  with nothing to prove. The shame of the matter is that they are really very good. I’m not an expert on Metal – I enjoy some loud and aggressive shit and don’t like others but I don’t categorise it or chase around the world listening to it. Nor am I a musical whizz – I didn’t study it and I can’t name notes or patterns, but I do have a knack for spotting the off key and the missed rhythm, the lack of balance and failed sequences. I was raised on the blues and meandered through jazz, classical, rock, metal, goth and folk before settling into whatever suits my mood. Despite all of this I can tell you that the boys are good musicians with a flair for experimentation and (if you can decipher it) a wicked sense of humour lyrically and musically.
If Cephelopod ever reach your world- buy their music otherwise go find them live and jump up and down like an idiot!

Mud, Beer and Sleep

My local beer festival isn’t really the 20 firkins in a village hall, a tea urn and the school choir variety.. more the 500 different ales and 200 ciders/perries in 2 marquees with hog roast, a noodle bar, trade session, pub games and pro bands style.

I’d like to think that even though not everything was finished and despite the rain keeping some people away it was a success. As an annual event it is an occasion where people who don’t see each other get a chance to catch up. People sing and dance and try new things. I know that the Pub Games section had another record breaking year and I know that the judging of the National Cider and Perry awards was well received but what I really hope is that plenty of people went away with good memories.

Like other CAMRA affiliated festivals it is organised and staffed by volunteers of varying skills, abilities and dedication. This year it would be fair to say that a number of my friends and acquaintances who are involved in this rather monumental task were tested to the limit. Mainly by the rain, but also by the non-appearance of a large proportion of the volunteers.
As the rain came down and the pools of water built up on the flood plain we use to accommodate punters, those too fool-hardy and dedicated to hide indoors dug trenches, lifted and carried scaffolding, sorted lighting, bars, and  tables, bashed stuff with mallets and generally worked their socks off. Then once we opened the same people (for the most part) dashed around fixing problems (there were lots – do not ask about the sewage drainage) and put on their smiling public-facing personas, and finally a handful still standing took everything down, picked up the litter and cleared the field to return it, albeit rather more muddy from the 15000 people who turned up to drink, to the council.
Some of those volunteers didn’t stop in between 15 and 18 hour days for 2weeks and of course some volunteers turned up and sold beer for 4 hours and left again. I fall rather comfortably between the two extremes; a couple of days of set-up with rather less physical lifting than usual hampered as I have been with my crutch and both working at the festival and at the pub. W did a little less and B somewhat more – from each according to their means so to speak.

Despite the rain and the slog and the fact we were chronically under-staffed I do like working at the festival. I enjoy the satisfaction of seeing it as more than a drinking game, I like the sense of achievement that goes from taking an empty field into a venue of public entertainment. And lets be honest I like the fact that I work hard enough to never pay to get in and never pay to drink and even have enough tokens to bring bottles home with me. I just need to remember I am not as young as I once was and need more rest these days.

So do you volunteer for anything? Particularly anything that feels completely ridiculous and leaves you exhausted but plays to your strengths?

April Notes & Updates

  • Wrote (more than 12 hrs before the panel started) and delivered my conference paper without imploding. Woop!
  • damn damn damn – still haven’t completed my pesky first chapter- ruddy thing
  • Happy Birthday B!  – I’m glad we spent some time away together. Sea air and your arms – thankyou
  • Well done all. A trip home and no public meltdowns. We were very brave.
  • Dear Gods above, what on earth am I going to give my wife for our 3rd anniversary? Excited and delighted but a little perplexed.
  • We have beautiful pear blossom, tiny onions and enthusiastic tomatoes. Even the potato plants are sprouting. Hurrah for rain.
  • Gave my beer talk – didn’t freeze in front of people I have to speak to regularly. Surprised and pleased.
  • Waiting for physio for my knee/ waiting for miraculous improvement – how am I supposed to lose weight without walking?
  • Trying to decide what the next step on my head-fixing plan is – explorative psychotherapy, ACT, drugs or none of the above? Maybe I am shiny? Maybe I am terrified.
  • Beer Festival eek nearly that time again..
  • oooo Holiday planning!

Ale and Fine Whisky

I will get to the fun part of the post in a moment, but I will first offer a little flavour of my weekend..  I planted potatoes and seeds with my wife, went to a memorial service and worked. As you may imagine, the joy of further building our garden together and making the steps towards new life was a bittersweet counterpoint to the memorial for a life cut short by cancer. It wasn’t the best or worst memorial I have ever been to, whilst it was beautiful to hear the choirs Gill sang with performing for her I could have done without the lecture on the doctrine of the resurrection.
So anyway..

  • Ale: This weekend marked the launch of our local Ale Trail – an annual event organised by the local CAMRA branch to tie-in with the town beer festival. The premise is simple; a booklet describing 28 pubs within the district is published and punters go around ordering halves of ale or cider (or an appropriate designated driver drink) in order to get stickers proving their devotion, in return for completed (to over the minimum level of completeness) booklets sent to the organisers they are granted entry via special queue to the beer festival and entry in a prize draw. The pubs get free publicity and some unusual trade – it sounds idyllic right?
    In some respects of course it is, but I for one could do without the politics involved in the choosing (and omitting) of pubs whilst still retaining the right to think that the selection contains a fair amount of dross. I also really dislike the growing tradition for massive opening weekend pub-crawls – have I mentioned that I don’t like drunk people? And finally pathetic though it sounds, drinking a half pint really does feel like a token effort from some of these people rather than genuine increase in trade which equals hard work for me and little to no gain for the pub.
  • Whisky: – This weekend did have however a drinking highlight in the form of our drinking club’s monthly meeting. This time focused on Scotch and particularly the Islay variety. ‘Twas an educational round of comparative samples indeed with a couple of cocktails and slideshows from our hosts’ trips to distilleries thrown in but the highlight for me had to be the limited hard-to-find tasters: Caol Ila Moch, Bowmore Tempest Batch 1 and Lagavulin (Limited Edition/distillery only release) Cask Strength 2010.
    It is hard to offer tasting notes (I’m a drinker not a hardened tasting expert – my palate just ain’t that nuanced folks). But in short the Moch was grassy and fresh for an islay, leading to a quaffable light smokiness, the Tempest was disappointing for a limited expression – sweet but not as complex as I hoped, on the other hand the lagavulin was indeed all I ask from a lagavulin plus the extra alcoholic kick but without more sobriety and a careful comparison of each of these with their standard editions I feel ill placed to judge

Beer Festival

Every Year we go through this trial.

It begins months in advance, if it ever stops, with long conversations in the pub that devolve into arguments about budgets and planning. Old hands and former chairmen argue with management teams and auditors. Nonetheless somewhere along the line things are agreed and resources are ordered. Two weeks before the festival is due to open kit begins to arrive. Specialist volunteers give up their time to run site and cellar  – general members of CAMRA cannot be relied upon to understand alarm systems, drive fork lifts  or even test beer etc and even as the pool of volunteers widens whilst the festival looms nearer many are less helpful than might be wished.

I lugged and I lifted, I tapped and tasted, dipped and drank. I didn’t work even half as hard as B did (He took 2 weeks off to be at the site 9-6 everyday) and I am exhausted.

Highlights for me included:

Arbor Ales: Breakfast Stout 7.4% – Coffee and Chocolate Delight

Bingham’s Brewery: Imperial Doodle Stout 7.0% – Thick and satisfying

Wheal Maiden: Grandma’s Weapons Grade Ginger Beer 5.5% – Its just something else..!

A lot of people came through the gates, much beer and cider and wine were drunk and games played. I won’t know for weeks whether we broke even or not but I just hope it was worth it.