One of the best things about working in the industry is that going for a weekend boozing counts as market research.
That is why last weekend B & I were able to justify spending 2 days in York and 1.5 in Bristol (Fri-Mon). We didn’t manage a week away just the two of us this year for various reasons but taking some time off in November is really good for him given just how stressful December tends to get and we really needed to curl up together a bit. Unfortunately it also turns out to be quite expensive to take a city break at this time of year.
Nonetheless we grabbed a train up to York on Friday morning and arrived at the York Tap in time for ‘lunch’. The plan was to hit a few pubs in the afternoon, check-in to the B&B, then head back out for dinner before doing some tourist things on the Saturday (with a few more pubs) and heading to Bristol first thing on Sunday to find a few more pubs that afternoon/evening, amble round on Monday morning and get back in time for me to have dinner and a cosy evening in with W.
In total we went to 13 different pubs and I estimate that between the two of us we drank 42 different beers… so though we were mainly drinking thirds and halves and didn’t ever really get drunk I definitely felt I earned this week’s dry day!
There follows a more detailed summary/review if you are interested:
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?
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…….
Mildly inspired by something I read on Freshly Pressed and this event..
I wanted to think a little bit more about stereotypical attitudes to gender and beer.
As a girl who has been drinking real ale for more than 15 years, selling it for 11 and doing cellar management for 9 I have seen all variety of attitudes to my tastes and competency.
When I was younger what I noticed and was irked by most was incredulity- people didn’t believe I wanted a real beer or almost as annoyingly they didn’t believe that I knew what I wanted. I’d like to say that the scepticism about my own ability to know that I quite like beer but do not in fact like *that* beer has disappeared as I’ve grown to look a little older and the world has changed but actually attitudes seem less about whether I’m dressed as a dyke, a goth or a hippy or aged 18 or 30 and more about whether the person involved in judging was used to women drinking beer or not. I am less worried by this attitude these days – I have a bit more sympathy for staff who are sceptical of people faking their knowledge through bravado or ignorance and lets be fair I’m a little more sceptical about my own knowledge of what I want.
Not, of course, as sceptical as I am of what advertising suggests I might want. Truth be told I’d be more offended by the suggestions that I needed smaller more delicate glassware, fewer calories & light beer possibly with fruit if it weren’t for the fact the industry has so laughably little clue what I want anyway. The gender stereotypes (male and female) I see regularly on TV ads often genuinely anger me but fortunately they are rarely for products that I have any intention of buying so I can vote with my consumerism so to speak. Its more challenging when you read trade rags where marketing execs for alcohol companies burble about how they are making their products more ‘female-friendly’ – what I want to say is don’t. Its not the product that needs changing – some people like it and some don’t regardless of their gender preference – its any advertising that has focused on men or on laddish culture that should be changed. And I don’t mean putting a token ‘pretty girl with pint’ on your posters (not that I object to looking at pretty girls per se but it really doesn’t help make women feel included).
I do also think that awareness should be improved. More women would feel included if they knew just how many women are already there and misogynists would be forced to acknowledge their existence and competence. And of course there are plenty of brewsters and female brewery minions and brewery accountants and delivery drivers and pub managers and cellar managers and CAMRA volunteers and drinkers…just out there getting on with their lives and sometimes it would be helpful if more people knew that because I was lucky not to be intimidated out of the whole scene at 19 by a sea of middle-aged men because I had already seen beyond those pubs.
By contrast, the attitude I was least aware of before I worked in the industry but is most guaranteed to wind me up now is where people ignore my opinion. I’m not 16 any more, I’m happy for you to disagree but don’t look at me stood behind the bar and ignore my offer of advice and turn to Joe Bloggs stood at the bar and ask Him what you should drink. How dare you assume that just because he has a penis he knows more the beer in front of you than I do… I racked and prepped that beer, I tested the beer, I compared it to the other ones on the bar today – he’s drinking the beer he usually drinks/he tried 1 other beer/he will talk to you about technical details and not your preferences… I know that sometimes the people behind the bar know nothing, I know that you want the reassurance of something that other customers are enjoying because that means its fresh and cool- but have you any idea how f***ing insulting that is to my cellar management? We keep 8 handpumps because we sell enough beer to make that worthwhile and maybe, just maybe, you should give us the benefit of the doubt (and well over a decade of good beer guide entries as basic research) to think that each of the beers is in basically good condition so you can then ask for a recommendation/tasters from someone who has had the training and experience of working behind the bar.
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!
Another year another CAMRA beer festival
A somewhat rearranged and controversial affair this year, it was at least blessed with some sunshine.
For me though it was mostly a reminder that I am older and more broken than I once was.
It seems rather frighteningly that I have been volunteering at this festival for almost ten years. I have done my time at the bar, sat behind membership and at products (kind of a CAMRA gift stall that also does soft drinks); I have run backwards and forwards on traditional pub games, shouting and hustling for all I was worth; I have hefted scaffolding, built bars and lugged firkins; I have worked for a number of years on the cellar team and for plenty of that time I have also worked at the pub.
Double shifts are exhausting.
Somehow every year I forget just how exhausting.
The last couple of years have really taken their toll on me. The new type of breakdown and subsequent anti-depressants reduced the amount of exercise I was taking and helped me pile on the weight [In the c. 4 months I took Mirtazapine I put on over a stone & the same in the 6 months I took prozac before that]. Worse, the last 2 and a half (plus) years of shoulder pain and 9 months of knee issues have left me constantly exhausted and unable to do a fair number of my normal activities.
Some days I notice how much movement, strength and energy I have lost.
Physically and Mentally.
On a related but very different note – I think I get more pissed off every year at the self-righteousness of CAMRA members and volunteers about how much better They could run the festival.
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!
Right Where Am I?
Sorry I have been afk for a bit due to the time and energy constraints of our local beer festival. However, I think I have regained a semblance of whatever it is that passes for normality in my daily life. That is I have removed the swathes of mud from our houses and started trying to catch up on my laundry mountain, we are also beginning to settle back into a weekly routine and I have opened up my thesis for the first time in nearly two weeks…
For someone who prides themself on their flexibility and ability to be accommodating and who consistently fails to adhere to any personal daily routine I have discovered that my mental and physical well-being is somewhat dependent on some stability.
By which I mean that I quickly become physically and mentally exhausted by trying to keep up with unusual circumstances. I know that working long hours and seeing more people than usual has contributed to my sense of being overwhelmed and fatigued; but I also know that the stress of not getting regular alone time with my loved ones and of household chores and thesis-writing building up while I was otherwise occupied has left me drained.
I am also extra tired out by my continued inability to walk properly, squat or kneel for more than 30 secs or stand for any length of time. The physiotherapist has given me a series of exercises and the threat of an onward referral should the knee have failed to improve by my next visit. I would love to tell you that this spate of exercises for my knee has inspired a renewed vigour in doing my shoulder exercises but sadly that would be a lie – I have yet to successfully incorporate that into a daily routine.
However, as commented above steps towards normality have resumed and most of all I am able to get more sleep/more time in bed each day and more time loving and being loved.
Coming soon: A rundown on the wonderful world of mud and beer; commentary on a variety of medical delights; and Rain and my Garden…
Another Sunday another drinking session..
This week we learnt about Guyana and demerera rum.
I have developed even more of a longing to go to South America – and guyana: rum, cricket, pretty girls..what’s not to like? Sometimes I wish I had any talent with taste mixing or the balls to work as spirit rep.
El Dorado is an interesting distillery and its own rum has a pleasing amount of variety (ask the rep Steph about the variety of stills they have for making the different age signatures) and depth. I think I will always consider it a little sweet for my taste, although perhaps that is more to do with the fact my heart still belongs to whisky than a critique of the rum. Sorry folks, my mental tasting notes are pretty slim on these ones.. I can tell you that the 3 year-old (which is a white) is surprisingly complex and doesn’t burn the throat; and that the 8 and the 15 both have a distinctive vanilla and coffee warmth.
In other news, next month it will be my turn. I will be giving a talk on ale. At the moment I am trying to draw up a list of must-trys and would-like-to-show-off beers. (any suggestions?) In part it is a matter of working out how much beer non-specialists will drink and what expectations they might have … It is also a matter of trying to work out what free stuff I can get my hands on.
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.
- 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