More thoughts on Beer

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.



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!

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?

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

International Stout Day

Why have I only just found out about this? (Info)

It seems to primarily be an American invention; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be embracing it in the UK too. CAMRA has ‘Mild in May’ and ‘Cider and perry Month’ in October so surely we can get behind a day dedicated to the dark side.

More on some of my favourite stouts when I don’t have to be behind the bar…

Beer is Boring.

Or rather more specifically there is an awful lot of boring beer and sometimes its very difficult not to write off a beer as a generic middle-of-the-road mid-golden lightly hopped non-entity.
The problem probably does not lie with the brewers in this instance but rather with me – not only am I easily bored but I try a lot of beer on a regular basis without a ‘trained’ palate sifting through complexities and nuances which might rescue many a pint. It is hard to get excited about even quite a good beer when you expect no less – what might make me exceedingly happy in a real ale desert barely registers as it passes the pumps in front of me.
In the end I only remember the dreadful, the fantastic and the weird – be that the daft name or the ‘concept’ beer – so I’d like to apologise to all those brewers out there working their socks off who get no more than a shrug for the beer I am pouring.

On the other hand… here are some of the beers that have caught my attention recently

  • Purple Moose: Ysagwen 4% (elderflower beer)
  • Binghams: Old Ale 4.5% – not tried yet
  • Saltaire: Stateside IPA 6% – not tried yet
  • Revolution: Scream 4.5% (Red Ale) -Not tried yet
  • Arbor: Breakfast Stout 7.4% (oats and coffee) – more please!
  • Dark Star: Saison 4.5% (Belgian Saison style)
  • Roosters: Juniper IPA 5%
  • St Austell: Proper Black 5% – not tried yet

yum yum

Sycophancy & Punk Folk

Apologies for the gap in updates. I have been mostly writing business plans, of which maybe more later. Also I realised that Thursday’s post didn’t publish properly – sorted now.

First, tales of debauchery and cleaning.

Went to a gig last night. First time in ages. I was kind of bullied into going by a friend who is a sound engineer who was also promoting the gig as the first line-up he was totally responsible for. As you might guess from the title it was a folk-punk extravaganza in which the bands quite clearly drank more than most of the punters and the music was loud and stompy. I managed a little bit of dancing without collapsing and generally enjoyed myself. Quite a few of the pub crowd went down and made a general ruckus so I didn’t feel too nervous and of course it helped to have B there. He does love going to gigs and it isn’t something we really do together which is a little sad for him I think, that said it is hard for us to go out as a couple except in either ‘safe’ company or else away from where people know my wife. But I am not going to descend into a whinge about the trials of non-traditional partnerships -we had lots of fun.

And I rather felt I had earnt it. Having spent a large amount of friday and saturday morning giving the pub a bit of a spring-clean and knowing it wouldn’t be appreciated it was good to let off steam. At this time of year local CAMRA choose their Pub of the Year (POTY) and it would be nice to create a good impression for a change. We haven’t won in…about 9 or 10 years despite being somewhere that many members and parts of the committee regularly drink. Their excuse is that our toilets need some attention (which is true) but their reason is that we don’t do food and we don’t do them favours. So anyway, and since it needs doing, I scrubbed the toilets. Not just in a cleaning the loo/urinals sort of way (that gets done at least everyday of course) and not even just wiping down the walls (I do that regularly too) but a scrubbing brush to every corner I could find. I don’t think anyone even noticed. sigh.

It would be rather nice for people to notice the effort we put in to keeping the pub running but I think it might be a losing battle, poor kitten – she does try so hard to be nice to them.

Lucky Me

I am going to start with a gripe.
My shoulder really really hurts – as does my wrist. Does anyone know if alcohol has an effect on joint pain?
But I have had a good weekend.
Friday was rubbish, not through anyone’s fault (although the crazy lady hitting on all the people in the bar – my beloveds included- didn’t help) but just simply because my head took a dive into ‘useless me’ mode and I jumped at every sound and cried a lot.

So Saturday morning was a bit of a struggle and an effort to push through the mental barrier but I got out there and went and joined Kitten and a troupe of CAMRA members on a pub crawl. I was mostly there to boost numbers, be morally supportive and round people up as they needed a bit of chivvy and chat from a local. I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.
But after a last minute change-of-plan W & B were able to join me and we went to a couple of places I wouldn’t normally go – which was good for market research purposes – plus I didn’t struggle too much to talk to people I would normally avoid. So beer had and a pleasant time as well.

But today… today was awesome.
I got up to go to work, leaving a warm bed and warmer wife I might add, only to discover that I had completely misunderstood the rota reshuffle and I wasn’t working at all. After the initial annoyance at being awake when I didn’t need to be I took the plunge and rung my wife to get her to join B & I for a day out. With no advance planning we hopped on a train and hopped off one stop later.
First stop was a local church-yard and burial ground. Since we live in a town it was so nice to amble quietly amongst the graves and listen to nothing but the birdsong. We sat and debated the pros and cons of the stream by the bench before heading for lunch. Since B only knew of 1 pub in the village it was our first stop; the beer was in good condition but the football was on and there was no food so we began to wander. We did not have much success – ok so we found a waitrose (posh supermarket) and at least 3 buffet curry houses but that wasn’t quite what we had in mind. With some reluctance we headed back towards the station only to spot a distant pub sign luring us off our path.
What a gem.
Ok I admit the pub wouldn’t have been to everybody’s taste. It was covered in scaffolding, the interior was dated and a bit ragged as were some of the customers, all of whom had a distinctly chavvish air. But the staff and regulars were friendly and welcoming, the beer was a local one which I am fond of (the brewer is quite nice too) and well kept and the sunday roast was generous for the money and tasty. The loos were clean, as were the floors and the juke box was entertaining.
All in all unpretentious and comfortable.
So after lunch we headed back to town and to our favourite cocktail bar for the only part of the day we had planned: a tikki evening for the bar’s drinking club. Pay the entry fee and try a number of rum-based cocktails plus learn a little history about the drinks and their inventors. We indulged ourselves happily before heading home for the comforts of our sofas.

By the end of the day the two people I love most in the world were smiling – you just can’t ask for any more.
Sometimes its hard being me.