Showing posts with label britain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label britain. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Pub

Pubs. It is fair to say that I love the places.

There are few places in the world I would rather spend an entire day in, tucked up in a dark corner, or sat at the end of the bar, preferably with my back to a wall so I can glance up from my book or newspaper from time to time and simply people watch. My mind wanders back to Mrs V and I's trip to Oxford in 2008, I spent inordinate amounts of time in the city's pubs while she was at a conference. In one day sat in Far From the Madding Crowd (a more perfect name for my kind of pub simply doesn't exist) I read about 80% of the Iain Banks book I had bought in a bookstore just minutes before opening time.

A few months later and Mrs V and I were again on our travels, this time to Ireland to visit Tale of the Ale's Reuben and wife, though in his pre-Tale days. Sadly the pub in which we sat and watched Ireland play New Zealand in the rugby is no longer in business as far as I know. Sheridan's On The Docks was everything you could possibly want from an Irish pub, a peat fire, an excellent selection of beer, including the delightful Galway Hooker, and it was there that I had my first Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. In many ways it was like being in your own living room, with the benefit of a bar.

On our various travels, whether it be Berlin, Paris, Columbia or Charlottesville, Mrs V and I have found pubs in which to spend time and just relax over pints. I am convinced that regardless of whether a country has a vibrant, overwhelming beer culture or just a few major brands doing nothing weird and wonderful, pubs are almost universally the kind of places I like to be in.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Random Thoughts

I followed Twitter yesterday with an unaccustomed intensity, waiting for the first person to tweet about the Barclay's London Dark Lager - the last I heard, it was unlikely to be on during the first day, and would likely make an appearance today.

When it was announced that the Champion Beer of Britain was Mighty Oak's Oscar Wilde, I thought for a moment that the hashtag for the festival was about to go into meltdown. In amongst the congratulations to the brewers was a swathe of criticism, howling that a 3.7% mild ale could in no way be the best beer made in Britain. Very few of the comments about the chosen winner actually commented on the flavour profile of the beer, preferring to stand aghast that a beer of such a low abv could possibly be the best British cask ale at the Great British Beer Festival - it was almost as though Ratebeer had a collective hissy fit.

The problem with any form of competition is that it is, in reality, the subjective judgment of a panel of judges, who we can only hope have a depth of beer knowledge and a good palate. I am not entirely innocent when it comes to be shocked at some of the beers that win awards, but I try to remind myself that competitions can only judge what is in front of them.

Pondering all this over a dinner of bangers and mash, I was reminded of a passage in Bill Bryson's magnificent valedictory to Blighty, "Notes from a Small Island" about how Brits approach food:

"the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why, I suppose, so many of their treats - teacakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsburys - are so cautiously flavourful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly".

Having never had anything from Mighty Oak, I am not in a position to say whether or not it was the best beer at the Great British Beer Festival. Given though that some of my favourite British brewers are at the festival, Fuller's, Everard's and the Durham Brewery for starters, I can only assume that Oscar Wilde is a damned fine beer, regardless of style.

I can understand people's frustration that the Great British Beer Festival doesn't have the likes of Lovibond's  and Meantime showcasing their superb beers to the public, but as I mentioned in a post a while back, the Great British Beer Festival is CAMRA's game and they can make the rules however they see fit.

However, it is clear that there is a market for a new national beer festival, one which embraces all of the beer made in Britain and Ireland, perhaps one that isn't tied to a given location every year? You could even call it the Festival of British and Irish Beer, one year in Birmingham, the next, Dublin, the third Glasgow and then on to Cardiff, travelling around the major cities of Britain and Ireland celebrating the national drink in all it's glory. Perhaps it could even take a leaf out of the Great American Beer Festival's book and not have any foreign beer whatsoever?

The point is, there is so much great beer being made in Britain and the near constant slanging match between the stalwarts of CAMRA and the acolytes of the new breed of brewers is not doing the industry any favours. Dividing the drinking community into "staid and boring" real ale drinkers and edgy young hipsters supping on craft beer in a bright shiny "bar" just leads to people drinking what they know and not furthering their knowledge of beer in general. Perhaps we all need to wise up and see each other not as enemies, but all on the same side in wanting better beer to be made available to the public.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Simply British

I was planning to write a piece today about being proud of British beer. Indeed, I have twice deleted entire posts because I thought the tone didn't do justice to how I feel about my home, and the beer that comes from those islands on the western edge of Europe. I don't do nationalism, I don't do jingoism, and for me, the SIBA video posted on Pete Brown's blog yesterday is neither of those things. As I said in the comments to that post, it was "a bloody magnficent video".

There are many good things about Britain and being British, not just our beer and breweries. Our sense of fair play, our sense of humour, our love of the simple pleasures in life - and really, what could be simpler, or better, than a pint of best, porter or mild in a comfortable pub?


I am convinced that one of the most insightful books on the British character is Bill Bryson's Notes From A Small Island. Though the context is slightly different, I think this section could well describe British beer as much as anything else:

"And the British are so easy to please. It is the most extraordinary thing. They actually like their pleasures small. That is why so many of their treats - tea cakes, scones, crumpets, rock cakes, rich tea biscuits, fruit Shrewsbury- are so cautiously flavorful. They are the only people in the world who think of jam and currants as thrilling constituents of a pudding or cake. Offer them something genuinely tempting - a slice of gateau or a choice of chocolates from a box - and they will nearly always hesitate and begin to worry that it's unwarranted and excessive, as if any pleasure beyond a very modest threshold is vaguely unseemly.

"Oh, I shouldn't really," they say.

"Oh, go on," you prod encouragingly

"Well, just a small one then," they say and dartingly take a small one, and then get a look as if they have just done something terribly devilish. All this is completely alien to the American mind. To an American the whole purpose of living, the one constant confirmation of continued existence, is to cram as much sensual pleasure as possible into one's mouth more or less continuously. Gratification, instant and lavish, is a birthright. You may well say "Oh, I shouldn't really" if someone tells you to take a deep breath.

I used to be puzzled by the curious attitude of the British to pleasure, and that tireless, dogged optimism of theirs that allowed them to attach an upbeat turn of phrase to the direst inadequacies - "Mustn't grumble," "It makes a change," "You could do worse," "It's not much, but it's cheap and cheerful," "Well, it was quite nice" - but gradually I came around to their way of thinking and my life has never been happier."


Thinking about Monday's post, perhaps I will soak some fruit in stout and make rock cakes at the weekend.

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