Showing posts with label half formed rants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label half formed rants. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my window of imbibing is open from about midday on Friday until Sunday evening. 

Said general rule has actually been part of my life since my early days living, and teaching English, in Prague. For most of my TEFL career I had lessons at 7am during the week, and as I was teaching people at their place of work, I felt it was bad form to turn up worse the wear for drink, a scruple that wasn't shared by many fellow teachers who would turn up to lessons pissed, or not turn up at all.

During the period of "the holidays" the rule becomes more flexible. I can't imagine Thanksgiving without cracking my first beer before the sun is over the yardarm. There is also this pandemic thing ongoing, so many a weeknight in 2020 saw a couple of litres of beer imbibed either side of the twins going to bed. Dry January is a reset more than anything else, and when you think of it that way, it becomes a 10 day beer fast rather than 31. If you can't stay off the booze for 10 days then you might have to acknowledge you have a problem.

As of right now, I really have no idea what the first beer of the year is going to be. I am fairly sure it will be had at Kardinal Hall, sat outside in their beer garden, suitably bundled for the anticipated low 50s Fahrenheit (9ish in sensible Celsius). What will be in the glass though...if the Rothaus is still on then it it is pretty much decided. You're shocked aren't you?

One of the recurring thoughts I have had during the month is just how little "local" beer I drank last year, and by "local" I mean brewed within 30 miles of my house. I can already hear the acolytes lining up to berate me for not supporting my local breweries, especially given we are in a pandemic and things are hard. Thing is, there is not a single brewery in that 30 mile radius around my house that I am aware of that makes a good desítka, dvanáctka, helles, dunkel, or even a best bitter, as part of their core range, if I am wrong please let me know.

(update: oops, I completely forgot about Champion Brewing's very respectable Shower Beer, d'oh!)

As such my money goes to breweries like Port City, Von Trapp, Olde Mecklenburg, or more recently Schilling. Even then, I am not getting a best bitter into the bargain, but I am happy to sate myself on these breweries' superb lagers. Sorry to be a truculent curmudgeon, but I am not about to start drinking an endless stream of identikit IPAs that I won't enjoy, and to be honest are likely as boring as the next IPA.

Support is a two way street.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Changing the Conversation - Parents in Pubs

According to some folks I had a misspent childhood.

There are many Sunday afternoons in memory where my little brother and I were at the Sergeants' Mess bar with my mum, dad, and assorted other military families. We would be given a stack of 10p pieces, the old big ones that often had a two shilling coin mixed in, and summarily told to fuck off and play pool while the adults sat around drinking. If the noise of a group of kids got too loud, within moments there would be one of the collected kids' parents, invariably actually one of the dads, on their way to tell us to pipe down.

My dad had an equally misspent childhood in London, and often regales anyone that is listening with stories of being sat outside the pub, given a glass of orange juice and an arrowroot biscuit to keep him company.

My twin sons are continuing that tradition, we first took them to the pub when they were 10 days old, they slept the entire time. Now they are toddlers they are learning to sit at a table, drink their milk or water (juice and soda for kids can fuck off in our world), and colour in their books. Growing up around alcohol and the people drinking it is just plain normal.

When I was back in central Europe in October, basically every pub I went to had families sitting at tables together, parents with half litres in hand, and kids engaged as part of the group and the occasion, and more than once given a sneaky sup of booze. Growing up around alcohol and the people drinking it is just plain normal.

As a result of the recent article in Pellicle on the theme of kids in pubs, these thoughts and memories came flooding back. The article is well worth the read, though in my opinion it is really more about women in pubs than children as no-one seems to be addressing the idea that fathers take their kids to the boozer with them. Likewise I am not going touch that aspect here, mainly because as a father to toddlers I know from experience that even taking them to the park by myself can be a challenge. The boys will have to wait a couple more years before the three of us head to the pub sans Mrs V.

Several of the commentaries I have read as a result of the original article take the approach that kids in pubs are a "bad thing" and that the norm for "family-friendly pubs" is basically Lord of the Flies. From a purely anecdotal level, as that is the only level possible in a beer blog unless I plan to document pub life with pictures, dates, and times (I have no such ambition, or the time to do so), is that the vast majority of kids in pubs are supervised and reasonably well behaved. Of course, if your expectation of kids is that they should be seen and not heard then you are ripe for disappointment, and frankly that is your own problem.

What I did decide to do though was to take a look at the history of children and the pub, and one of the first things to pop up was this cartoon.


As you can see, the picture purports to show the scene at a London pub at 9 PM, and right there front and centre are children. To the left I see a toddler and probably an older sibling, getting a jug of ale, the toddler may be about to have a meltdown and is being taken away. To the right a mother, I assume, is holding the hand of another toddler. Stood at the bar is at least one woman holding a baby. The picture was first published in The Evening Chronicle in 1858.

Kids in pubs is not some kind of new alternative lifestyle being pushed by the politically correct hordes intent on destroying western civilisation as we know it. For as long as pubs have been regarded as community assets the community has taken its kids to the pub with them. Growing up around alcohol and the people drinking it is just plain normal. A little further evidence for this is the poll I decided to run on Twitter:

From more than 300 responses to the poll, 58% of respondents' parents took them to the pub as children. What then is going on?

The problem here, in my unhumble opinion, is that we are focusing far too narrowly on children in pubs. Kids that misbehave in pubs are in all likelihood the kind of children who misbehave in other public spaces such as on the high street and in the shops. In reality the issue here is one of parenting, of which the child's behaviour in public is a symptom not the disease itself. Parents that take their kids to a public space and then let them run wild to the detriment of others using the space are the problem.

What then, to paraphrase Lenin, is to be done? The knee jerk reaction is to ban children from all pubs and create a generation that have no idea how to behave in the pub, have no positive impressions of life around alcohol, and are thus more likely to view booze and boozing as illicit and ripe for misuse. Not being a fan of bans in general, even ones, like the smoking ban, that don't impact me personally, landlords should have the freedom to set the rules for behaviour in their own pub, whether that is no kids after a certain time of day, making plain that families breaching said rules will be asked to leave the premises, or having a separate "quiet lounge" so that those who just want a pint can enjoy the space without being triggered by the presence of small humans.

Such is the nature of our society, seemingly on both sides of the Pond, that no one solution will make everyone happy. Some will cry out "why should I go to a different part of the pub?" if the landlord creates a quiet lounge, others will go running to the local tabloid with stories of the mean landlord kicking them out because their kids are high on sugar and the sheer bliss of being ignored by parents. Of course there is the old refrain from pre-smoking ban days that if you don't like smoky pubs just don't go, the same could be argued for pubs with kids in them, if you don't like it, go some place else.

Kids will always be in pubs, it's just part and parcel of being a community, but they also need to be given the tools and space to learn how to behave when they are there, and that is the responsibility of the parents. It is on the parents to make sure their children are behaving in a manner that respects the public nature of the space they are in. So let's stop raising the straw man of children in pubs and focus on the core issue, parents control your children.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Lager Doesn't Need You

Oh FFS, it's 2019, why does craft beer still feel the need to come out with this level of shite...?



So Stone Brewing, fresh from failing to revolutionise the German brewing scene with their, now sold on to Brewdog, Berlin operation, have decided that lagers "deserve flavor too"? How fucking gracious of them.

I wonder at times if there is a mine that delivers endless piles of marketing bullshit to breweries to simply reinforce the fallacy that seems common among certain sectors of the beer world that somehow lager is flavourless fizzy water (which is kind of ironic considering the nascent popularity of the "hard seltzer").

That lager is still used as shorthand for bland beer is sadly typical for for too many in the craft beer world, especially among the types that think everything needs a boatload of New World hops, or have the world "India" somewhere in its moniker.

I enjoyed a glorious lager last night, 8.3% abv, wonderfully dark, and brewed with only malt, hops, yeast, water, and nothing else. It was Olde Mecklenburg's Fat Boy Baltic Porter and it went with my wife's homemade apple pie an absolute treat. Most of my drinking since I got back from Scotland has been Sierra Nevada's Oktoberfest collaboration with Bitburger, again a wonderful example of the lager arts.

Anyway, back to the original tweet from Stone, and to riff on their style of marketing, lager doesn't you to add flavour, perhaps you need to learn to appreciate the flavours and aromas of classic central European lagers. So give it a rest with the lager bashing, both obvious and insidious, and own the fact that the bottom fermented family of beer is as interesting and varied as its top fermented cousin.

Monday, April 29, 2019

For The Love of Lager

I am a Lagerboy, plain, simple, and proud of the fact.

Sure there are top fermented beer styles that I love as well, but nothing is as satisfying as a pint of well made pale lager. The crackery, bready, malt, the snap and floral bouquet of noble hops, the lingering finish, clean, crisp, and almost daring you to try and stop drinking. Perhaps a dark lager could compete however, adding some toasty, smoothly roasty notes into the mix, hopefully with some of that Munich sweetness that is beyond even the finest crystal malts in the deftest of hands.


I have written before about how in this part of Virginia we are somewhat spoilt for choice when it comes to locally brewed lagers. South Street in the heart of Charlottesville have probably the single most regular beer I drink, My Personal Helles, which in my mind is pretty much the archetype for a good helles in my world. Devils Backbone's Schwartzbier is a staple during the colder months, and if I am honest I doubt there is a better example of the schwarzbier on the planet - a bold claim I know.


However, I have a gripe, for some reason the beer distributors in this part of Virginia have decreed that craft lager from breweries such as Port City and Troegs will not be available on the shelves. When Mrs V and I go to do our weekly shop at the local Wegmans it appears that the entire Port City lineup is there. If you fancy their magnificent Porter, you will be happy. If their delightful witbier is your thing, not a problem. Want one of their IPAs, bob's your uncle. Hankering for the deliriously wonderful Downright Pilsner.....yeah, fuck you, not a chance.


I can tell the same story about Troegs. Fans of hoppy beers of varying degrees of India-ness are more than catered for, people that know Sunshine Pils is one of the best pale lagers being made anywhere on planet earth, let alone the east coast of the USA, can once again fuck off in the minds of the beer distributors and retailers of central Virginia.

I have asked time after time at store after store in the area for them to stock both of these delights, but their absence continues to stand out like a sore thumb, more galling for the fact that just a couple of hours drive away in Warrenton, gateway to the gridlock that is Northern Virginia, the Wegmans stocks both Downright and Sunshine. So what gives?

I assume the same distributor handles Port City Optimal Wit as Port City Porter (though with the fucked up nature of distribution rights and the asinine politics of beer distribution who knows if that is actually true), so why have they taken the unilateral decision to deny the drinkers of central Virginia a world class Czech style pale lager? I likewise assume the guys filling the Charlottesville Wegmans shelves with Troegs' IPA have the ability to add a little Sunshine to our lives, but choose not to.

Can anyone explain?

Friday, March 15, 2019

For the 1%

Last night I was about to send out a tweet to the effect that the six pack of Anchor Porter I was starting on was likely to be my last beer from that most august of craft breweries, and that fact actually made me sad. I really like Anchor beers, and they are not that easy to come by for some reason in this part of Virginia, so when I go to South Carolina I make sure to get a six pack of either their Porter or Liberty Ale.

The reason I was on the verge of a one man boycott was the way management were stifling attempts of Anchor workers to unionise and use the power of collective bargaining to improve salary and conditions. To make sure I had my fact straight, I made sure to check on the old interwebs for stories about the situation, to be presented with news that the workers had successfully voted to unionise. Naturally I was very pleased, and assuming Anchor's management does nothing to punish or interfere with the workers' rights to be in a union I will continue drinking Anchor with a clean conscience.

However, this got me thinking about how few craft brewery workers actually have union representation at their place of employment, and also the generally poor levels of remuneration and benefits for what is a dangerous job. Based on a survey of salary and benefits done by Jeff at Beervana, it is very rare for a head brewer/brewmaster to earn north of $48,000 - which equates to £36,200 or €42,385. Jeff goes into much more detail here, and it is worth checking out his analysis, and subsequent posts.

Given a median individual income in the US of $31,000, it would appear at face value that brewmasters are doing ok, earning 54% more than median, but let's take a moment to step away from the folks at the top end of the brewing totem pole. According to Jeff's analysis, a lead brewer is earning $38,000 per annum, still above the national median, but pretty much on par with the median in Virginia.Once you get to the bottom rungs of the brewing ladder, you dip just below the median salary.

And yet, according to the Brewers Association, the craft beer market in 2017 was worth $26 billion, that's $26,000,000,000 (US billions being smaller than European billions, much like standard beer serving sizes). That $26 billion is in retail dollars, so let's remind ourselves of this breakdown of the costs of a six pack of beer.


According to this infographic, 52% of the cost of the six pack is markup from the middle men that come between me and my beer, distributors and retailers. So using that number as a guide, the production value of the craft beer industry is about $12.5 billion. The most shocking part of that breakdown though is the cost of labour, just 1% of the cost of your 6 pack is the hours the brewers spent making that beer. Risking physical injury and even death in the event of a tragedy, to earn a single percent of the pie, the same single percent of the pie as the yeast gets.

Perhaps it is the left wing blood that flows through my veins, being the grandson of a leader in the National Unemployed Workers' Movement in Scotland that lead hunger marches in the 1930s, but so little regard for the value of the workers making a company's beer sickens me. That may explain why when I hear stories of breweries that victimise workers for having the temerity to stand up to management and demand better working conditions (and some breweries I have seen the insides of are death traps) and better pay I will always stand in solidarity with the working brewers and thus not drink that brewery's products until workers are free to unionise.

In the meantime, cheers to the workers at Anchor Brewing!

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Try Offering Dry

A friend on Facebook posted this interesting little article in the Morning Advertiser today, which basically states that Dry January will "be the death" of the British pub.

The article goes on to state that 5 million British drinkers have signed up for the "official" Dry January project run by those tireless, puritanical, temperance folks of Alcohol Concern. The number of people completing the challenge in previous years is not mentioned. If my own observations of friends who, like me, attempt to take 31 days off the bevvy can be extrapolated out, I would not be surprised if fewer than 2 million people actually succeed.

I have mentioned in previous posts that I have little truck with either the official Dry January brigade or the plucky rebellious sorts advocating for Tryanuary, which encourages folks to break out from their normal drinking, preferably at some craft beer, leave your wallet with the barman, type place.

Now forgive me I am being cynical but could someone please just decide what exactly it is that is killing the British pub? Is it the smoking ban? Brexit? Climate change? It seems at times that anything that diverges from the image of Blighty as basically The Shire writ large is the greatest harbinger of doom for the pub industry.

Now forgive me if as a mere punter I am missing something, but haven't we just had the Christmas and Hogmanay period, when pubs are slammed to the gunwales pretty much for the entirety of December? Why was no one complaining that all these people out on the piss were putting too much money in the boozers' coffers?

It seems to me that rather than whining to the media about how a dip in custom is affecting their business's profitability, landlords would be better served taking on board the ethos of Tryanuary and give the Dry January folks an actual alternative to booze. I know too many places that only have some crap like lime soda as a non booze option.


How about offering traditionally made soft drinks, ditching the post-mix swill from Pepsi or Coke, like those made by Dalston's or Lovely Soft Drinks? Thankfully here in central Virginia most of my favourite places to drink also make their own ginger beer, and in the case of Three Notch'd it's bloody delicious.

Running a business means adapting to market forces and the capricious whimsy of the consumer, pubs are no different.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Faux Boozers for the Instagram Generation

This may come as something of a surprise, but I really don't mind folks who don't drink, horses for courses and all that jazz. I have even been known to go on extended booze free stints, beyond my annual January break - for the record, I find advocates  for both "Dryanuary" and "Tryanuary" tedious and smug in equal measure - if I fancy a break from the booze it is none of their business, in support or otherwise.

One thing though that is really guaranteed to get my goat is people who claim their don't go to the pub because of some particular thing, and if that thing wasn't there, they would go. Take smoking for example, now I am not, never have been, and never will be, a smoker, but I think the smoking ban is a piece of officious nonsense handed down from a government pandering to puritans. If we believe in the free market, then businesses should have been free to decide if they wanted to ban smoking in their establishments, or to introduce a smoking room. There are solutions that don't require total bans, though campaigners are rarely likely to opt for sensible compromise in this extremist day and age. From a purely anecdotal standpoint, many of the people I know who said they would go to the pub more if smoking were not allowed don't actually go to the pub any more than they used to. I should also point out that I don't hanker for the days of having to air out my coat from an open window after a night in a smoky pub, but I think the ban is heavy handed and a contributing factor to the crisis of the pub trade.

Anyway, this morning on Twitter The Pub Curmudgeon tweeted a article from the Morning Advertiser about people looking for a booze free pub like environment. I find myself asking the question, what is the point of having a "pub" that doesn't serve alcohol? After all, the dictionary definition of a pub is:
a building with a bar and one or more public rooms licensed for the sale and consumption of alcoholic drink, often also providing light meals
The English language does have several perfectly good words, and the occasional one nicked from French, for places that sell non-intoxicating drinks, and maybe even light meals, but for which a license to sell booze is not required, here is a select sample:
  • teashop
  • tearoom
  • coffee shop
  • coffeehouse (though somewhat sketchy places in the 18th century, what with the political intrigue and gambling that went on)
  • café (I guess for those cosmopolitan types for whom a solid English word isn't good enough)
For the non-drinker there are plenty of options of places to go, is it the pub's fault that they don't stay open until 11pm? Is it the pub's fault that they don't have an atmosphere to rival the local boozer on a Friday night? Nope, and so the pub need not be impacted because people who have no desire to do what happens in pubs by virtue of them being pubs want to go elsewhere.

Rather than lobbying pub owners to make spaces more appealing to them, how about frequenting the types of places already available and advocate for them to open later, have a broader range of drinks suitable for non-drinkers, and encourage a kind of pub like atmosphere to make them slightly less joyless holes of puritanical face pinching?

Coming back to the original Morning Advertiser article, I think this quote from perhaps the most puritanically named sober bar imaginable is very telling:
"Young people don't want to get drunk anymore...They care about how they look on Instagram"

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Question of Locality

Everyone and his mate, it seems, loves to bang on about "local beer", even though as I have written before the whole concept of "local" beer is fraught with problems:
"so often the ingredients being used by "local breweries" are anything but local. Malts come from Canada, the UK, Belgium and sometimes Germany, hops likewise come from a raft of countries, including the latest craze for Antipodean hops. Yeast is sourced from multinational companies with libraries of strains again spanning the globe. Want to brew a witbier? No problem, order a Belgian yeast specifically for use in witbiers, use the Weihenstephan strain for making a German hefeweizen, Nottingham for an English ale, or even Prague's Staropramen for making that Bohemian pilsner you've been dreaming about.

That pretty much leaves the water as the only genuinely local element of a beer, but how many breweries strip their water of all the minerals and salts which make regional water a driving force in the history of developing beer styles and then add back the required minerals for a particular style? Imagine London and Dublin had soft water instead of hard, porter and it's offspring, stout, would likely be very different beers."
That may sound like a strange comment to make given that I am someone that drinks far more beer from the area in which I live than stuff brought in from the wider world. It just so happens that I live in a part of Virginia with plenty of good breweries. If my choices were a third rate local craft brewery and buying Sam Adams in the store, I'd be on the Sam Adams all day long. Drinking local only really works when the drinking is a pleasurable experience rather than an industry induced guilt trip. In all the industry's posturing and waffle about supporting and drinking local (and no doubt some people will say that you should drink local shit so the brewery has funds to improve, as if shiny toys make better beer for a brewer with no sense of taste), it feels as though the locals themselves get forgotten about.

Can a brewery for example truly call itself "local" if it relies on daytrippers and tourists for a large bulk of its revenue, or if the price of a pint excludes its nearest neighbours from being able to drink there? There was a story I read recently about a brewery owner looking for a new location because the expected gentrification of the neighbourhood in which he pitched his tent didn't happen and his target audience didn't feel safe enough to visit his brewery. Now, call me a miserable git, but if you expect your audience to take their lives in their own hands and come to a rough neighbourhood for a bevvy while you wait for potential gentrification then you deserve to go under. If you want "nice" people to come and drop $6+ for a 16oz pint of whatever you are selling then work that into your business plan and go to areas they frequent.

How exactly the presence of a new brewery in a rough neighbourhood benefits that neighbourhood often escapes me. Job creation is often lauded as being a benefit, but then the people that fill the jobs being created are often likewise bussed in from outisde the neighbourhood. Indirect benefits to other local businesses gets touted too, but as daytripping tourists come in their cars, drink their flight, then leave in their cars, I wonder what other neighbourhood businesses benefit? Unless there is a petrol station to hand.

For millennia beer has been the everyman drink and the pub a social leveller, but there are times when it seems as though craft beer is for white, college educated, middle class folks, and the craft beer bar/brewpub/taproom little more than a ghetto in which white, college educated, middle class folks can feel safe from the marauding hoard that is the working class of their imagination. It's almost as though there is an unspoken code that only acceptable people are worthy of craft beer, as the industry and its attendant hangers on sneer at the great unwashed and decree "let them drink Bud".

Friday, October 7, 2016

Selling Stale

Tomorrow I am planning to do a blind tasting of American made Oktoberfest lagers. I have already gathered 7 examples form across the US. Yesterday I decided to check a bottle shop near my office to see if they had any single bottles available so I could bump my testing up to 10 beers.

Having realised that there was nothing that I didn't already have, I took to looking around and seeing if anything else might take my fancy. Ever since I wrote a post about being in a local gas station that also has a decent selection and noticing out of date beer being sold at full price, I have started check out the 'best before' or 'bottled on' dates to make sure I am not getting stale beer.

The first bottle I picked up and looked at was this from Green Flash...


A best before date of November 2015??? What the actual fuck? Surely a retailer wouldn't try to push this stuff on an unexpecting public at daft prices?


Oh wait, yes they would. That's right folks, this particular Charlottesville, Virginia, bottle shop expects people to pay north of $12 (after tax) for 4 bottles of year out of date beer.

Hoping this would be a one off, I started checking out some of my favourite beers, especially the Fuller's stuff, which while still in date was in the older bottles, so it is coming to the end of its shelf life. Then there was this...


I do like Bengal Lancer as a general rule, and sure I know the history of IPA meant that it travelled in hot conditions for 6 months to get from England to the Sub-continent, but this bottle will be 2 years past it's best before date in just 120 days. Yours for full price.

As you know if you are a regular Fuggled reader, I love the lager family of beers and Firestone Walker Pivo Pils is something that I am always happy to drink. Unless of course it was bottled nearly 8 months ago, and is sat on the shelf of a very warm shop, kind of like this one.


As I was leaving the shop I noticed that they were selling day old bread with a sign informing the customer that the bread wasn't that day's. If only they treated their liquid bread with the same respect.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Price is Too Damned High!!

With the searing heat and humidity of the central Virginia summer finally starting to dissipate, Mrs V, myself, and our friend Dave went for a walk in the Shenandoah National Park on Saturday morning. Before meeting up with Dave we popped to our of our favourite drinking holes for breakfast, and despite the earliness of the day (it had just gone 8am) I had a couple of pints to wash down the tacos with.

Given that all but 2 of the taps were pouring Ballast Point beers it was evident that the pub in question had very recently had a 'tap takeover', or 'illusion of choice' as I now call them. Snide comments aside, my couple of pints were the Longfin Helles and a very delicious beer it was too. I heartily approve of the growing number of helles lagers that seem to be popping up on brewery products lists of late.

There was another reason I plumped for the helles...can you guess what it was from this picture?


Yep, $2.50 for an imperial pint. Call me cheap if you wish, but it was simply too good a price to overlook, 40oz of beer for less than 16oz of some of the other beers on the list, and even a few 10oz options. Sure it helped that the beer was just the kind of thing I like drink, even in the morning.

Looking over the rest of the price list, I couldn't get away from the idea though that the price of a pint of craft beer is getting ridiculous, especially when you compare the price of the Longfin with that of the California K?lsch right above it, $7.50 for 20oz. Given the similarities between the two styles of beer, why would a retailer charge three times as much for an additional 0.7% and 5 IBUs worth of beer?

The kind of beer that normally fills that budget slot in this particular pub is something like PBR or National Bohemian, so perhaps there is a pervasive bias against pale lagers, and by extension pale lager drinkers.

What it really means most likely is that the price of craft beer is too damned high and retailers are gouging their customers left, right, and centre whilst prancing about in artisanal fig leaves.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On #Brexit

It's pretty rare that I deviate from the kind of scheduled programming here on Fuggled, you know the stuff about homebrew, beer, and pubs, to discuss something that is actually important. By 'actually important' I don't mean which overpaid athletes Jürgen Klopp wants to bring to Anfield to rocket Liverpool back to glory, though Mario G?tze would be most welcome. No, today I want to talk about the referendum happening back home in the UK on Thursday to decide whether to stay in the European Union or not.

I am going to say right from the outset that I am a firm believer in the benefits of the EU, and think it would be a monumentally dumb thing if Britain were to walk away. It may sound strange coming from someone who has lived the best part of the last 17 years outside the UK, and the last 7 outside of Europe entirely, but that experience has made me appreciate the burgundy passport with the words 'European Union' embossed on the front more than ever.

When I first moved to the Czech Republic, in 1999, that country was going through the accession process to eventual membership in 2004, and as a foreigner going to work there it was a nightmare getting through the Kafkaesque bureaucracy to get a work permit and visa. Like many EFL teachers intending to stay for a year it was easier to go for day trips to Germany or Poland and have the 3 month tourist visa renewed. I decided though that I wanted to stay for more years and so the work permit became a necessity, one that involved early morning drives to Dresden or Vienna and endless queuing at the old Foreign Police headquarters to get the necessary stamps in passports and documents.

On May 1 2004 that became a distant memory. As an citizen of the European Union in the now member Czech Republic, I had the same rights as my Czech friends and no longer needed a work permit, just proof of employment and hey presto a 10 year residence permit was stamped into my passport. Also there was no more queuing at the new Foreign Police headquarters, getting to stroll past the assembled mass of people from further east looking for a better life, and be seen within half an hour usually. Those magic golden words on the front of my passport meant that I was able to live and work without hassle. I could, had I so wanted, have owned property or started a business without having to deal with the onerous processes inflicted on non-EU people living in the Czech Republic.

That freedom to live and work anywhere in the 28 member nations of the EU is by itself the main reason that if I could vote in the referendum (apparently those of us who have lived abroad for more than 15 years are ineligible to vote on whether our lifestyle can be wrenched away from us) I would vote to remain in the EU. Not a single argument in favour of Brexit holds any water as far as I am concerned, and while I am not an expert (which I guess in the mind of Michael Gove means the British people might actually listen to me), I can't see anything other than economic hardship in the event of leaving, as tariffs and the additional costs of being outside the single market take effect and drive prices up for the consumer, not to mention the complete lack of suitably qualified workers to take the place of immigrant plumbers, nurses, firemen, etc, etc should they decide to move to an EU country and continue enjoying the benefits of the greatest source of European peace since the Pax Romana*.

So please, if I may make a plea to my British readers, don't turn this into a referendum on the Tories or David Cameron for that matter, because it is more important than that. Should Britain decide to leave the EU, the country will still be subject to the rules of the European single market, exports to the EU will still have to meet EU standards. If we want to trade with the EU then we will still have to meet the conditions of the EU, and no we won't be able to have trade deals just with Germany, France, or any other individual country within the single market since trading with a single EU country means trading with all of the EU, it's just how it works.

A vote to remain in the EU is a vote that acknowledges, to steal a line from a previous referendum, that we are 'better together' with our EU partners, and that working together can make life better for all European citizens.

* - this may be slightly hyperbolic but given the history of Europe tearing itself to shreds ad nauseum for the couple of centuries prior to the EU, it is only slightly hyperbolic.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Letting the Side Down?

Mrs V and I are in the middle of training to hike the West Highland Way, a 96 mile long hike through some of the most dramatic countryside in Scotland. The hike starts in Milngavie, just outside Glasgow, and finishes in Fort William.

Almost every weekend at the moment we are out in the Shenandoah National Park hiking up various mountains and getting used to wearing backpacks filled with everything we will need - admittedly we are staying in B&Bs along the way so we don't need to carry a tent and everything else that goes with camping.


Given that we mostly hike in the morning, by the time we are done we both have a hankering for a good pint and thankfully the pubs are open so we'll take a detour to our favourite watering hole in Charlottesville, the Three Notch'd Brewing tasting room and knock back several pints of Bitter 42.

After one particularly grueling hike recently though we just wanted to get home and flake. We still wanted to have a decent beer when we got there though. The fridge being strangely empty and my keg of homebrew stout not being what I fancied in that moment we swung by our local petrol station, that has a pretty good booze selection.


I was hoping that they had Port City's wonderful Downright Pilsner, a beer I have waxed lyrical about on here before. What would be better than pouring half a six pack into my 1 litre glass and sitting on the deck in the spring sun? There, on a high shelf stood a couple of six packs of the beer I wanted, and so I reached for it....and was slightly perturbed that it was covered in dust, clearly it had been there a while. Sure enough, on checking the 'bottled on' date, said six pack of this lovely pilsner was bottled sometime in February, 2015.

Now maybe I am wrong, but a beer that is unfiltered and unpasteurised is not likely to be at its best after at least a year of unrefrigerated existence, regardless of how excellent said beer started life out as. Trust me on this, Downright Pilsner properly cared for and fresh is a pale lager that would give any coming out of the Czech Republic a run for its money. Having pointed out the age of the six pack to the staff in the store, and picked up a 12 pack of Founders All Day Session IPA instead, I went home to relax in the sun, muttering, ruminating, and wondering why this kind of experience is sadly not rare - there is a well regarded beer and wine store within yards of my workplace that had Williams Brothers Scottish Session Ale on sale at full price a year past its 'Best Before' date. Ultimately I guess the joke was on me because when I got home I noticed that the All Day Session IPA I had paid full price for was 8 months old....sigh.

It's possible that the kind of beers that I like to drink shift slower than the endless rafts of indeterminate IPAs and so linger longer on the shelves, but shouldn't retailers and distributors be keeping a closer eye on their stock? This is especially important because if someone were to wander into the very same petrol station and by a full priced six pack of sub-prime Downright Pilsner it is not the retailer that will suffer, or the distributor, but the reputation of the brewery will be shot with that consumer, who will likely tell more friends of their negative experience than they would of a positive one.

How many people are being turned off excellent examples of classic beers because of shoddy stock management practices? How many distributors actually care enough about the products they place on the shelves to pull any that are past the 6 months since bottling point? Oh and why are there massive fridges in stores stocked to the gunwales with pasterurised, canned, macro lager that is unlikely to go off any time soon?

While I fully agree with the idea of caveat emptor, I also think that retailers need to sort their shit out when it comes to stock control and start discounting beer that is past its prime, if not pull it completely. A store wouldn't do this with cheese, bread, vegetables, meat, or any of the other essentials of life, so why do it with beer?

A few weeks later I was back in the same petrol station and Downright was still there, still unrefigerated, still over a year old, but the six packs had been dusted, I guess that constitutes 'care'.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Of Vitriol and Bile

The announcement earlier this week that Devils Backbone had agreed to being sold to Anheuser-Busch brought a topic that has been pottering around my head for while now to the fore. While Tandleman noted on my previous post about Twitter being fairly quiet about the deal, other social media outlets have been a veritable cesspool of bile and hatred. Take for example these comments from Devils Backbone's Facebook page:
"Sell out. Won't get a cent from me again."
"You sold out, you sold your soul!"
or even this peach from their Instagram account:
"Just stop posting on social mediaDB. Give that up like you just gave up your souls."
Admittedly those are fairly tame comments, unlike some that I see on Yeungling's Facebook account, for example calling their Traditional Lager 'scab beer', but you get the drift.

The vitriol and abuse that some people feel necessary to hurl at any brewery that has the temerity to do something that they don't agree with just staggers me, especially when it gets ladled up with a healthy dose of nationalist shit about only buying beers made by breweries from their own country. At the same time platitudes abound about beer people being 'good' people, or that 'good people drink good beer', which makes me wonder about people's definition of 'good' in light of torrents of abuse that rain down on occasion.

Now, I understand that people develop deep feelings for the breweries behind the beer they drink, but I think we sometimes stray so far into fandom that it borders on extremist fanaticism. There are even times when the abuse sounds like the kind of stuff you could imagine a craft beer equivalent of Westboro Baptist Church spouting at a funeral, and with just as much vehemence.

To put it simply, this needs to stop, now.

People need to get their heads out of the sand/their arseholes and realise that while beer is great, and we all have breweries we love, craft beer is a business, subject to all the same rules of the capitalist game as any other industry. People like Steve and Jason who have worked tirelessly to build a brewery like Devils Backbone to a point where it is an attractive proposition for bigger breweries should not be victims of such mindless opprobrium, especially not from self-declared 'good' people (as if one's choice of drink is an indicator of one's moral/ethical standing - which fucktard came up with that idea?).

Perhaps the most important thing we all need to do is remember that the drink we all love is just beer. No more, no less. It's not a panacea for the world's ills, it's just beer. It's not a cure for cancer, it's just beer. It's not the solution to climate change, it's just beer.

Yes we love it, but let's not turn it into something to be idolised. Drink it, enjoy, talk about, but respect people that disagree with you, that way we can all get along.

Here endeth the half baked rambling lesson.

Monday, March 21, 2016

For Marketers

I am not sure if fellow bloggers have been suffering from the same rash I have of late, but I wanted to check nonetheless. Said rash usually starts with the words 'I found your blog.....', following by some indiscriminate praise about the awesomeness of one's blog, and then an offer to provide content for said blog. I may have taken a short term view to the rash, and simply applied the topical cream of the delete button in my gmail account, but the damned thing just keeps on coming back, so I figured I'd try to address the problem in a more heads on manner.

If you're not one of my regular readers, but rather some content marketing wonk, or someone offering affiliate marketing opportunities, do me a favour and look thoroughly over the right rail. There are are three elements that could be described as 'ads', one for American Mild Month, one for the Pocket Pub Guide to Prague, which are my own damned projects anyway, and one for Prague Beer Garden, which has been there for ages and was a reciprocal thing for a new site just getting off the ground a few years back, no money or benefits ever changed hands. Otherwise, Fuggled is an advertising free zone, always has been, always will be. I don't do this to try and make money, I am not interested in living off the proceeds of advertising. Also, there are only two types of people whose words will ever get on the pages of this blog, me and people I ask to write a guest post.

So.... please, please, please don't bother emailing me asking if you can provide content for Fuggled, or if I am interested in having your advertising on the site. You can not, and I am not. End of story, Full stop. Simple. Also, if I don't respond to your first email, I am highly unlikely to reply to your second, or third, so stop wasting your time on sending them.

In other news, I enjoyed plenty of good beer this weekend, highlight being my homebrew stout - it's a cracker, so here's a picture!

Monday, October 26, 2015

More Than Lite

Take a quick scan through this list and tell me what each of these beer styles has in common:
  • Schwarzbier
  • American Light
  • Vienna
  • Baltic Porter
  • Pilsner
  • Munich Helles
  • M?rzen
I am sure that if you know your onions, so to speak, when it comes to types of beer then you read that list and got the connection straight off the bat. Still scratching your head? Well ok then, let me put you out of your misery, they are all lager beer styles, as in bottom fermented and then cold conditioned beers.

This tiny little exercise highlights a semantic problem that we have in the independent beer world, the total abuse of the word 'lager' to refer to any pale, adjunct laden, quality control obsessed, beer put out by the large multinational brewers like ABInBev or Carlsberg. All we do when we use the word 'lager' in this way is show a contemptuous disregard for a family of beers that are as diverse, interesting, and worthwhile as their top fermented cousins.

I have written several times before about my love of the lagered arts, but it seems at times as though the use of the term 'lager' as a lazy shorthand for beers being mass produced by multinationals is on the rise, and that bothers me greatly. When I worked in the Starr Hill tasting room, we had a guy come in and ask what 'bocks and doppelbocks' we had on tap and that he didn't 'like lager at all', and that was 'passionate about real beer'. Hmm, well. While being all outward sweetness and light I was thinking 'get the fuck out of my bar you pompous twat' on the inside. I wish I could say that was a very rare occurrence but sadly the level of ignorance about lager is staggering, especially when you consider the hoopla around beer these days.

So let's see an end to this kind of lazy lager language, especially from beer writers, bloggers, and other semi-pro talking heads. Let's highlight lager style beers being made by independent brewers and not dismiss them with nonsense like 'not bad for a lager'. Let's remind breweries that just because they don't have the wherewithal to make lager doesn't mean the fans of lagers are afraid of tasting something. I've said it before, let's have more lagerboy pride.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pale Lager ≠ Pilsner

Is there any word in the beer world more abused and debased that 'pilsner'?

Sure IPA might give it a run for its money, but as anyone with half a brain knows the use of 'IPA' has become an easy shorthand for boring overhopped top fermented beer of whatever colour is the fad of the week.

I seem to come back to this theme time after time because there is still a raft of misinformation, dumbass commentary, and just plain utter ignorance around the pilsner style and what constitutes one. Before launching into what a pilsner actually is, let's remind ourselves of the post I wrote in 2010 on the subject, and I quote:
Pilsner ≠ light beer
Pilsner ≠ Bud/Miller/Coors
Pilsner ≠ over hopped Bud
Pilsner ≠ any old pale lager
To label any of the above as a pilsner is to simply put on show the fact that you don't know what you are talking about. I don't care if you are a BJCP Grand Wizard of the Judging Arts, on any of the levels of Cicerone-dom, or Mr Marketing Bullshit Man who labels a perfectly reasonable helles lager as a 'pils' because you think it will sell better to the public (yay for craft beer being run by passionate brewers not the marketing bods eh?).

Now, I may have mellowed as I get closer to the age at which life traditionally starts, but when it comes to the style of beer that in my opinion is the height of the brewing craft I still have my standards. To call a beer a pilsner for me is to say that it follows as faithfully as possible the brewing standards and methods of the Czech Republic. So that for me means lots of noble hops, at least 30 IBUs worth, proper lagering times, at least 30 days, an ABV between 4.4% and 5.5%, and being brewed without the use of adjuncts.

As I say, I have mellowed, if a brewer doesn't have the equipment to do a decoction mash but still produces a tasty pilsner style beer then that is fine with me, and the German interpretation of the style is one that I greatly enjoy. However, there is still no space for having beers like Bud Light, Miller Lite, or Coors Light to be described as 'pilsners', they are not even close. They are in particular not 'low-grade Pilsners'.

I have no problem with people who don't like a good pint of Pilsner as much as I do, what someone else drinks is entirely up to them and I am not going to deride their beer of choice - I'll leave that to the Craft Beer Wankers (side thought, I am surprised Viz haven't complemented their Real Ale Twats with that idea). All I ask is people get their facts straight, and don't promulgate bullshit.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Welcome to Starbeers

This morning I had a revelation, an epiphany. It was like lightning struck my brain, and yes it hurt. It was a revelation that may explain why I find much of the current hoopla around 'craft beer' so fucking puke inducing, and I am not referring to the abominable habit many an American brewer has for putting silly shit in a beer, pouring it into a firkin, slapping it on the bar, and calling it cask. Today I realised that craft beer, including many of its fans and acolytes, is becoming Starbucks.

Yep, you read that right, the buzz and culture of craft beer is painfully similar to going to a Starbucks and having to use nonsensical terms just to get a fucking cup of coffee, whilst having easy listening muzak inflicted on you in the background, and bubble headed wotsits trying to decide if they want 2 pumps of caramel in their skinny latte or just an extra swirl of wank.

When I think about it more deeply the more I am convinced that is where the whole shebang is headed. Different pour sizes, beyond the usual big/small, pint/half-pint, thing. In the UK it is all thirds, halves, two-thirds, pints, here in the US quite often it is 10oz, 16oz, or 20oz (and yes I know a place that does a 'supersize' 25oz beer!). I look at that and all I see is short, tall, grande, venti, and trenta. God help us if some overly addled bright spark comes up with names for all the different sizes, or we adopt the Aussie approach.

Now think about the craze for putting silly shit into beer, whether to be served turbid and shitty from a firkin or bright and freezing from a keg. It gets to point where it is likely reading a fucking Starbucks menu with stuff like 'salted caramel mocha frappucino', or a 'cinnamon chai tea latte' - what the fuck are you talking about??? Reading some craft beer menus, and I'm looking at you Asheville, gets me all in a state of Bernard Black doing his taxes:



I imagine there are even people who spend the day sitting in craft beer bars, sipping a barrel aged sour pumpkin spice white stout, whilst tapping away on their laptops....

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Session: The Emperor's New Style


This month's Session is being hosted by Natasha from Meta CookBook, and her theme as stated in the announcement is:

For this session, I’m asking my fellow beer bloggers two related qustion questions:

  1. What do you want people in beer culture to be talking about that we’re not?
  2. What do you have to say on the topic(s)?
“Beer” is its own subculture at this point. There’s an expected “look” and expected desires. Beer festivals are everywhere. Beer blogs flourish; indeed at this point there’s reasonable sub categories for them. New breweries are popping up at record pace; the US alone has more than 3,000. Big breweries are getting bigger, some are being purchased, some are saying that’s bullshit.

But we’re still fairly monolithic as a group. And there are a number of problems related to that tendency toward sameness. Not all problems related are personal, for example trademark disputes are becoming more commonplace as we all have the same “clever thought”.

We have such a good time with our libation of choice that sometimes we fear bringing up the issues we see.

Well, stop that. Air your concerns, bring up those issues. Show us what we’re not talking about and should be, and tell us why.

Pour us a liberal amount of The Hard Stuff.
If you've ever sat in the pub with me, you'll know that I can be quite the opinionated swine, so I have to say I love this topic, especially in light of some of the comments made by Jean Hummler of Moeder Lambic at last week's European Beer Blogger Conference which filled my Twitter feed for a while. Although I wasn't there, and thus my grasp of his theme is second hand, rather like many a denunciation of Pelagian theology when we have no extant writing of Pelagius himself, from the snippets I have seen I agree with him wholeheartedly. The beer world seems to seriously lack critical thought.

When I say we lack critical thought, I am not making a plea for a phenomenology of malt, a post-modern appreciation for the isomerisation of hops, or even a existential examination of the ester producing qualities of saccharomyces cerevisiae. What I am saying is that we need less of the fanboy/girl 'craft beer is awesome' bullshit, less of the mindless cheerleading (and its converse the mindless caterwauling when things happen that don't fit our narrative), and less of the inane buzz words/phrases like 'local beer', 'rising tide floats all boats', or 'innovative'.

My particular ire though is raised at the sight of supposedly creating a new beer style by virtue of adding hops not from the UK or Central Europe. You know how it goes, one day you're drinking a nice Foreign Extra Stout and the next some unimaginative muppet dumps a shit load of Cascade into the kettle and hey presto it's a 'Black IPA/Cascadian Dark Ale/Whatever Marketing Term Sells This Week'. So you reach for a pint of amber ale only to discover that it positively reeks with C-hops and is being whored about the bars of your neighbourhood as a 'Red IPA'. The same could be said about 'White IPA'. 'Session IPA', 'India Pale Lager', and whatever beer style gets fucked over with an unhealthy addition of New World hops to keep the braying masses of raters and tickers whipped into a veritable wank fest frenzy.

Another thing that pisses me off about these supposed styles is the speed at which they get accepted into the canon of styles on sites like RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. Yet it took years for the admins, moderators, and other 'experts' to recognise that a Czech tmavy le?ák is not really a Munich Dunkel or a Schwarzbier. Perhaps Czech brewers should dump a ton of New World hops into a dark lager and 'invent' the 'Black India Pale Lager' or some such spurious nonsense.

So yes, Jean Hummler is right. Beer bloggers and consumers need to start calling out the bullshit that seems to be a disturbingly increasing part of the industry. We need to start questioning the bold claims being made about innovative this, envelope pushing that, and stop parroting the party line because we are afraid being seen as the uncool element of the beer world.

Here endeth the lesson.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Buy Definition

There's an interesting piece in the Grauniad this morning going by the title 'Can craft beer really be defined? We're about to find out'. When I saw a link to it pop up in my Twitter feed, as I follow both the author of the article and the Guardian, I almost groaned at the thought of yet another attempt to define the undefinable, a task which is becoming the post-modern equivalent of answering the question of how many angels can stand on the end of a pin. But I decided to read the article anyway, and have some milk of magnesium on hand for the expected attack of indigestion.

The article is mostly about the newly formed United Craft Brewers trade association or whatever they want to call themselves, and raised a few points I'd like to address here.

One of the things I did not know about UCB is that there is a "a ban on third-party contract brewing; no-membership for “small breweries” that are owned / funded by multinationals". A ban on 'third-party contract brewing'? Really? This group of punk brewers (sic) think they have the right to tell businesses what they can and can't do to further their business? Does this 'ban' relate only to having third parties brew their beer or also to them brewing beer for a third party? As the author of the article points out BrewDog, one of the breweries driving this association are doing contract brewing for Stone. The author calls this arrangement a 'one off stunt' but it smacks more of outright hypocrisy, I guess though as long as the beards and lumberjack shirts are out in full force then it is an ironic thing and thus perfectly ok. Oh and I guess Mikkeller won't be brewing with brewers that are part of UCB anymore then, since 'gypsy' or 'cuckoo' brewing is just glorified contract brewing.

There is also a ban on small breweries being owned or funded by multinationals? How does one describe a 'multinational'? Take the simplest view and it is a corporation that owns businesses in multiple countries, kind of like, well, erm,....BrewDog will be once they open up their new brewery in Ohio. So you can't be a craft brewery and be funded by a multinational, but you can be a craft brewery and a multinational seemingly. Glad that got cleared up then.

The author then mentions that one of the worries of this organisation of so-called 'small breweries' is that 'Loads of big breweries are piling into the sector with sub-standard beers that trade on the language and design of craft. They are cashing in on a scene they did nothing to cultivate and exploiting a cachet they have not earned.'

Now, this is a bit, and pardon my French, fucking rich. The craft sector is awash with sub-standard beers already, quality control not exactly being something many seem to think about while they are cashing in on the craft beer bubble. Also what nonsensical shite is this phrase that the big breweries are 'cashing in on a scene they nothing to cultivate'? Without the big breweries there would be no craft beer. Big breweries are at the very epicentre of craft beer, a constant reference point for craft breweries, the always handy straw man for many a craft brewery's marketing. Oh and better not mention that plenty of the better 'craft' breweries are staffed by people that cut their teeth in the big evil brewing corporations and thus have an appreciation for quality control, which is one reason they make better beer than Joe Homebrewer following his 'passion'.

Thankfully the author states that 'I cannot help but think that any attempt to define craft beer is a retrograde step'. Absolutely spot on, 100%, nail on head.

Finishing up his article, the author asks the following questions:
Will some breweries knockout ersatz craft beers? Of course. Will some people be fooled by them? Naturally. But only until they try the genuine article, which, given the unprecedented growth of craft beer, is only a matter of time.
I am sorry, but the delusion of saying some people will be fooled by 'ersatz' craft beer and that only when they drink the 'real' thing, something the author says is impossible to define, will they see the light is just plain daft. Given the third rate brewing standards of many of the newer craft brewers, the drinking public is probably better off drinking 'ersatz' craft beer rather than the real thing until the new craft brewers learn to incorporate quality control standards into their processes.

There is a saying that does the rounds about life being too short to drink crap beer, perhaps it should be life is too short to drink whatever everyone else thinks you should. Drink what you like, with people you like, and your life will be all the richer without the mind numbing arcana and navel gazing of wondering if the beer in your glass is 'real craft'.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Oh Really?

Czech beer and brewing maestro Honza Ko?ka posted a link on his Facebook account about pioneers in the British 'craft' beer scene, which you can see here. Most of it is the usual innocuous waffly bollocks, but one particular sentence caught my attention, a quote from the CEO of Majestic Wine:
“Craft beers bridge the gap between wine and beer. People want something specialist and more interesting so we are moving away from sales of mass-produced beers."
Again this association of 'craft' beer with wine is presented, and as ever it misses the point.

Craft beer is not a 'bridge between wine and beer', craft beer is just beer. Pure and simple.

If you want your beer to be more like wine then I would suggest that you don't have a 'passion for beer' or whatever vacuous pile of shite you want to spout this week. Craft beer, micro beer, macro beer, mass-produced beer. It's all fucking beer, so stop with the 'it's like wine' nonsense.

This isn't to say that beer doesn't 'deserve the same respect' as wine (whatever that daft shite means), but can we stop with the comparisons for fuck sake and actually be proud of, and celebrate, beer on it's own terms.

Repeat after me:
Beer is beer, wine is wine.
Beer is not wine, wine is not beer.
Let beer be beer, let wine be wine.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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