Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Here we go again

A full page advert and a half page article in todays' Wirral News got my goat. Here is my e-mail reply:

"I read your advertisement in today's Wirral News. I felt moved to respond to the misinformation that you peddle. You state that men should not drink more than 21 units a seek (sic) and that a pint or can of strong lager = 3 units.
You give the impression that a limit of 21 units per week some scientific basis. I remember when a recommended weekly limit was introduced it was set at 42 units per week (or 'seek' as you prefer to call it). I have never seen any medical research justifying the reduction or indeed proving that 21 units is o.k. but, say, 25 is bad.
Also, you scaremonger the readers by stating that I pint or can of strong lager = 3 units. That may be true but a typical pint of bitter or weaker lager drunk by most consumers contains just over 2 units. A bare comparison of units is unhelpful anyway. Someone who regularly drinks on an empty stomach will be more at risk that another drinker who only drinks after a meal.
In the same edition Dr Stefan Janikevic of the Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust criticises Wirral Borough Council for failing to support minimum alcohol pricing. The duty on beer has increased by 32.4% since october 2008. Surely enough is enough. Price increases hit everyone but the binge drinker will not be concerned. They will carry on regardless. Stop supermarkets selling alcohol below cost and clamp down on vertical drinking bars but don't use a sledgehammer to crack a nut.
I am not belittling the damage that excess alcohol can cause. A close friend of mine is battling alcoholism. But like any addict price increases make no difference to him. There is now a concerted effort by what is known as the 'health lobby' to prevent responsible adults from enjoying alcohol in moderation. It is time that we the consumer fight back."

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

They wouldn't do it here

I was over in Paris at the weekend. It was noticeable that most bars were advertising Happy Hours, usually lasting five or six hours. Now the happy hour concept is a dying breed in Britain as the various health lobbies have put pressure on pub groups and breweries.

So its as well that they aren't aware that Wells & Youngs own a pub in Paris called the Bombardier just round the corner from the Sorbonne. Not only does it have a Happy Hour (or six) but it proudly advertises that Happy Hour lasts all night for students with valid ID. They wouldn't get away with that in the U.K.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Brimstage Brewery

I know you love pretty pictures. So here's a sneak preview of the new pump clips for the beers brewed by Brimstage Brewery here in Wirral. The Beatles once played at Brimstage Village Hall but you already knew that.

The pump clips will no doubt catch the eye on any pub bar, not that the brewery needs any help in shifting it's beers. Legal notice: Oystercatcher Stout is 4.4% not 4.6%. If you'd like to find out where you can sample the beers there's a list of some of the best stockists on the website: Brimstage Brewery

Sandpiper can be found in some Woodward and Falconer pubs
rebadged as 'Piffle'. Don't ask.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

More on minimum pricing for beer

'Wirral Council has abandoned moves towards minimum pricing of alcohol. It follows a public consultation by the authority which showed no strong majority for or against the proposals. The autority's licensing and general purposes committee decided unanimously to stop short of supporting a Merseyside-wide bylaw for pricing of alcohol.'

The propaganda war against drinkers continues though. In the same edition of the Liverpool Echo a headline proclaims '40% of Liverpool tipplers "at risk"'. The article states 'Regularly drinking two pints a day is enough to impact on health according to government guidance so the focus isn't so much on alcoholics but the 42% of Liverpool drinkers who are storing up problems without even knowing it.'

Alright, Scousers like a drink. We know that. But can we really believe that 42% of those who drink alcohol 'are storing up problems'? Anyway isn't it supposed to be MORE THAN 2 pints a day that is bad for health. I thought that 2 pints was the maximum so called 'safe' level. Where is the evidence for this 2 pint danger limit? I remember some years back when it was 4 pints. Why the cut?

When one of these 'experts' provides reliable data showing that 1½ pints a day is o.k. for health and
2½ pints isn't then I'll accept it. Until then I'll ignore them.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Buying bottled beer

Following the demise of BeerRitz  I gave some thought to buying quality bottled beer.

The Merseyside and West Cheshire region lacks a specialist beer shop which is surprising considering the size of the potential market. There are some excellent online beer sellers but delivery costs can make this method of purchase expensive. So what about our major supermarkets?

I did my usual shop to Tesco last Friday. It’s classed as a Tesco ‘Extra’ so it’s as big as they come. Perusing the shelves was a disappointment. Sticking to British beers only two bottle conditioned beers were on sale; Coniston Bluebird and Fuller’s Bengal Lancer. Widening the brief to ‘craft beers’ gave me Brewdog Punk IPA and 77 Lager plus two beers from Innis & Gunn and Morrisey Fox Blonde if you class that as a ‘craft’ product. Just about everything else was your typical mediocre ‘bitter in a bottle’ and was dominated by Greene King, Marston’s, Hall & Woodhouse and Fuller’s.

A trip to Sainsbury was slightly better but not by much. Meantime London Porter is good, Tom Woods Shropshire Lad, St. Peter’s Golden Ale and Purity Ubu are interesting without being outstanding. I know that Sainsbury stock Meantime’s bottle conditioned 75cl bottles in some branches but not in Wirral they don’t!

When you think of the excellent individually crafted beers that are produced in this country it’s a shame that they are so hard to find unless you are lucky enough to live close to the breweries or a dedicated beer shop.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


I thought it was appropriate on St. Patrick's Day for my blog to ask a question that has vexed quite a few of the beer cognoscenti over the years.

Why won't Guinness produce a bottle conditioned of their Foreign Extra/Special Export Stout? It's very good as it is - try it chilled on a hot day in, for instance, St. Tropez (memories!) - but could be even better.

While they are at it they could produce a draught version as well. As I'm asking the earth they could restore bottle conditioning to the standard strength brew as well.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Minimum price alcohol

Today's Liverpool Echo has a article which states that Wirral Council is hoping to introduce a minimum price for alcohol. Committee chair Cllr Sue Taylor said "If you are a normal drinker you are probably looking at an increase of £1 per month".

Point 1. What is the justification for those of us who drink in a responsible manner paying over £4 extra per month? We've been hit with a succession of excise, VAT and other price increases. Surely enough is enough.

Point 2. I find the use of the word 'normal' a bit sinister. The only other word that can be used in contrast is 'abnormal'. I'm happy with less pejorative words like occasional, regular, heavy, light, social, excessive or moderate. I'd certainly never call anyone a normal drinker.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Not a problem

I was amused by this poster I spotted in Belgium last week. Somehow I don't think the juxtaposition of children playing on the back of a vehicle without seat belts in the proximity of crates of beer would be sanctioned by the ASA.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

ZBF festival

So I'd been to the left field super-cool Alvinne Craft Beer festival. The next day it was off to the more traditional festival in St Niklaas organised by Belgium's beer lovers' consumer organisation Zythos.

The best part of Belgian beer festivals. Tombola with beer prizes.
A hundred or so Belgian breweries took part, most with at least two beers available, some having half a dozen or so. This is not the place to find rare or special edition beers. It's an occasion to celebrate the bedrock breweries of Belgium that turn out the brews that the rest of the world have learned to appreciate. It's unfortunate that a few of the smaller, forward thinking micros have declined to attend in recent years due to a dispute over the fees for attending.

No that isn't a cigarette advert.
festival has been held annually since 2004. Previously, O.B.P., the forerunner to Zythos organised the much loved '24 Huur' festival in Antwerp which was held in a steamy, packed out venue with no regard for modern health & safety mores. In those days I could cope with the Saturday 2.00 a.m. finish. Unfortunately, Zythos is now outgrowing this venue too and it can be uncomfortable and difficult to get to some stalls at busy times.

Kris the mad brewer from De Dolle with his new beer which translates as 'Fresh Fish'. I'm not sure it will catch on.
It's still a good day out though with  blondes, brunes, triples, ambrees, stouts, gueuzes and krieks from all over Belgium. if you look closely you may even find an IPA or two. There's the usual mix of Flemings, Walloons and beery types from all over the world enjoying beers from one of the world's foremost brewing nations.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Alvinne Craft Beer Festival

It was two beer festivals in two days for me. A bit greedy yes, but why not? The Alvinne microbrewery's festival (ACBF) takes place on the Friday before the larger festival organised by Zythos, the Belgian equivalent of CAMRA. This year the brewery felt confident enough to introduce a second day in direct competition with Zythos.

The festival was held in an old farmhouse complex that was now used for hospitality and banqueting. A good description would be 'In the middle of nowhere'. This being Belgium transport had been considered with a shuttle coach service to and from Kortrijk railway station. Coach and entrance tickets could be purchased in advance on the Internet.

A hall  with an ancient open timbered roof plus a pleasant courtyard and adjacent restaurant building contributed to a superb rustic setting on a beautifully sunny day. A small open air swimming pool would no doubt not escape unscathed at a British bash awash with strong beer but there was no problem here.

Crooked Moon from Denmark
Belgium can be slightly introspective when it comes to beer festivals. In a small country with at least 500 different beers that's no surprise. ACBF is refreshingly different. Not only does the host brewery display it's own eclectic range of brews, there were also another 18 brewers from the Northern Hemisphere exhibiting their expertise in brewing.

 Old friends Struise were the only other representatives from Belgium. De Molen and Emelisse made the short drive from the Netherlands. Others came from further away. Norrebro, Crooked Moon, Mikkeller and Fano from Denmark, Ganstaller, Braustelle and Freigeist from Germany and BFM from Switzerland. The expanding beer culture of Italy had Del Ducato and Revelation Cat. Stillwater crossed the pond from U.S.A. and Grassroots are part Danish part American I think. Finally, Thornbridge were proud representatives from Britain. There was the added bonus of beers from the cherished lambic blenders Drie Fonteinen.

Cheers Sebastian! Isn't that Dominic Driscoll on the right dispaying his new team's shirt?

Over 100 beers in many styles and strengths. IPAs, Porters, Rauchbiers, Bocks, oak-aged beers with the weakest 3.5% and the strongest that I saw a whopping 26.0% barrel-aged Imperial Stout from Struise.

There were plates of cheese and meat plus crisps on sale in the main hall. The restaurant building had soup, stew and salads to sustain the drinkers with tables providing a chance to relax from the action. A beer shop had an amazing choice even if some of prices were eye watering.

Thornbridge get everywhere. Smile for the camera Nigel.
 It was good to see how friendly the brewers were, all willing to talk at length about their beers and obviously please to be part of the event. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

British pub culture

There is much comment offered concerning the drinking culture in this country. My take is that pubs and bars aren't willing to take responsibility for for the effects of alcohol sold on their premises although they all want to take the profits.

Half of them, the circuit pubs, couldn't care less. They pile 'em in, sell it cheap, reap the rewards. The other half don't pass the problem on by barring the younger drinkers, those in work jeans, football shirts or anyone that looks like a risk. They want amiable middle class drunks or families that will spend a small fortune on food and soft drinks.

Both factions aren't doing the duty which the granting of their licence should endow. Everyone over the age of 18 should be granted access to any pub if sober or not a known troublemaker. Sell them beer, but don't sell them anymore if they become unreasonable drinks. But give them a chance first. Don't cop out by pigeon-holing people by appearances or ignoring all problems. Drinkers have responsibilities but so do licensees.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

In Bruges

Midday tomorrow and I'm setting off for 4 nights based in Bruges. Apart from the beery delights of that wonderful city, I've got the Alvinne (ACBF) beer festival on Friday and the Zythos (ZBF) beer festival on Saturday. So I'll be on serious hangover alert.

BTW if you haven't seen the film In Bruges you should.

No blogging until next week for me but I'll no doubt have plenty to report when I get back.

AB InBev

A report in a Belgian newspaper today:
The world’s largest brewer, with headquarters in Leuven, will launch a beer-like soft drink (!) on the local market to counteract the drop in beer consumption. The new non-alcoholic beverage, branded as Jupiler Force, will be produced in Sint-Pieters-Leeuw. It will complement the best-selling Jupiler product line.
Please feel free to crack the obvious jokes.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

SIBA video - Proud of British Beer

Thanks to Pete Brown for recommending that I post this video. Watch it and be both proud of British beer and aware of the problems facing our brewers.