Saturday, 22 April 2017

Roll on the polls

With a General Election now set for 8th June, the bookies are offering longish odds on anything other than a landslide victory for the Conservatives.

I think the Tories will probably gain about fifty seats, and Labour lose about the same. I can't see the Lib Dems winning more than twenty seats, which would nevertheless be a big step forward for them after their electoral wipeout two years ago, or, unfortunately, the SNP losing any of theirs. This election could also, hopefully, be UKIP's last hurrah.

I also think that after such a result Jeremy Corbyn might, to the consternation of most of his colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party, stop on as Leader.

I'm not sure why I continue to make these predictions, having called a Remain vote in the EU referendum and thought that Labour would become the biggest party at the 2015 General Election. On the other hand, I did think, in the face of those who told me that I was dead wrong and that there was absolutely no way that it couldn't happen, that Trump might just win last year's US presidential election.


Monday, 3 April 2017

Macbeth in Manchester

I went to a talk by beer historian and blogger Ron Pattinson yesterday afternoon, part of the so-called Macbeth Tour he's doing to promote his new book about Scottish beer.

The event took place at the Beer Nouveau Brewery Tap, a microbrewery housed within a railway arch in Ardwick half a mile south of Piccadilly station, and featured tastings of historic Scottish beers recreated by them as well as some produced by Manchester homebrewers.

The beers, which spanned the years 1879 to 1894, were shilling ales, designated according to the wholesale price of a hogshead which, at least in the nineteenth century, gave the drinker some idea of their strength: the ones we tried began with a 1879 Youngers 50/- Sparkling Ale at 3.7% abv and ended with a 160/- from the same brewery and year at 7.8%.

The Scotch ales brewed and sold in Belgium and the United States tend to be dark, strong and malty but shilling ales like the ones we drank yesterday are nothing like that, being pale and well-hopped. Many also had an appealingly sharp sourness and some woodiness picked up from the oak casks they'd been racked into. My favourites were probably the Youngers 1879 160/- and Ushers 1885 100/- which reminded me of pale barley wines.

Thanks again to Ron for the talk, which as always was packed with masses of interesting and informative stuff interspersed with lots of humour and myth-busting, and to Steve at Beer Nouveau for kindly hosting us.








Tuesday, 28 March 2017

This Sporting Life

The playwright, screenwriter and novelist David Storey, who has died aged 83, epitomised the early 1960's realist "New Wave" in British film: Northern, working-class and newly self-confident.

The son of a miner from Wakefield, Storey belonged to the same generation of actors and writers as Albert Finney, Shelagh Delaney, John Braine, Tom Courtenay and Alan Sillitoe, and like them often experienced something of a disconnect between the artistic world he found fame in and his roots, playing rugby league for the Leeds "A" team at weekends before returning to the Slade School of Art in London, a feeling memorably expressed by Courtenay in the entry from the diary he kept as a student at RADA for the day in 1959 when his hometown side Hull lost to Wigan in the Challlenge Cup Final: "Met Dad, went to Wembley. Played Chekhov in evening."

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Young Bones Groan

A 14 year-old boy from Sheffield has died in hospital in Leeds after he collapsed at the end of an unlicensed kickboxing bout in the city on Saturday night (unlicensed because the "sport"'s governing body bars those under 16 from the fights it promotes) and the private medical team hired by the event's organisers were unable to save him.

I'm not a fan of boxing, as I wrote here, but there's a world of difference between the law allowing adult men to engage in violence which if it took place anywhere else would see them prosecuted and young people with still developing brains and muscles, no doubt heavily influenced by older family members, being exposed to the dangers of the ring, especially one in which they can legally be kicked as well as punched to the head and upper body.

I've seen comments along the lines of "he died doing what he loved" and " all sports have risks", and West Yorkshire Police have said that they are not treating his death as suspicious, but surely his parents should face some sort of criminal liability.

I'm not saying that they should go to prison - punishment beyond the ridiculously premature and entirely avoidable loss of their son is hardly appropriate here - but a conviction for manslaughter on the grounds that they recklessly put his life in danger, or under one of the child protection laws requiring adults to ensure the safety and welfare of young people in their care, and a suspended sentence would at least send a message to others about society's attitude to such behaviour.




Sunday, 12 March 2017

Yes we can

Although it's been available for more than eighty years, having first been sold in the mid-thirties in the post-Prohibition United States, canned beer has always had a bit of a cheapo image compared to draught, or even bottled, beer, and long been associated with globally-brewed, mass-market lagers.

The last canned beer I drank was probably a widgeted can of nitroflow Guinness at a sports event or in a hotel bar. Although I knew that some microbreweries had begun producing so-called "craft cans", the only pubs I'd seen them on sale in were Wetherspoons, where the draught choice is usually good enough not to bother with anything else, and at home I normally drink bottled beer, but an email from online retailer EeBria tempted me to pick up some from Macclesfield brewery RedWillow.

I've drunk cask versions of a fair few RedWillow beers (all of which have a -less suffix: Feckless, Wreckless etc.) on draught in the pub, and a couple of their bottled equivalents here and there too, so I was interested to see how they'd survive the transition to can. The first one I cracked open, Smokeless, is a beer right up my street: a 5.7% abv smoked porter, albeit one infused with chipotle.

I was expecting lots of fizz and a thin head, but as you can see from the photo there was a decent amount of foam and the beer beneath was softly carbonated: if I'd been asked to, I think I'd have had a hard time distinguishing it from the cask version, although the chipotle flavour was a little bit more pronounced I thought. I'm looking forward to seeing how their hop-forward and fruity pale ales stand up in cans.

There are apparently some can-conditioned beers, including a few German wheat beers, which still have live yeast in the container and would therefore be acceptable to CAMRA in the same way that bottle-conditioned ones are.









Thursday, 9 March 2017

Miss Simone

For the last few days I've been listening to BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week, an abridgement of Alan Light's biography of singer and pianist Nina Simone, What Happened, Miss Simone?

Nina Simone is notable not just for spanning multiple genres in her musical output - blues, jazz, gospel, soul, R&B and pop as well as the classical music she had been trained to perform as a child in North Carolina - but also for being a political figures whose songs Mississippi Goddam and The Backlash Blues (the latter penned by her friend the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes) exemplified the harder-edged, more militant tone the black civil rights movement took on in the sixties in the face of racist intransigence from the Southern states and the Federal government's sluggishness in enforcing freedoms legally won by African-American activists.

Simone acquired a reputation for being "difficult", a trait often ascribed to her having some sort of personality disorder, but given the racism she experienced throughout her life (she refused to play at her first public piano recital until her parents were moved forwards from the back of the concert hall where they had been placed and put onto the front row and later had a place at a music college denied to her on the grounds of her colour before becoming a cabaret act at the bar in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she adopted her stage name) it was surely either a case of her standing up for herself, or, if it did indeed stem from mental illness, was a reaction to those injustices.





Thursday, 23 February 2017

Up in the air

The Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific has introduced a beer designed to be drunk at altitude.

Betsy is a 5.1% abv unfiltered, bottled beer brewed by the Hong Kong Beer Co. which uses a lager yeast, English Fuggles as well as local New Terrritories hops and 60% wheat malt in the mash. It's named after the first DC-3 aircraft the company flew in its early days in the mid-40's. and supposedly has a flavour profile which works particularly well at thirty-five thousand feet. It all sounds a bit gimmicky to me.

Having a beer on the plane is a ritual which is part of most people's holidays, although you're most likely to get served the product of a global brewer like Amstel or Stella. The one beer I look forward to drinking when flying is Lufthansa's in-flight beer Warsteiner which always seems to have a bit more hoppiness than the average mass-market German Pils.