Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Brewer's pounds

Anti-alcohol groups have seized on the fact that the new head of the civil service John Manzoni has been allowed to retain a non-executive directorship with global brewer SABMiller.

Although Manzoni will forego his £100,000 a year salary and place the shares he holds in the company into a blind trust, critics claim that these interests should rule him out being appointed as Civil Service Chief Executive,

I don't hold any brief for Manzoni (his activities in the oil industry haven't between without controversy and he seems set to introduce a more business-orientated, target-based culture into the civil service), or for global brewers like SABMiller come to that, and as a former civil servant I understand the argument about conflicts of interest and impartiality.

Having said that, I suspect that what those opposed to his appointment really object to is not his corporate background per se but specifically his links to an industry (brewing) which they regard as beyond the pale.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Another Man Done Gone

The bassist Jack Bruce who died aged 71 at the weekend was one of those who came to prominence in the British blues and R&B boom of the 1960's.

Bruce started out playing in jazz and skiffle bands in his native Glasgow before gravitating, along with like-minded musicians from Belfast, Newcastle and Manchester, towards the blues and R&B scene in London where he played with Blues Incorporated, the band led by Alexis Korner (a mentor to many of them), John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and Manfred Mann. In 1966, he formed the blues-rock trio Cream with ex-Bluesbreakers guitarist Eric Clapton and ex-Blues Incorporated drummer Ginger Baker (I've got a diagram somewhere showing how musicians swapped bands in the British blues and R&B boom).

I'm happy to say that there are still a few people left from that generation of British blues musicians, including John Mayall - who I'll be seeing when he plays Manchester tomorrow night - and Paul Jones, with whom Bruce collaborated in Manfred Mann. Others though, like so many musicians, succumbed at an early age to drug and/or alcohol problems.

Here's Bruce on bass in Cream playing probably his most famous riff .

Monday, 20 October 2014

Guinness Nigerian Foreign Extra Stout

I've been drinking bottled Guinness quite a bit recently.

I've drunk Guinness Foreign Extra Stout and the Special Export Stout they brew for Belgium before but not the FES brewed in Nigeria.

I don't know if it's the sorghum in the mash but Nigerian FES has got a smoother mouthfeel and less burnt flavour than the Dublin-brewed version. And it goes without saying that the different versions of Foreign Extra and Special Export Stout are not just stronger but far superior in taste to the standard Extra Stout now that it's no longer bottle-conditioned.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Hail to the ale

I've been watching One Ale of A Job, Channel 5's series about Marston's Brewery.

The dodgy puns - delivered by Pub Landlord comedian Al Murray - don't end with the title and I had pretty low expectations of what looked like, and to be honest is, another cheapo fly-on-the-wall documentary. Having said that, it contains some interesting stuff about brewing, cellar management and beer dispense and is the first TV series about beer and brewing I can remember since Michael Jackson's Beer Hunter in the late 80's.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Thomas Hardy's ale

I'm on a bit of a Thomas Hardy binge at the moment: in the last month, I've read four of his novels and some of the short stories too.

There's lots of stuff in Hardy about ale, cider and pubs, including landlords and farmers brewing their own beer in mid-nineteenth century South Wessex (Hardy's name for his native Dorset) rather than buying it from breweries. The relatively late arrival of the railway in that part of South West England which he also mentions might have had something to do with that.

One thing that caught my eye in A Tragedy if Two Ambitions, a short story Hardy wrote in 1888, is a character talking about a pub having "the rarest drop of Old Tom that I've tasted for many a year", showing that other brewers were making strong ales called that before the famous one from my local brewery Robinson's, first brewed in 1899 by a brewer who drew the face of the brewery cat in the brewing log.

Monday, 18 August 2014

GBBF 2014

I went to the Great British Beer Festival in London for the first time last week.

The first thing to say is how impressive Kensington Olympia where the event's held is: it's like walking into a Victorian railway station with its iron and glass arched roof and pillared galleries.

I'd read that the GBBF could be a bit overwhelming both in terms of the number of people attending and choice of beer but I can't say I found that; it was more like an upscaled version of the CAMRA festivals I've been to over the years in Manchester.

We mainly stuck to the brewery bars, drinking beers that you don't see much outside London such as Fuller's ESB and Young's Special and two that could easily join my list of favourites: Belhaven Black Stout and Harvey's XX Mild. I also got to drink draught Schlenkerla Rauchmärzen outside the brewpub in Bamberg for the first time and it was as deliciously smoky bacony as I remember it there.

If you live in Britain and like beer, you really should go to the GBBF at least once. I know that I'm already planning to return.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Batting for cask

I spent yesterday at Old Trafford watching the Test match between England and India.

Although the former Prime Minister John Major, echoing George Orwell, famously listed warm beer and cricket as quintessentially English things, for a long time the choice at matches consisted of lager, smoothflow bitter and Guinness.

I'm glad to say that cask beer has made a comeback, at least at Old Trafford. I first saw it a few years ago in the members' pavilion at a county match and since then the beer  Bomber and Wainwright from Lancashire's sponsor Thwaites – has spread to the bars around the ground and a marquee in front of it.

Cask beer has a long association with cricket, being served at the inns that adjoined the playing fields in the game's earliest days. All I can say about its re-appearance at Test matches is, "Welcome home!".