Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Gadget Man

I went to a meeting organised by my CAMRA branch, Stockport and South Manchester, last night, part of the Revitalisation Project being run at national level which I wrote about here.

CAMRA founder member Michael Hardman introduced the evening with an interesting overview of where cask beer was when the organisation was formed in 1971, and some of the wins and losses since, and then it was down to the main business: voting on questions flashed up on a screen via the electronic keypads with which we'd been issued at the door.

I'm not sure what the upshot of the Revitalisation Project will be, but it was good to hear the views of other members and the national officials running the event. I suspect though that, as others at the meeting said, it will be a mixture of market forces, Government policy and social trends that determines the future of pubs and beer rather than campaigning, and that CAMRA will probably evolve into a beer drinkers' club/pub preservation society, one which I'll happily continue to be a member of.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

The many Malcolms

I went to an open day at the local mosque yesterday afternoon,

There was a stall with various pamphlets about Islam, including one about Malcolm X which I picked up. It ends "So many people love and admire him, wanting to be like him, and aspiring to follow in his footsteps, yet they see what they want to see and ignore the rest. We must never forget it was Islam that made Malik El-Shabazz [the Muslim name he assumed in 1964] what he was."

The thought struck me that there not many people who so many claim as their own: black nationalists, Muslims, socialists. In large part, that's because Malcolm was all those things, albeit to varying degrees and at different times in his life.

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, Malcolm X joined the Nation of Islam, a sect led by Elijah Muhammad, while in prison in Massachusetts in 1948. The NoI opposed integration with what it called "white devils" and ultimately advocated the return of black Americans to Africa, a position which led it into contact with the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party.

Malcolm X was drawn to socialism not just because of the racism and exploitation he witnessed in America's black ghettoes from a young age, but also because he saw it as the system by which Cuba and the newly independent former colonies in Africa he visited were advancing themselves economically and socially.

1964 was a turning point in Malcolm's life: he split from the NoI, converted to orthodox Sunni Islam and made the Hajj to Mecca, where he prayed alongside white pilgrims. He also formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity which, while still black nationalist, advocated some sort of alliance with poor whites.

After Malcolm's assassination in 1965, while giving a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in uptown Manhattan, the actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis gave this eulogy at his funeral, which also forms the final scene of Spike Lee's 1992 film Malcolm X.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Beer on the Fourth of July

A week ago, on the day our American cousins celebrate their independence from British colonial rule, I was inspired by this video to order some bottled beers from Brooklyn Brewery via my favourite online beer shop.

I first tried Brooklyn Lager, an amber, all-malt beer classified as a Vienna lager, about a decade ago, after picking up a bottle in the supermarket, and was very impressed by its full-flavoured hops and malt taste, but hadn't tried any other beers from Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout (10% abv)

Brooklyn's attempt at a Russian Imperial Stout. Not much carbonation or mouthfeel, and doesn't really drink its strength. Some nice, lingering roasty notes though, and I can imagine it being a decent "winter warmer".

Brooklyn Brown Ale (5.6% abv)

I expected this to be similar to Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale given that beer's popularity in the US, but it's actually more like a heftier version of Newcastle Brown Ale: dryish and with a very pronounced caramelly taste. A bit more carbonation and my favourite of the Brooklyn bottled beers I tried.

Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (7.2 % abv)

This, described by the brewery as "an unfiltered golden farmhouse ale", is Brooklyn's take on a Belgian saison: hoppy, sourish and with a refreshing lemony taste. Not that I'd fancy drinking a pint of it though.

Brooklyn East India Pale Ale (6.9% abv)

I suppose this is what Americans think of as an IPA: pale, hoppy and above average strength. I'd call it a best bitter or a strong golden ale. A long-lasting head and nice balance of malt and hops, although the latter (not sure which variety they are, might be Cascade) give it a slightly weird lemony aftertaste.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Irish Blood, English Heart

The untimely passing of the comedian, actress and scriptwriter Caroline Aherne, who died last week at the age of just 52, led me to reflect once again on a particular aspect of her prodigious talent.

Like many other comedians, musicians and performers who came out of the Manchester area in the 1980's and 1990's, Steve Coogan, Morrissey, Marr and the other members of The Smiths, Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis, Terry Christian, Shaun Ryder of The Happy Mondays and Mani of The Stone Roses, Aherne was the child of Irish immigrants. As a Catholic born in Manchester of Irish descent, albeit farther back, I've often wondered what it is about that combination that seems to produce such talents.

I think there are two things. One is that being an outsider allows you to see things more clearly than others and, even if only unconsciously, feel little affinity for or need to respect an Establishment (Protestant, pro-monarchy and Empire) that you're not a part of. The other is that as the child of immigrants you belong to the "other" not just in the country you live in, but also the one your parents left, a "double outsider" if you like.

One of Caroline Aherne's earliest, and funniest, comic creations, the Irish nun Sister Mary Immaculate, must surely have been based on her teachers at the Hollies FCJ Convent Grammar School in Manchester.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Euro beer

Watching Euro 2016 in France this last fortnight got me thinking back twenty years to when England hosted the tournament, a summer in which Football's Coming Home became a temporary national anthem.

Looking at my diary for 1996, I spotted a mention of bottles of Boddington's Export, a beer I'd completely forgotten about. A bit of Googling, and the ever reliable Wikipedia, reveals that it was a bottled version of Boddington's Pub Ale, at 4.6% quite a bit stronger than Boddington's Bitter, and only available in the UK in 1995-96 (Boddington's Strangeways brewery closed in 2005 and was demolished in 2007, although cask Boddington's Bitter was contract-brewed by Hydes in Moss Side until they moved to Salford in 2012).

I know Boddington's Pub Ale is available as a draught and canned beer in North America, but I wonder if you can get bottles of it too. I might just be tempted to give it a try.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Raising a glass to Manchester's brewing past

I went to the Smithfield Market Tavern last night for the launch of four historic beers from the Manchester area, recreated for Manchester Beer Week by local microbreweries Beer Nouveau, Blackjack, Squawk and Tickety Brew. Beer historian Ron Pattinson, who blogs at Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, also spoke knowledgeably and entertainingly about the beers we were privileged to get to drink.

The wooden pin of Beer Nouveau's Lees 1903 XXX on the bar ran out before I got to it, but I drank the other three, two of them from the brewing records of J.W. Lees in Middleton and one from the long gone Heginbothams in Stalybridge.

I was especially keen to try Blackjack's Lees 1951 "C" Ale, a type of strong ale brewed in the Manchester area in the twentieth century, mostly it seems as a bottled beer, whose name no one appears to know the origin of. A dryish, malt-accented beer which is amber in colour, as Ron said in his talk, it's in the same family as the Burton ales brewed elsewhere in Britain. I also had the two stouts, Squawk's Lees 1952 Stout and Tickety Brew's Heginbothams Invalid Stout, which some people reckoned had a lactose taste, although I couldn't particularly pick one up myself.

Hearteningly, the Smithfield was packed for the event, and hopefully other brewers, including the bigger ones in the Manchester area, will be inspired to delve into the archives and produce historic beers of their own.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

From Humble Petition to Militant Action

Like fellow beer bloggers and CAMRA members Red Nev and Tandleman, I'm a former civil service trade union activist, in my case between 1997, when I joined the Department of Social Security as a casual Admin Assistant, and 2007, when I was made redundant after the local office I worked in closed.

A dozen or so mergers of sectional and grade-based associations in the last century led at the end of it to a single union, PCS, which represents civil servants across Government departments and agencies. I'm reading a history of one of its predecessor unions, the Civil and Public Services Association (CPSA), which I was a member of for just over a year before the final merger which created PCS. From Humble Petition to Militant Action was published in 1978 after the union commissioned the industrial correspondent of The Times Eric Wigham to write a book to mark the 75th anniversary of its formation.

The introduction to the book is a hoot.

"The abrasive character of Association life is probably in part a reaction to the humdrum routine of many of its members' jobs...many of the more energetic young members seek to develop in union work a freedom of expression they cannot find in their daily tasks....Youth is impatient. Association work offers an escape from the restraints and inhibitions of Civil Service life. Conferences and meetings give members an opportunity to let their hair down. Certainly on these occasions they bear little resemblance to the image of tea-drinking, rubber-stamping, buck-passing plodders which seems to be imprinted on the public mind."

Many of the things described in the book, disputed and cancelled elections, General Secretaries refusing to stand down at the end of their terms of office, court cases (the union's HQ in south-west London was famously dubbed "Clapham Injunction"), and arguments about affiliation to the Labour Party, will be familiar to younger union activists, as will the internecine conflicts between Catholic Action and the Communist Party in the 50's and the National Moderate Group, Broad Left, Militant and Redder Tape in the 70's: not for nothing was CPSA known as the Beirut of the labour movement.

I knew that women civil servants had to leave their jobs upon marriage up to 1946, but not that in the 20's the payment they received when they did made them attractive to the few young men who had survived World War I, nor that in the 60's the CPSA magazine Red Tape ran beauty competitions, printing photographs of young women members in its pages ("A motion submitted to the conference expressed disapproval, but got little support"). I also hadn't realised that the head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life between 2004 and 2007, Alistair Graham, is a former CPSA General Secretary.