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Which beer festival is the best?

As a family we would often take our hols late in the season. Meaning that at work I’d sit through weeks and months of others jetting off into the sunshine to enjoy themselves. I sit at work wishing my holiday would hurry up and arrive.

This years abit different. We have no holiday plans due to moving house. However, I’ve gone through a very similar feeling week after week but down to watching everyone attend brilliant looking beer festivals! All the while knowing that I had Craft Beer Calling to look forward to, but it felt a long way off!

Well it’s no longer a long way off, it’s here next weekend! And I can’t bloomin wait!

I have had a few people ask me over the years which is the best beer festival and I’ve always ummed and ahhed over the details and the differences between them, when in all honesty they’re 75% the same. The beers will all vary, but you know what styles will be pouring. The venues are all very different but all have largely similar functions.

The differences become the characters of each festival. Indyman character feels asif it’s very much driven by the atmosphere, which feels like its sculpted by the aura of the building. There are many other brilliant venues which impart their own auras on the proceedings. The Palace of Arts in Newcastle brings its own ethos to Craft Beer Calling.

But for me, the thing which determines how I feel about festivals is the people. Firstly the nature of the people organising, second the nature of the people attending and thirdly, the people who I go with and spend my time with. Now Craft Beer Calling has grown up over the years. I don’t necessarily think it’s become that much bigger in volume, buts definitely grown in stature. And as a result the crowd is now more diverse. When it first moved to the Palace of Arts it kinda set its stall out for what it wanted to become. The locals loved it, but that allowed word to spread further afield which draws people from outside the region in to sample its delights. This is the very core of what a festival of this magnitude should do. Anything which brings folk from outside the region in to spend their coin here is a huge benefit to us all.

So what of the best beer festival? Well the truth is, there isn’t one. It’s the best one for you. It’s the one which gives you the best experience and that experience is significantly impacted by who you go with and who you meet when you’re there. These are things totally outside the organisers control but make a massive difference to how you perceive that festival.

I guess a large part of the charm of Craft Beer Calling is the localness of it. I know I’ll know a lot of people there. I usually go along to sessions on my own, and never find myself not knowing anyone. It’s also a very friendly festival. It’s a very welcoming crowd.

I have to say o can’t wait to get in there again!

So who’s coming out to play?

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Sexism in the beer industry: Let them be heard

Ok, so here goes. First post for a while and not an easy subject to write about, but I can’t help feeling like there are certain aspects of the sexism in the beer industry debate which aren’t being said.

Firstly, I’ve seen a few events now which are aimed at addressing sexism by appealing to a female audience. Great, I’m all for that. Let’s grow the market and show that there really is a beer for everyone and, more importantly, room at the table for everyone who wants in. The sector will be much better off if it’s as open and accessible to everyone, no matter what height, weight, nationality, age, oh yes and gender, you are.

However, there have been a few events, aimed at encouraging a female audience which have been made female only. Am I the only one who sees the flaw in this? I can only imagine that the organisers think that by banning all men, they guarantee the sexist few men won’t be there to make the women feel uncomfortable. All I can think is, what a shame.

Personally I think we should be encouraging an ethos of men and women going to pubs together and more than that, families all going together. Creating a place where people are respectful of others and everyone is used to being in a rich diverse crowd full of vibrant chatter and colour, where conversation is unpredictable but always stimulating and enriching.

I would encourage all efforts to raise the profile of women in the industry. The vast range of beers available today are a reflection of the vast array of people who work in the industry which produces them.

I guess what I’m saying is the best way to make the idiots who seek to belittle those who have any perceived differences to their own image of perfection, is to repeatedly show them that a diverse crowd is the norm. Encourage openness, encourage interaction. Don’t ban people.

One other factor in the sexism debate, and one which I think is a real shame, is that I’ve heard a lot of men say, when the issue of sexism is brought up, that they’re not getting involved. They don’t want to say anything out of fear of offending people or having their comments misconstrued. Well fear should never be allowed to prevent positive steps. And I’ve no doubt there are women out there who also back away from voicing their opinion for fear of an over-reaction.

Again, I think it’s important that voices are heard. These people aren’t sexist in any way, so don’t let the only voices be the sexist few or the anti-sexism campaigners. Let’s encourage voices and actions from every element in the industry. Which I guess needs two things. Firstly, don’t be afraid of making your voice heard. That means say what you really think, not just what you think won’t offend. But also, I would encourage everyone to consider how they react to comments. Let’s not jump down the throats of well intended comments, granted there are always those who will be worthy of a strong robust response, but let’s not discourage (literally meaning taking away their courage) honest, decent folk from voicing opinions. As a society we operate best when all voices are heard and a sensible middle view of acceptability is found.

Gary….

Meet Barry, Barry is the heart of the little village I live in.  He works in the local shop you see, and he takes on far more than his job role entails.  Above and beyond is the phrase I think most people use.  If you go into the shop for something and it’s not on the shelf, you can bet he’ll be first to shout up and say he’ll check out the back, he’s always on hand to help the elderly locals with packing their bags, and then carrying those bags to the car in many instances.  It’s his positive smile and willingness to try to make the shopping experience as pleasant as possible which makes the shop itself such a key asset to the area.  All communities need their hubs.  Almost asif the purpose of those hubs runs secondary to the bond building developed through simply locals being in the same place, that shop is the most likely place to bump into people you know. It’s the core of the local village connections.

Bit of a shame really, but I was in there last week.  Barry was in but he seemed down.  He is ever willing to try and help people, so if someone asks him a question he tries to answer as honestly as possible.  Barry is the sort of guy that you can see is genuine the moment you meet him, but sadly he was on the wrong end of some online abuse.  All he was doing was telling people the position that the company he works for has taken for many many years.  He didn’t know that there were pockets of people far more wise in the area than him who would jump on the words that he used and use them to beat him with.

Sometimes I don’t think the beery social media world does a very good job of selling the sector.  You know this sector has been filled with a lot of positivity due to the years of exponential growth.  That growth brings optimism and the feel good factor.  That growth is only sustained by attracting more consumers and growing the market itself.  Which is why I cringe that the holier than thou approach of abuse that gets thrown at people from outside our bubble for not knowing certain things.  Such a reaction will drive people away from the sector, not encourage them into it.

Gary from Sainsburys was simply stating the way beer has been handled for many many years.  Supermarket staff, not into their beer, wont view craft beer and other beer differently.  So the way one type of beer is handled must be ok for all types of beer, is the subconscious thought until specifically told otherwise.  And that is the key here.  Supermarkets aren’t investing heavily in sommelier training for all their staff.  It’s a reflection of the absence of knowledge in the business about what the beer geek market expects of the way beer is handled, whether that is realistic or not. Gary hasn’t had sufficient training to be best placed to answer that tweet to this audience.  But that’s not his fault.

Ironically, many comments focussed on the fact that beer should be stored in a fridge.  But that’s not really the area where most damage occurs.  The best thing for beer is a consistent temperature which most shops have, but it’s the transportation where temperature variables come into play.  The same packages can be moved in the blazing heat as well as the severe frosts.  Swings in temperature play havoc with the genetic makeup of a beer.  But that’s out of Gary’s control.

Supermarkets will try and portray a personable friendliness.  Big example here is staff putting their names to tweets, so as not to hide behind the brand, but demonstrate that there is human interaction going on. And in many respects I think that’s a good thing.  Ultimately its individuals who make your experience in store positive or negative.

I feel like there is a very obvious aggressive snobbery on social media right now.  Far too quick to aggressively put someone in their place.  There is no way someone would be spoken to in the same way if we were all in the same room.  Why do it online then?

Which brings me to my other big bugbear here.  There is a subculture of showing off within social media.  I think its probably systematic of the way social media works, but its repulsive and brings out the very worst in people at times.

When you get aggressive snobbery and a neediness for showing off, you quickly find pockets which repel people from the market instead of encouraging people to try.  One of the worst places for that is UK Craft Beer Forum.  I know I’ll get stick for this, but here’s my stance.  The good thing about UK Craft Beer Forum is that it gives a place for people to express their views, well this is me expressing mine.  I have watched that group have a lot of fun at times with beer, but inevitably with the advent of videos and facebook live, I can’t help feeling like its becoming more and more about promoting egos than about promoting beer.

I was quite active for a spell getting involved in certain discussions, but it became clear that the comments which get the most responses are the ones which give those in the forum an opportunity to be critical.  I never really felt like I had strong stimulating discussions over any topic.

The forum itself prides itself on the number of active members and I’ve seen the recent social media savvy marketers making use of the forum to connect with those numbers.  But I for one have become abit bored by the antics of those in there, which ultimately will have an impact on the perception of those who seek publicity within the forum.

So, in summary, be nice to people, smile at people, encourage them to try the wonderful world of beer that now exists.  The future of the sector is dependent on it!

Life in Dadsville

Hey look at me, writing a blog which isn’t about beer. My first one ever!

That’s me, trying to be light hearted when really I’m a bag of nerves.

You see, I am the father of 3 boys, aged 6, 3 and 4 months. Only, when we were pregnant with the youngest one of his scans detected that his kidney was slightly larger than normal. That didn’t measure n anything significant at the time, other than it was flagged as something they would track and we had the bonus of extra scans during the pregnancy. Scans are when pregnancy feels at its most real and tangible, so a couple more felt like extra treats.

After birth he was given another scan which effectively set the starting point, from there they would be able to determine rate of change etc, but again it was simply left to be kept an eye on. After 3 months he was given another scan, only this time the sonographer reacted slightly differently, we were instantly informed that it was to be referred to a specialist in the area. That led to more tests and scans all of which ran very quickly into the here and now.

It’s Sunday night. Usually I spend Sunday night getting clothes ironed for the week, shoes polished, all in anticipation of work on the Monday, only this Monday is quite different. The short story (without the big long technical words) is that the little lad needs an operation, and they ain’t hanging around. We literally met with the consultant on Friday and he is having his op tomorrow.

Now I’m a loyal supporter of the NHS. I’ve always been incredibly impressed by the staff who I’ve dealt with. And this is no exception to that. Everyone is so articulate in how they have put information across to us, so we fully understand it all.

But there’s one thing core to it all that terrifies me. It’s the dread of that moment when my little boy will go off to theatre to be put to sleep. Off to theatre to be opened up and have bits cut, and other bits stitched. It’s the thought that man made materials will be intentionally left in there to be removed at a later date. And actually the worst bit of it all is that I haven’t allowed myself to think about it. In the build up I’ve done what everyone does with that piece of work you’re not looking forward to, I put it to one side and ignored it until it needs to be addressed. So this is me here now with it on the horizon and I can barely think straight about it never mind be calm about it.

I’m a very calm person really. I’ve always been good at giving context and perspective to things. But this one is too sizeable for me to do that.

I guess it would feel easier if all I had to sort out was the youngest, but I’ve got the rest of the family to look after too. The older boys are insisting that they’re allowed to visit, they don’t want to go a day without seeing their brother. Which warms my heart to hear, but adds to the logistics! However, my aim is to have the family together as much as is feasible. It’ll keep us all sane!

I also count us fortunate that it’s the youngest going in. He won’t have a clue what’s going on and won’t have any fear. The older boys would and it’d be far more difficult to handle with them.

And you know, we’re so fortunate to live within 3 miles of one of the best children’s hospitals in the country. Honestly it’s amazing, the building itself is massive but interesting, full of colour and interesting detail, and that’s just the outside! Inside there’s loads of character and all manner of things to fire up a kids imagination. It’s incredible really.

So I’m reverting back to the classic dad routine. Focussing on busying myself with practicalities, being the daft joke maker to ease my own nerves.

One thing that struck me, when we had our meeting on Friday and he explained exactly what he’d do etc. I sat there thinking, he could be telling me anything. The only thing I am in reality liking for is confidence from him. How much does he talk up or down the operation? How straight forward does he appear to think the operation will be. And that’s not a judgement on the severity of what’s to come, it’s us trying to cling to reassurance from his experience. I do feel reassured, but the way the consultant talks to you in those meetings is the basis for you to judge everything about the whole procedure.

So think of us tomorrow. He’s due to go into theatre first thing. I’m dreading the agonising wait for him to return, but focussing on the benefits that the operation will bring for him. Floor will be well and truly paced!

Thanks for reading. This isn’t what I usually blog about I realise but as a quiet man, every now and then I need an avenue to vent. I guess blogging has become what I do to rationalise thoughts. I’ve not edited or even reread this post. I’ve not written this for anyone to read to be honest, just felt I needed to write it down.

Clearing the decks…

It feels like there’s a real sense of angst in the social media which surrounds the beer industry right now. And my mindset is to view it as a good thing long term if it gets points raised now for a better future. So in the spirit of a good pre-new year sort out, I’ve a few things that have been bugging me for a while now. Take this post as me clearing the decks so that as of tomorrow I can go back to being positive again!

A recent phrase in a Mark Johnson blog post, rekindled an irritation which I’d been meaning to form into a blog post for some time. He made reference to the Twitter version of yourself, which I took to refer to the false pretence with which many folk present themselves to the social media world.

Now that sounds malicious and intentional but actually, many folk don’t even realise that they’re doing it.  Imagine if you will, a relatively normal day.  You wake late, you dash downstairs for coffee/breakfast but find there’s no milk. You run for the bus but miss it so have to wait in the cold for the next one.  You get to work and those emails that you never got round to sending, come home to roost with a vengeance.  Your lunch is an underwhelming cheese sandwich and you already know you’re going home to the same pasta bake that you had last night, which is now, well lets call it ‘aged’ 24 hours. You sit down to watch nothing of any interest on the telly.  It’s almost asif your appetite for something interesting has waned and all you want to do its go back to bed, only  you cant sleep…

You glance out the window and notice your neighbour, who you’ve never really spoken to, has a shiny new car. Some folk get all the luck. Would be lovely to have a nice new shiny car to drive to work in. Would be lovely to have such a perfect life that everyday is easy and driving a nice new car is the cherry on that particular cake. No money worries there. No disappointing meals being eaten there. I bet every meal is a banquet of artisan delicacies. I bet he has a healthy social calendar.

But one day you happen upon an old school friend, you get talking and through telling him where you live you discover that he knows your neighbour well. You find out that your neighbour had suffered from a significant head injury from his military days.   He suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and enduring nightmares.  When he first left service he was unable to conform to the normality of day to day life and he lost the love of his life through his anger/anguish.  Every day is now a battle for him to keep his head up and a smile on his face, but he’s doing it. He’s getting help, he’s fighting back.  But it turns out your perception of his life, based entirely on his new car, was a million miles away from the reality.

That’s social media to a tee. You get a very small glimpse of a person’s life, but human instinct is to judge what you can’t see by what you can.

Flip that on its head and many people will be very choosey about what glimpses of their lives that they will share with those on social media. Only presenting what they see as the best parts of themselves. More confusing still, some folk will portray a whole false persona by hinting at a different reality through images and the things that they say.

Going back to Mark’s post, I felt that in response to the #Hopinions question of what to drink when there is nothing ‘craft’ available, it’s very easy to be flippant and respond with what you think will impress folk. Ugh, we men, we drink beer, ugh ugh ugh. So opt for a response along the lines of ‘I won’t touch anything other than that finest gold leaf hops’. Easily said, but the next time that scenario presents itself, I’d love to know how many of those people carry through with that. Not a lot I suspect.

And this false façade is something which sits very uneasy with me. Just when you feel comfortable with those you interact with, something comes along which undermines it.

I’m aware of numerous areas where profit motive can creep into what we do. What I do is simple. I’ve said all along, I’m passionate about the North East and I’m passionate about our beer scene. My motivation is to raise the profile of the North East beer scene and have fun along the way. This is very much a labour of love.

Recently a lot of the non-beery podcasts I listen to include adverts to ‘help fund them’, but I prefer to keep it simple. But what do we know about who’s funding what? How much of the things which influence you are targeted? I’ll be honest I’m aware of some things which are backed by different entities and conglomerates, but there seems to have been a fair few recently which have appeared out of the woodwork. I take the ownership of ratebeer as a prime example.

And on the face of it, the ownership shouldn’t matter if you like the product, but I can’t help being cautious of the motive of the ownership, and the direction they will try and sway the market.

I guess I feel uneasy about newbies eyeing up the modern beer scene as a cash cow. I think that brings with it greed and drives prices up as more hands grasp for a share. And long term, the modern beer scene will become established and perhaps the novelty will reduce its cache. The fashionable will no longer include it in their focus and then what? If those chasing the payouts up and leave the market, what’s left? I’m not saying that no good will come from people investing in the sector, I guess I’m just abit cautious of what I’m seeing.

Maybe I’m just paranoid, or maybe I’m missing something, but I worry that our market is becoming increasingly a brand driven market, much like every other fashion built sector. I guess I’m just keen to maintain that there is something of substance behind those brands and not simply a means to an end of making someone rich.

Finally, apologies if this has degenerated into a rambling rant, but it was important for me to get this off my chest before Christmas. My next post will be far more positive, I promise!  I’ve got a little idea that could go a long way, but more of that in my next post.

Now, where’s those mince pies…

Hit em up

It looks like its back…..

In my youth, there was a bitter east coast/west coast war waged between rival rap labels in the US.  Each coast had its own style of rap and what started out as a battle for the public attention became personal and levied at the individuals who were on the opposing coast.  Naturally, it didn’t take much in the way of crossed swords to spiral into something far more volatile than it needed to be.

As a music fan, I had grown up loving the music coming out of each coast and yet all of a sudden that wasn’t acceptable.  As a listener growing up in the hardknock streets of Rowlands Gill (a small picturesque former mining village in the Derwent Valley), I was encouraged to pick a side.  It meant showing any form of respect for one side, was a diss to the other.  I think we can all see how pathetic this was.  It meant that some years later, I went back and started exploring the music which came out of the east coast during those years, as Id avoided them at the time.

I had thought the circles I was in had matured beyond that.

And yet here we are.  Garret Oliver states that he thinks NE IPA’s wont stay in vogue forever, he’s quoted as calling them a fad, and all of sudden the defences go up.  Battle lines are drawn.

But take a step back.  Im a lover of the west coast IPA.  As I stated in my last post, I don’t feel able to judge if Im a fan of NE IPA’s. I would say that I have had some great examples and Ive enjoyed a great many facets of them.  My only stopping point is that I prefer a good quality west coast style IPA.  At no point have I ever criticised NEIPA’s, they are brilliant and I do drink them. Full stop. No but on the end of that sentence.

My love of West Coast IPAs is in part more entrenched than simply being a lover of the current style.  There are a million west coast IPAs out there that just don’t do it for me either.  They don’t quite hit the point of just what Im after in the style of beer.

And you know what?! That’s OK! Those same beers could be just perfect for someone else’s tastes. There’s a reason not all beer is the same.

I used to have a black and white telly, the programmes sounded the same but the world was far more enticing when viewed in colour.  Allowing more elements to make up what youre looking at is a wonderful thing.

Everyone is allowed an opinion, but more than that, we’ll all be much better off opening our eyes and ears to take on board a variety of opinions.  I want to walk into a bottle shop and to be presented with a vast array of beers.  The broader the array the better.  If each beer reaches a different drinker and brings them all together into that pub to talk, then we’ll all learn from each other and be far better off.

So don’t criticise NEIPAs, they add to our vocabulary.  And similarly, a love of NEIPA doesn’t mean that you have to hate on those who love West Coast IPAs.  And you know what, lovers of hop forward beer styles, don’t have to ‘hate’ those who like to drink dark beers.  Drinking establishments put a range of beers on the bar so that they can appeal to a broad range of people.  A different beer for every taste is the aim, while that’s not always possible, the wider the range the better.

I fully understand Cloudwater defending their chosen beer style. They’re a brewery doing great things and they have had a significant impact on the UK beer scene, and for the better too. I don’t love every beer they do though. I love their Stouts. I think the grisette is an incredible beer, and while they’re known for their DIPAs, I happen to have had a better experience with their IPA range. Perhaps thats an expectation v experience thing.

Sadly though, I’ve seen far too many reactions to the Cloudwater post along the lines of belittling those who don’t love NEIPAs. I don’t for a second believe that Paul wanted that. This is an industry that grows best through collaboration. Where differences are valued. Apply that degree of acceptance to the fact that different people have different tastes and we’ll all get along.

Socks, sandals and searching for bitterness….

My beer journey was on a very steady path. I was a fan of good quality cask. There were, at that time, a growth of new ‘microbreweries’ as we called them back then. I opted to join CAMRA as I was a fan of real ale. By that I mean I wasn’t a fan of lager, I wanted something with more flavour and if I’m honest I found the texture of cask beer far more to my liking.

Then the world turned. There was a point where beer growth gathered real momentum and in particular quality keg beer became more and more prominent. It soon became apparent that people would tend towards one type of dispense over the other. If I’m honest at this point the lure of hops grabbed me and challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone, and you know what, I loved it. I soon became obsessed by hops. The more vociferous the bitterness the better.

This rise in keg beer represented a problem for those loyal to a CAMRA past. Many of the members had spent so long fighting the cause of real ale, being a cask offering, that they weren’t able to give credit to the great many quality keg beers that were now on the scene. Add to that the fact that many of these drinkers weren’t drawn to that extreme bitter assault. So rightly they stood loyal by the cask offerings.

From my perspective, it felt like the new age modern take on beer, ie hop forward keg beers, we’re stepping away from the old fashioned image of the cask beer on offer. Style wise many of the branding at that time reflected that. Cask badges would have a heritage feel, trading off built up reputation and proud history. Keg fonts were far more an expression of modern art, bright colours and fashionable image references.

Objections were raised by those who were stereotyped as CAMRA members. New age drinkers didn’t really understand what their problem was with keg beer and conversely those people didn’t understand why anyone would consider non-cask beer to be better than cask.

In the last 12 months, I’ve become increasingly aware that the beery tectonic plates have shifted again. The style which has driven that is the New England IPA. All of a sudden west coast IPAs have been pushed out of the limelight. Breweries are overlooking them when choosing their line ups for significant beer festivals. Instead they have two or three (or more) of New England style IPAs or derivatives of.

And you know what? I’m left longing for the experience of that bitterness again. I fully appreciate that your palate develops and your tolerance to hop bitterness increases making that experience more and more difficult to achieve, but that doesn’t stop me seeking it.

And that’s another thing, my understanding of New England IPAs is not great. I’ve had many versions but a lot of those are UK breweries having a first stab at a New England style IPA, without sticking rigidly to the core parameters of what the original IPAs from New England were brewed to. So my opinion of the style is clouded by poor representations. But I’m not really in a position to be able to call out poor representations, as I’ve never actually tasted an original NE style IPA hailing from New England. The US breweries who have driven this style are small in size and their beer is highly desired. So they don’t reach these shores in great numbers. I imagine that the examples Cloudwater produce are true to the original style, but that’s as close to a reference point as I have.

And you know what’s worse, I almost feel like the beer scene has moved on from my tastes. I’ve become old fashioned, talking of the good old days when beer was bitter! I’ve become the equivalent of what I saw as blinkered opinions to keg beer way back when.

So what have I learned from that? I open my mind. I explore and embrace the new styles. That doesn’t mean that I’ll love anything which sticks NE style on the label. But I want to truly appreciate what the style is and experience the good examples. Only then will I truly be able to give an opinion as to whether the style suits me or not.

For what it’s worth I can see the NE IPA saturation point approaching. Good examples will last beyond the era of fashionable, and some other style will steal the limelight for a few years.