Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What do you fear lager drinker ... a bit of flavour?

I paid a short but exceedingly pleasant visit to the Great British Beer Festival at Earls Court today. And by beer, I mean beer. Proper beer. Bitter beer. None of your gassy gnats' water lager rubbish. Real, brown, hoppy, rich, nectar of the gods beer.

In my whistle-stop tour of the 450-odd British real ales on show, I sampled a few half-pints and thoroughly enjoyed them. The champion beer this year was Alton's Pride, a best bitter made by Triple fff Brewery from Hampshire. And very nice it was too. But my favourites were Robinson's Dissy Blonde (Peak District), Crouch Vale's Brewer's Gold (Essex), Timothy Taylor's Landlord (North West) and Sharp's of Cornwall's Doom Bar. Oddest named beers included Spectrum's Old Stoatwobbler, Oscar Wilde Mild and the bizarre Side Pocket for a Toad. There were some excellent ciders and perrys too - of which I am very partial - and some traditional pub games to play like barrel racing and long alley skittles. The food on sale was equally traditional with beer-battered cod and chips, Cornish pasties, freshly roasted peanuts, pork scratchings, crusty meat pies and sausage and mash. You've never seen so many people setting themselves up for heart attacks gathered all in one place before. The four day event is like one gigantic cardiac unit's waiting room.

Yes, it was a bit beardy. And bloke-ish. And beer-gutty. But there were a lot of women there too and an encouraging number of younger people who, thankfully, have been lured away from the mass-produced, CO2-filled, tasteless wiz that fills the pumps in your average themed bar or chain pub.

The title of this post came from a T-shirt I saw stretched tautly over an ample distended beer gut. I couldn't agree with the sentiment more. Proper beer has taste and flavour and takes skill to make. The more of us who drink it, the more micro-breweries will stay in business and, perhaps most importantly of all, the traditional British pub stands a better chance of survival. Mass market lagers are killing the pub as surely as fast food outlets are killing the traditional chippies and supermarkets are killing off local grocers, butchers and fishmongers. The British pub is an essential part of what makes us who we are as a nation. It's an institution. And it's in real danger of falling to the charmless 'produce crap, sell it cheap, stack it high' homogeniety of the chain bar. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is fighting to keep the pubs open. I, for one, am happy to take up my pint glass and fight with them.

I must just mention the extraordinary sight of the Blood Transfusion Service urging the many punters to donate blood. Having seen just how much beer people were consuming, I wonder how much use their blood would be? Mind you, it would save a few quid on anaesthetics.


chris hale said...

I'm ashamed to admit I'm a lapsed CAMRA member, but nevertheless hold real beer in high esteem. Some years ago (oh, alright, in 1984)I bought a couple of bottles of Thomas Hardy's Ale, brewed by Eldridge Pope in Casterbridge (sorry, Dorchester). Apparently this beer will keep for around 25 years. I intend to crack open a bottle in ten days' time to celebrate my retirement. I'm just hoping it doesn't taste like one of the author's old socks!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Mr Christopher Hale! What a pleasure to have you aboard. Welcome to the blogsphere. Ten days before retirement eh? Well, broach one of those beers for me. Great photo BTW. What happened? Your zoom button broke?

chris hale said...

No problems with the zoom. I could say that the image is symbolic of man's insignificance in comparison with the vastness of the universe. The truth of the matter is that no-one can see what an ugly get I am. However, I have recently, quite by chance, taken a photo of myself that suggests thoughtfulness, determination, sensitivity and a second chin. When you see it you will say to yourself, "Kenneth More in 'Reach for the Sky'". Either that, or "Good grief!"

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris - I shall look forward to that! I wrote a whole post on the subject of how unphotogenic I am a month or so ago. Don't you just hate those people who look great on film (chip?) at any time? Bastards ... And only two chins? You're not trying matey. I cultivated several for years but they've now all merged into a kind of pelican-like wattle. I have to be photographed looking up (to stretch it out) or from above these days!