The Bermondsey Mile

As a recent milestone approached, I decided a cultural fact finding mission was appropriate.  So the Bermondsey Mile (or part of it) was duly selected.  I have watched with a mix of awe, amazement and sheer astonishment as the London craft beer movement has developed, and been replicated in other places.  Out have gone any previous limitations, and we have such a range of beers available.  I am a bit old school, in that as much as I love trying different beers, I generally like it to be moreish, and I do still enjoy a few pints of session ale, in a pub, where the conversation flows as richly as the beer.  So wrapped up warm, we headed off into Marylebone, then Hooky at Borough Marketacross to Borough Market for some blotting paper, as some stronger than average beers were anticipated.  Good to see a range of Hooky beers on sale there.

The first Brewery stop of the day was to the famous Kernel Kernel Brewery

Brewery, as they close at 2pm on a Saturday.  The place was packed, and we queued for a good ten minutes, but there was a great relaxed atmosphere – a bit like rural pubs on a Friday night, or like rural pubs on a Friday night used to be.  The beers were listed by style, served in half pints, and we opted for six beers between the four of us, ranging in alcohol, 7.3% being the strongest.  Well, it was my birthday.  Bench seating in a cold railway arch, drinking cloudy, strong beer; but everyone was loving it, there was a real buzz.  I have always loved this sort of seating arrangement, none better than in Munich, where it just forces people to talk to each other, which is such an important part of drinking in pubs and bars.  Made me think of the empty vaulted cellar beneath the steam engine at Hooky, and what we could do there…….

We moved on to The Bottle Shop, sampling beers from Beavertown, Siren and Pressure Drop.  I had visited Pressure Drop last summer to look at their brewing kit prior to us ordering our pilot plant, so it was good to be reacquainted with their beers.Inside bottle shop

Brew by Numbers, Anspach & Hobday and Bullfinch were next in line, though it may not have been in that order.  One of the defining sights of the day was visiting craft brewers in new premises under railway arches, with people drinking inside, and also sat outside on wooden pallets drinking and socialising; and yet opposite was a boarded up pub, still with some garden furniture outside, at which people were sitting drinking beers from the new brewers.  I am sure that not many years ago, this pub would have been busy on a Saturday afternoon, with people drinking international beer brands, yet here they were drinking artisan craft beers, and each seemed to be trying a different beer.  The peer pressure here wasn’t one of brands, but one of exploration.

Closed pub on Bermondsey mile

By now we were feeling the cold, so made the short walk to the Draft House on Tower Bridge.  This is a real favourite pub of mine, with a well chosen and wide ranging beer choice.   A pint of Camden Town Pale Ale for me,  varying drinks for the others.  The pub was buzzing, with a great mixed and friendly crowd, just as I can remember pubs being on a Saturday some years ago.  So what did this pub have?  Warm, clean, friendly environment,  and good range of well served beers.  Just what the five of us needed after a tough day.  Note the three chaps sporting varying degrees of facial hair.

Inside Draft House 5 of us

So what is Craft Beer all about?  What we saw, and enjoyed, was a genuine people day.  Yes some great beers, pushing the boundaries, and the somewhat ubiquitous (at times) use of American hops with gusto, but above all a great fun day.  Five people, all choosing, savouring and drinking different beers, including one lady who would probably not normally have beer as her first choice, but really enjoyed all we sampled.  On trying to remember where exactly we had visited and in what order, I was reminded by one of my sons that somewhere along the line we also visited a gin distillery, and one of the biggest street food markets I had seen.

Back in the shire I was able to round off the evening with a couple of pints of cleansing cask ale.  A birthday to remember, a huge range of beers sampled, and the best thing was waking up on Sunday feeling on top of the world.

Next time you have a free Saturday, consider the Bermondsey Mile.  There are a couple of web sites giving details, you will have a great day out.  We did.   With thanks to Jo, Dan, Lucy and Lewis for a sensory day to remember. And apologies for the sideways pictures, that was me.

Hook Norton Brewery shortlisted in Publican Awards 2015

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Hook Norton Brewery was delighted to have received the news that they have been shortlisted in the prestigious Morning Advertiser Publican awards (commonly regarded as the Oscars of the Pub Trade), in the Brewery with Pubs category. Although the results will not be announced till March, judging has already begun, with the Brewery playing host to Pete Brown the renowned beer writer last Friday.   Visit our website for the full story!

The House of the Rising Sun

Rising Sun brewing

Ben briefing Mike, Laura and Robin on the brewing process

The Sun Inn in the centre of the village of Hook Norton has been owned by us for well over 100 years.  It is an unusual pub, in that it was originally semi-detached with another pub, The Red Lion.  In 1990, The Red Lion was put up for sale by Bank’s Brewery, and so the site was acquired by Hook Norton, and plans drawn up to merge the two pubs.  In 1992 the newly enlarged and refurbished Sun Inn was opened by Jenny Pitman, legendary race horse trainer.

We make haste slowly at Hooky, but the time had come for a makeover at the pub, to improve the facilities, and open up the trading areas.  Work continues apace, with a reopening later this week.  As the pub has necessarily been closed for a few weeks, three of the staff have been working here at the brewery, redecorating most of the internal areas.  It was during their time here that we commissioned our new pilot brewery.  So it was only natural that we should offer Mike, Laura and Robin the opportunity to brew a bespoke beer ready for the reopening of The Sun Inn.  So Rising Sun is brewed and now in cask, and will be available from Thursday 27th November, when The Sun Inn re-opens.  A fresh, modern take on a classic style, brewed with an international array of hops, this beer reflects the passion of the staff, and the exciting new look of the pub.  Limited edition, try one while you can!

Mike and Robin mashing in

Mike and Robin mashing in

From Russia with love

The team who presented at the conference, together with some of the delegates and ZIP staff

The team who presented at the conference, together with some of the delegates and ZIP staff

So the chance of a trip to Russia, to present on the subject of cask ale brewing. An opportunity not to be missed. So an eclectic group met at Heathrow in early September, for a weekend in Belograd, working with ZIP Brewing. ZIP manufacture a range of brewing equipment for the craft sector, and there is a growing interest in Russia in the British style of brewing, and in particular cask ale. After ordering a coffee in one of the departure lounge bars, which never arrived, we boarded our flight to Moscow. Four hours later we transferred to a smaller plane for the hours flight to Belograd where the conference was being held. This is quite close to one of the Russian borders, but we were assured we would all be quite safe, just don’t mention certain subjects. A short bus transfer to our hotel, dinner and a couple of beers, and an early night in preparation for the conference.

We had all sent our presentations over some weeks in advance for translation, and as we delivered these they were translated sentence by sentence. I was quite glad to not be on stage until the second day, giving a chance to see how it should be done, following the example of our Chair of the Guild of British Beer Writers Tim Hampson.

There was a clear passion from the brewers present, and craft is certainly alive and well in Russia. Explaining some of the idiosyncracies of British brewing was a challenge, such as single infusion mashing, secondary fermentation, and generally warmer fermentation temperatures. Converting Fahrenheit to Celsius (my normal answer to the question “what is that is centigrade” is to reply “we only brew in Fahrenheit”) was required, as were hectolitres, kilogrammes and so on. Quarters and bushels just caused further confusion. What was very clear was the passion and appetite to learn more.

A gala beer dinner was held after the first day of the conference, in a huge restaurant/bar/nightclub, with a capacity of 1,200, and a brewery on the top floor. And what a brewery! Installed by ZIP, a fully automated brewhouse, and 48 20hl Dual Purpose vessels. Hygiene standards were the highest I have ever seen; lab coats and hair nets, and overshoes. Seeing our host put overshoes on her Laboutin shoes proved that no one was exempt. A range of eight different beers were brewed there, and dispensed direct from conditioning tank. No distribution costs or worries here! Despite being a beer dinner, there was obligatory vodka, which we managed to be fairly abstemious over until about the third course. Hospitality second to none, and a fantastic range of well brewed beers.

The second day of the conference I was reminded of the fact that if I didn’t drink, when I woke up would have been the best I was going to feel all day. But the day improved, and many questions were asked, as well as being invited to visit two different breweries to undertake some collaboration work.

So the largest country in the world is well to grips with craft beer. Some of the delegates had travelled further to the conference within their own country than we had travelling from the UK. And some of the breweries were producing unfiltered unpasteurised beer with a two week shelf life, and still managing effective distribution in this huge country. Despite some language barriers (I found French seemed to be a mutual tongue) it was a fantastic trip, very enlightening, and great to meet so many like minded people. I look forward to a return visit; so far it is looking like Siberia in February.

thank you Tim, Derek, Andreas, Don and Ed for your company, and Anna and all at ZIP Brewing for inviting us and looking after us so well.

That was quite a week………

August is becoming a big time in the beer world calendar.  Not only is it the month when the great British Beer Festival takes place, but there are now a whole range of events, some but not all centred around the GBBF.  The GBBF is well established, and a legendary event.  We used to take a stand there, and whilst hard work, it was a great way to connect with a lot of people.  But as cost control becomes ever more important in a business, we haven’t taken a stand for a few years now, and indeed this year there seemed less brewery stands than last year.  The GBBF is a great showcase for cask ale in terms of available beers, but then when you look a bit deeper, it does court controversy.  Foreign keg products are allowed, but not UK ones; no, I don’t understand this either.  It will be interesting though if Scotland vote yes, will we see West beer in keg from Glasgow at GBBF? or BrewDog?  We shall have to wait and see.  If they are allowed in, as they would be foreign beers, it would probably be the only positive part of a yes vote.

The evening prior to GBBF is when Simpsons Malt host a technical dinner, which includes a harvest update.  Once again there were a number of brewers from overseas, and it is always great to share ideas.  The harvest is looking good, so one less thing to worry about for those who forward contract.   This event was at The Guinea Grill in London,  great Youngs pub.  It was here a few years ago that a brewery boss gave his take on beer and food “four pints of bitter, followed by a nice bottle of claret”.  If only life was that simple, beer sales would rocket, and it would be around balanced, flavoursome sub-4% beers; but that takes thought and care, as hops need to be weighed out, not volumetrically thrown in until there is room for no more……… and with four pints before dinner, we could forgive the wine.

Tuesday morning saw a few beers at The Hand and Flower, before crossing the road to Olympia.  We had pre-issued trade tickets, so admission was seamless; apparently not quite as seamless for some journalists who hadn’t pre-registered; yes we know they should have had tickets, but there is a bigger picture in a big wide world out there.  We need these people on our side, working for us.  So perhaps if this happens again, rather than seek to refuse entry, maybe, just maybe, we could thank these people for coming, buy them a beer and encourage them to write even more positive things about our national drink.

Wednesday morning was a visit to the Russian Visa office, to get my visa for an overseas trip.  30 minutes in and out, very well organised.  After lunch, judging the finalist beers at the World Beer Awards.  This was held in august surroundings of the Honourable Artillery Company.  What was quickly apparent was that we were presented with some fantastic beers.  A range of 12 dark beers was outstanding, and made choice difficult.  It was very apparent that most of these beers had been well brewed and well packaged, and quality was high.  A couple that weren’t were disappointing.  It was probably packaging, as the beers had made it through the earlier rounds, so those samples were clearly in good form.  Always a shame when this happens, but it happens too often, where insufficient care is taken with bottling.

I had hoped to make the London Beer Festival as well that week, but ran out of time.  We did manage a pint at the Bell Inn, Adderbury; call me biased, I probably am, but a pint of bitter with a lasagne is a simple pleasure for me.

Hooky at Bell Adderbury

The weekend also saw the Banbury Food Fair, and after a busy week, this was delegated to the younger generation.  Promoting the beers to a wide and varied audience, with a little assistance customer side, and sporting the latest line in brewery attire, Lewis and George had an interesting day.  Watch out next year, we will be running a drinks theatre.

Ready for the crowds at Banbury Food Festival

Ready for the crowds at Banbury Food Festival

The Russia trip mentioned earlier was memorable, and watch out here for more!  And I may have cracked the photo thing – pictures may be the right way up next blog, and I won’t be leaving it so long; I am the proud owner of an iPad.

 

 

For Queen and Country

Baton at edgehill

me (right)  Suzanne and Alan (centre) with two serving personnel at The Castle Inn, Edgehill, taking a break from running, and a cheeky beer

We hosted our licensee awards at the Brewery once again this year, and it is amazing how much character the old buildings have, and how they are actually very versatile. So the shop was cleared, and the old maltings turned over to a banquet layout. It had seemed a shame to undertake all of this work for one event, so on the day follwoing, we hosted a formal dinner, in aid of Help for Heroes and Bomber Command Memorial. Air Vice Marshall Malcolm Brecht was our guest speaker, and was excellent. I had first met Malcolm when he was in OC 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton. We kept in touch as he moved around the world in a variety of postings, and were delighted he was able to join us. A special late hopped beer, Centennial IPA, was produced, using English and American hops, to symbolise the military covenant; this was particularly appreciated the next day, as it reduced the port consumption, which we were all thankful for. We were lucky to have the local Air Cadets from Banbury and Chipping Norton undertake the waiting duties, and what an outstanding job they did, a credit to themselves, their parents and their unit.

A small donation was made to the cadets, which was presented by me at their annual review. Here I also met Major Jeremy Burman, OC of Banbury Army Reserves, who asked if I would like to take part in the Armed Forces Day in Banbury.  This year it would involve a trooping the colour ceremony, as the Banbury unit has moved form a signals squadron to a Logisitcs role. Saturday 28th June was not the best weather, as it poured down all morning. But what a show put on by all of the military personnel, and it was an honour to be a part of the inspection party. After the ceremony, it was back to the town hall, where several dozen bottles of Hooky were lined up to refresh us, accompanied by an endless supply of Cornish pasties; a most welcome beer and food pairing after such an event.

The Baton is a charity raising awareness of what our military do and the risks and challenges they face. The Baton has an annual run, and this year it was from RAF Brize Norton to the National Memorial Arboretum. It was a priviledge to be asked to run a leg with them, the run being a continuous relay starting at 1800 hours form the back of a huge C17 aeroplane, and running through the night. Running with Alan Rowe, founder of The Baton, Suzanne Dando, a patron of the charity, a serving Royal Marine and a serving Dutch soldier was poignant, particularly as we stopped at the repatriation bell in Carterton, to pause, reflect and respect.

I have always admired our armed forces, and it was a priviledge to be involved in these various events; as we rightly remember the First World War, never forget the continued operations we are involved in; not from a political point of view, but from men and women serving their country. You all have my utmost respect.

The beer revolution: time for some investment

 

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It’s not just my blogging that is in it’s infancy, my technical skills need honing too…….

So recent headlines claimed beer supplies may dry up as a hop shortage looms.  It made for good news material, and with over 1200 breweries in the UK now, every MP must have at least one in their constituency?  We have seen a massive increase in “hop head” beers, many of which are very refreshing.  Whether the idea came here from America, or whether some brewers here became braver and bolder, arguably easier if you have a smaller or pilot brewhouse plant, or whether it was just anti-establishment, I am not sure.  But hops have been used at rates previous generations would probably not have contemplated.  And some great beers abound, though those who know me will know I am a great believer in balance and moorishness.  So what of the possible supply challenges?  Well one of the things established brewers were pretty good at was future planning, and a conservative approach.  So we know what hops we are likely to need for the next few years, and duly place contracts via hop merchants to secure these hops.   These contracts run a few years ahead,  and help give the farmers some confidence.  Hop husbandry is not cheap, with large costs of maintaining wirework, or in the case of hedgerow hops, expensive machinery.  Forward contracts are a commitment, and we have been known to pay more than the spot market price, but if hops are important, so is variety and supply.  We may not have neon lights in the brewhouse expounding this thought, but the answer we would suggest is in the drinking.

Back in 2006 when we trialled our first of the current generation of pale hoppy beers, we thought it was the first time we had used American hops, as Willamette are used in significant quantity in the Hop Back.  Which of course implies whole hops, but that is a debate for another day.  When I had cause to look back into the old brewing records, of which we are lucky enough to have all of them, it was clear we were using American hops back in the early 1900s.  Hops then were in short supply in this country, so imported hops were used to make up the shortfall.  Interestingly, the hops are not named by variety but by where they were grown.  So Oregon and Hallertau appear.

What a different market now, as hops are sourced very much for their individual varietal characteristics.  And British hops start to be exported.  So we need to invest, we need to set up forward contracts, we need to give the farmers confidence, and we need consistent raw materials to maintain the massive range of beers out there.  And as we see more and more beers, consistency is key.  Quality, consistency, and a safe product.  We seem to have received a plethora of enquiries relating to Article 44 and allergens recently, with an associated lack of understanding about beer labelling.  But hey, we need to do this.  So is everyone up to speed?  Will we meet the deadline later this year?  Is everyone taking this seriously, there is a cost attached, but we have an industry to protect and maintain public confidence.  If you use the best raw materials, let’s tell the drinker.  Traceability through reputable suppliers has been around in brewing for a long time; about time we celebrated it.  Beer is inherently safe, but we need to prove it.

So come on everyone, it isn’t just about buying a brew kit and pumping out beer, there is a whole supply chain we need to work with to maintain the healthy future of this industry.  Get some contracts made, get to know your merchant and your farmers, and tell the world about it.  Let’s stop debating what craft may or may not mean, let us not think small = beautiful, bigger = bad, and enjoy beer.  And keep it coming.

This week we have our awards lunch for our licensees, a notoriously liquid affair with a three course lunch appearing at some point.  I am so excited as we have just taken delivery of some new glassware, balloon glasses lined at 1/3, 1/2 and 2/3 of a pint.  I look forward to a measured beer sampling, and beer and food pairing, hopefully safe in the knowledge that our supply chain is safe, and also celebrating the excellent work of those in the pub trade.  But quite how long before I move to my favourite dimple tankard I couldn’t say.  We’re hip at Hooky.

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What it’s really all about; or the sensible persons’ Portman Group?

Peyotn Arms

Picture shows a group of intrepid tourists at The Peyton Arms, Stoke Lyne.  Note the dimple handled glasses in view, recently voted as very hip.  Not that you would expect anything else from us?

So it has been a while; recovering from the London Marathon was always in the plan, as 26.2 miles took it’s toll on a 43 year old brewing athlete.   As I ease my way back into a slightly more relaxed dietary regime, it is time to reflect on the week that was. Or the last couple of weeks.   And over the last couple of weeks, it has been another of those passages of time where beer in all it’s glory and social responsibility has been at the fore.

The North Cotswold branch of the Military Vehicle Trust meet at the brewery each month, and have a varied programme of activity.  I was their guest speaker in April, and delivered a short talk on the history of the Brewery, including some of the impacts of conflict across the globe during the Brewery’s 165 year history.  We started by passing round a small block of metal, asking for guesses at to it’s purpose.  I won’t divulge it here, but a clue is in a picture hanging on the wall of the Pear Tree Inn, and the clue is the gentleman sitting down in the picture, but you will need some lateral thinking.  So a group of over 40 people learned a little more not just about Hooky, but about the part the Brewing Industry played.  Military history, social impact, and beer.

We run a basic cask ale course here, at which I have the pleasure to conduct a brewery tour.  It is only the last few months I have been undertaking this, after not having done so for a while.  I am really impressed with the level of interest and knowledge displayed.  People understand so much more about styles, origins, and indeed provenance.  They are hungry to learn, they know that lots of hops can be good, but so can less hops.  They appreciate the range of colours beer can offer; and they’re not that concerned about craft.  They are concerned with serving good quality beer, and for this they need both information and training, but also a good consistent prdcut delivered to them, which they can then finish the distribtuion process – the last six feet often being the most critical.  They are keen, and I never thought I would see such interest in the water break test; I am impressed, and it will deliver reward.  It really is about the beer, and how beer can drive successful pubs.  After all, 1 in 7 drinks in a pub is still a beer.

I am honoured to be President of Hook Norton Brass Band which is sponsored by the Brewery, despite me not being able to read a note, let alone play one.  The Band was formed by railwaymen when building the Banbury to Cheltenham Railway.  Hook Norton required two sets of viaducts and a long tunnel; 400 navvies here for 4 years, thirsty, and needing some entertainment.  Once the railway opened, it enabled us to deliver beer over a much wider area. The Band’s Spring Concert in the Parish Church of St Peter in Hook Norton was last week; stood there with a glass of Hooky in the interval, in a place where people had worshipped for over 1,000 years, long before the Brewery was in the village.  Quite a special moment.  We didn’t need an over hopped hazy beer that annihalated the taste buds; we needed something not too strong but refreshing, over which we we could chat with each other, and then enjoy the second half, without needing a sparkling water or double espresso to resuscitate the palate.  Beer at the heart of community life.

Then Saturday, an epic day was planned.  One minibus, one groom to be, 26 pubs.  It was a tall order, carbohydrate foundations were laid, routes planned, and away we went.  We managed 14 pubs; a lot of beer was consumed, and we covered some counties.  But we all lived to tell the tale.  We drank sensibly, we watched over each other, we stuck to two units per pub (mostly), we knew the risks, and we all wanted to enjoy the challenge.  We didn’t drink 5, 6 or 7% beers; hop content was balanced, alcohol was in fact largely 3.5%.  The Portman Group would be proud of us.  But we just did what was sensible, for us, for one and all.  I felt proud to be part of a group who respected beer, who knew what the physiological effects would be, who could take their drink.  I think Mr Harris would have been proud of us too – we didnt need to be encouraged to drink fast or trash the streets, in fact the bus driver warned us from the outset to be on best behaviour.

So another evidence backed tick in the box for craft beer – real craft beer, balanced, drinkable, moreish, and delivering positive health benefit.  And fact is, none of us suffered too greatly the morning after.  As we often hear, pubs are part of the solution, not the problem.  Beer is part of our life, and forever will be.

Margaret, Emily, or a fancy bird?

Earlier this week I called in to visit mother, and an interesting programme was on TV, which I caught part way through.  The subject was coffee, and the meteoric rise of coffee shops.  It was fascinating, and confirmed some of my thoughts.  I have often wondered how people will pay north of £2.00 for a coffee, which can equate to around £3.00 per pint, and of course coffee attracts a considerably lower amount of excise duty than say a pint of beer.  I am prone to sampling an espresso, so probably pay a pro rata price in excess of £10 per pint.  And if I want a longer coffee, why is an Americano now so big?  I just need a regular, and my Italian isn’t great, so Primo and Grande are foreign to me (well, I could probably work out Grande…).   So what has caused this to happen, and what can we as brewers learn?  Well a lot, and a lot.

Margaret Thatcher was the first and only British female Prime Minister.  She certainly left her mark; but why did it take so long from the horse race to Parliament?  Maybe the intervening conflicts; perhaps Emily was ahead of her time?  Whichever way you look at it, Margaret Thatcher would not have achieved what she did when she did if it wasn’t for Emily and her cause.  So that was nearly a century ago when the path was laid.  Margaret Thatcher carved a strong furrow.  She took on the Unions; she took away our children’s daily calcium intake; and she took on the beerage.  Yes, that staunchly conservative and Conservative group, often generations old, successful businesses, employing thousands and paying lots of excise duty.  And I daresay erstwhile contributors to the Party coffers.  But the Monopolies and Mergers Committee decided in their wisdom that the industry and it’s tied pub model needed reform, as the market was foreclosed.  The fact that most of the pubs were owned freehold, the breweries had few borrowings, Sundays consisted of Church, pub and lunch; and most importantly, pubs were run for breweries and beer sales, not banks and interest rates seems to have been completely missed.  So 2,000 pubs was set as the ceiling – and look what happened!  Artificial ceilings never work – Progressive Beer Duty being a good current comparison.

One well known big brewer seemed to get it right.  As pubs were sold off (we bought six from them), Whitbread entered the coffee market.  From a small start, acquisition, effective marketing and some luck, look at Costa today.  This was the early nineties.  At last women were making headway in Boardrooms up and down the country.  Mrs T had shown what can be done by a leader, and whether or not her policies sit well with you, she was undisputedly a leader.  Canary Wharf was on the up; some of the male bastions of banking and insurance were being challenged.  And women wanted something different for their social needs.  The liquid lunch was still in vogue, but pubs and beer came under pressure from coffee.  Sofas appeared in coffee shops; they were light and airy, with picture windows, table service, and trained staff.  And Jennifer played her part.  Jennifer?  Yes,  Aniston.  Friends hit our screens, and the coffee shop was in front of us.  Young friendly staff, who welcomed you, gave good eye contact, and actually looked like they wanted to serve you.  When they did turn their back, there was a positive message on their shirt.  The customer was king.

So back to the TV on Monday evening.  Why is coffee so successful? Retail marketing is totally customer focussed, provenance is important, but adjusted to suit new tastes.  The Italian coffee was very much small volumes of strong bitter coffee, espresso.  By adding hot water, or hot (not boiling) milk, coffees were made that suited the British taste.  Syrups sweetened this further.  Then we saw the iced beverages.  In my teens, a cold cup of tea was not nice; a hazy beer was dismissed as off, or more worryingly “it’s real ale, that’s why it’s cloudy”.  Now we have iced tea being retailed at £3 a time.  We have hoppy beers with a haze most of us spend a large part of our life trying to prevent.  And we have the largest coffee chain telling us their coffees are hand crafted.   To hold a paper coffee cup, disposable but with clear branding, is a fashion statement.  An equestrian ball game? A red tab? More recently, red soles?  No, a £3 hot drink, in a branded paper cup.  Forget the free coffee at work, I want my cup, I want to make a statement, I am cool, this is a desirable brand, look at me.

There were inevitably some also-rans, and some brands who didn’t make it.  Maybe they thought it was easy; perhaps competition was too tough; were some high street rents too high?  Diversification into filling stations and kiosks in rail stations seems to have worked.  Alcohol has been available in filling stations for a while, there was an initial anti-brigade, but that soon subsided.  Wetherspoons open a pub at Beaconsfield services, and there is a bit of a hoo-ha.  I have been trying to think of a pub that isn’t accessible by road, and I can think of only one, which is by a canal.  I don’t see a pub at the services as an issue – there is also a hotel there, not everyone is driving, and pubs sell soft drinks as well; probably cheaper than the average motorway service station offering.

Can we learn anything? As earlier, yes we can, and lots.  The beer market is crowded, there is oversupply, and a natural selection will sort this out.  Coffee at home is so different an experience to the coffee “on trade”.  Like beer.  But we want smiling staff, who know what they are talking about; and not having English as your first language is no excuse.  We want the branded cup, be it paper or china, and we want the right beer glass, properly cleaned, and containing the brand it should.  You just wouldn’t get the wrong cup in a coffee house.  I want staff to know a bit about the product.  And I want what is shown on the price list or menu to be available.  Simple?  Wednesday afternoon, after registering for the marathon, we called into a pub near Tower Bridge for a drink.  Yes, in London, our capital, and in a managed pub that is part of a large chain.  Carbing up of course, I chose a beer, when the barman went to pour, it was not available; I choose another brand, same thing.  In about 15 seconds, I am rapidly getting fed up.  That’s the part of traditional I don’t like.

We have a lot to learn; so Emily, Margaret, and Jennifer, I think we thank you.  And the fancy bird?  Well, the King’s old hunting ground has been developed and named after it.  I will be running around there on Sunday.  When I get back for a beer, I will be looking for a well presented beer, in the right glass, served by a smiling bar person.  Then again, I may be so in need of a beer……….

A Brewer’s Musings