Beer, ale … whatever.

Digital planner, likes good pubs. Breaks that rule about discussing politics over beer.

One Brand, Different Direction?

Coca Cola is changing.

They have announced a new global marketing strategy.

It even has a name.

“One brand.” Continue reading “One Brand, Different Direction?”

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Beer and Hawes

The curlews at Garsdale Station welcomed us with real razzmatazz, presumably well aware of the impending downpour that hit the station just as soon as the train had dropped us on the platform and disappeared around the bend towards Kirkby Stephen.

We hadn’t expected to use the built-in raincovers on our rucksacks quite so soon, at least not until the next morning when we were due to start walking. But Mother Nature was determined to give us a taste of things to come…

Continue reading “Beer and Hawes”

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Brewing Down Wisteria Lawn

The wisteria in Chiswick is pretty old, even if it is a relative newcomer by London standards. As the river Thames snakes through the suburbs of west London – past the old cemetery, the botanical gardens at Kew and the brewery of Fuller Smith and Turner – this foreign import sits quietly, gracefully; boughs of improbable twists clambering around the architraves and balustrades of the pretty terraces that run both parallel and perpendicular to the curves of the river.

It’s at Fuller’s Brewery that the oldest wisteria in the UK calmly entwines its way around the Victorian buildings, defiantly taking hold of the old brew masters cottage, never to let go. For 180 years it’s bloomed twice yearly, a bounty of lilac blossom weighing on the strong yet vulnerable web of vines.

The Fullers Wisteria by flickr users ‘curry15’. Has seen more brew days than the average climbing plant.

The wisteria are the only twisting vines* that find their way into the brewery complex now that the famous Fuller’s beers are made with pelletised hops rather than full flowers, but boy would you not know that from the taste of the produce.

Perhaps Fuller’s have been inspired by the wisteria in their passion for brewing robust beers that develop, grow and flourish as the months and years slip by. Drink Past Masters XX or Brewer’s Reserve too soon birth and you get a sharp, unsubtle beer. Save for a year, or even ten, and the harsh youthfulness mellows into rich, decadent adulthood, bearing mature fruit and complex flavours.

Past Masters XX can trace its roots to 1891 making it younger than the wisteria. Based on a Victorian recipe for a beer called XXK (XX indicating a doubly strong beer and K meaning simply ‘keep’) it’s a splendid display of malt decadence and hop preservation – boozy, spicy and sweet. Plumage Archer, a long forgotten malt variety (even though it was bred, introduced and retired all within the second decade of the wisterias life) is combined with triple measures of Fuggles and Goldings hops, a combination designed to help the beer withstand the degrading effects of time.

Fullers Vintage, year 2000, is a bit of a stomach burner. Vodka and cardboard nose; prunes and fruit cake washed down with sherry; alcohol-soaked raisins for afters. It’s been 11 years in its bottle, quietly waiting to fulfil its purpose, and boy does it not disappoint – in fact it might be the most splendid bottle of beer of the past 11 years.

Technically Fullers beers have been maturing since 1845; recipes developing, brewing techniques changing, equipment getting shinier and more automated. If anyone knows how to age a beer it’s surely these guys.

After all, even Kew Gardens couldn’t keep their wisteria going for over 180 years. When their plant died, guess who they asked for a cutting…?

*Actually, hops are bines, not vines, because they don’t cling with tendrils, they grow skywards with the aid of their own hairy stems.

Fuller’s Griffin Brewery and their 200 year old wisteria

Thanks to Fuller Smith & Turner for inviting everyone on the inaugural European Beer Bloggers Conference to Sunday dinner and a session on how they age their vintage beers. Ta to all the team there – if you get the chance to visit the brewery (and eat and drink there) it’s an experience you won’t want to forget.

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Beko and The Moneymen

I’ve been wondering recently why nothing ever lasts. 

Not in the sense of entropy, or our futile battle against energy dispersal.

But in the sense that cars can’t be fixed by hand anymore, hardware/software is compatible for next to no time, phones are built to last months not years, my tablet battery isn’t replaceable yet alone accessible…

This post popped up Just in time… Continue reading “Beko and The Moneymen”

Strangers Bar

It’s a pub like any other. Traditional, wood panelled (old wood) with a real bar (brass?). There’s a perimeter shelf for empties (nice touch) and a place for coats (polite). Perched on high seats huddled around circular tables with cheap beer mats. The bar is awash with suits finishing work. It could be the bar of a provincial Wetherspoons in an old civic building turned public house.

But this is a bar like no other. Continue reading “Strangers Bar”

The Glad, SE1

I would love to be able to call The Glad a university haunt of mine. Tiny, and frugally filled with ramshackle furniture, my feet tap away on the exposed floorboards to jitterbug ska and rockin-robin boogie. The soundtrack, like the decor, is unmastered, mono.

If named for the Honourable William Ewart then I can’t second guess what the old Liberal Prime Minister would make of it. Grandiose it is not, but dirty back street boozer it is neither. Continue reading “The Glad, SE1”

A Working Class Hero Is Something To Be

“I’m rat-arsed” our hero shouts to the whole pub. “And this is one of the greatest working class songs ever!” as the familiar block chords are joined by a familiar drum roll and a scrawling copycat voice. “Slip insiiiide the eye of youuur miiii-iii-iinnd…”

Continue reading “A Working Class Hero Is Something To Be”

Cigarettes & Alcohol

Home at 11.30 on a school night, sniffing my coat. It’s been a good few months since I last let a cigarette pass my lips. Tonight’s a school night, a strange night to jump off the nicotine wagon, but conversation was deep and my companion had Marlborough Reds. There’s nothing beneficial about smoking, not one bit. Continue reading “Cigarettes & Alcohol”


On days when work is a bit too intense, or the week gradually catches me up and prepares to spit me out somewhere uncomfortable, there is a pub within walking distance of my office where I can take a book, sip on a half pint of cask conditioned British beer, and nestle against the wood panelling, enjoying the quiet and the peace. Continue reading “Hideaway”

Basement Beers

Deep in a basement bar in Bratislava, huddled over drinks in our winter coats, exposed arches of brick leaning towards us, I’m starting a new love affair. Continue reading “Basement Beers”

Spurn Point

Just like Mike Parker, the author of <a href=””>Map Addict</a>, for years I’ve been mesmerised by the enigmatic Spurn Point, that strangely shaped strip of almost-land that stretches from the tip of the East Riding of Yorkshire and awkwardly attempts to reach back downstream towards the sands of the Humber estuary. Continue reading “Spurn Point”

The Lamb, London

Sweaty arms, clammy knees. Bag heavy with laptop and a change of clothes. And four hardback books bought from a dodgy looking bookshop opposite Kings Cross Station. Continue reading “The Lamb, London”


There’s nothing quite like the nervous excitement of the build up to an evening football match.

Right down to the exit from work – the last-minute rush to finish the last job on the to-do list and turn down, log off, and clock out. There’s the quick two-pint pub visit, or the nip home to grab the forgotten tickets and then where will we eat where can we park where shall we meet you shall we get a taxi? Continue reading “Anticipation”

The Corner Shop

You only notice the musty smell if you’re unfortunate enough to get stuck in a queue back past the bread plinth, towards the shanty town of chest freezers (the sliding doors are the backbone of each ageing unit rather than the doorway to claim Aunt Bessie’s Apple Pies and out of date Fab lollies). From the darker corner, Continue reading “The Corner Shop”

Economies of (sc)Ale

Somewhere amongst the craft beer revolution the mass produced lagers that line supermarket shelves were demonised, no thanks to A-B InBev and a dash of UK lout culture. It probably didn’t take much for some people to come to this conclusion, not least those who’ve read anything by Naomi Klein. Continue reading “Economies of (sc)Ale”

Horton to Hawes

Day Four. The last leg and the longest. No steep mountain climbs on this stretch of the Pennine Way but a long slog to the ridges above Ribblesdale.

Ribblesdale is the least forgiving of the Yorkshire dales. Shops and towns are non-existent. Continue reading “Horton to Hawes”

Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale

Day Three. After two easy days this years Pennine Way walk got tough on Day 3.

Thirteen miles including the ascension of Malham Cove, Fountains Fell and Pen-Y-Ghent. We’d be over 600m above sea level for most of the day and climb 3 times that, Continue reading “Malham to Horton-in-Ribblesdale”

Thornton in Craven to Malham

Day Two. A coffee and a banana were the best Earby had to offer for brekkie and we set out before 9am towards Thornton in Craven, the official start of our second day walking.

Farmland dominates this part of the Pennine Way until the path hits Yorkshire again, and despite a near miss Continue reading “Thornton in Craven to Malham”

Stanbury to Earby

Day Zero. I see my Dad get off the train at Leeds station, a sore thumb amongst the suits and skirts that rushed from the Cross County carriages. We bundled onto the connecting line and stuffed our rucksacks in the ample overhead shelves (funny how local trains have better storage than the national ones). Continue reading “Stanbury to Earby”


Once upon a time Britain was an industrial nation. The population were manual workers, skilled or miners, all contributing towards the rise of the Empire.

Nowadays we work at screens, behind partitions, “in services“. Continue reading “Underbelly”

A torrent of gin of beer

The run up to the 2010 election isn’t looking like much of a beery affair. There may be some lively debate between scaremongering neo-prohibitionists and staunch defenders of personal freedoms, but I’m yet to be convinced we’ll see mandatory tee-totalism as the main focus of the next live television debate.

Back in 1874 the general election was a distinctly beery affair. ” Continue reading “A torrent of gin of beer”

John Lewis: a moment closer to death

IO Shaymen, Shaymen IO

“Mark from Morley has texted in” said Adam Pope, and he proceeded to read the whole text message I’d sent to BBC Radio Leeds (all 500+ characters of it) word for word, live on air. I burst into tears, full-blown streaming tears, soaking my chin and my shirt and blurring the M621 in front of me.

Fuck, it really happened. It really fucking happened.

I’d known since early that Friday afternoon it was happening. On my lunch I’d walked up to Leeds City Square expecting a handful of local reporters and desperate supporters outside the grey, charmless building of the administrators that were deciding the fate of Halifax Town AFC. But there was nothing but disinterested office workers and recruitment consultants in ill-fitting suits wandering around aimlessly. Back at my desk I didn’t do much work that afternoon, between refreshing BBC Football and repeatedly pressing F5 on the Halifax Evening Courier sports pages.

That long motorway drive, listening to my own words read back to me by Pope’s familiar tones, was two years ago, and my tears did little to stop Halifax Town disappearing from the face of English football. I welled up at the sound of my desperation and slammed my hands against the steering wheel in a mix of anger and despair.

Tonight, however, my beloved Shaymen fought back.

FC Halifax Town, the phoenix from the flames of the team that had played at the famous Shay stadium since 1921, recorded a historic point that secured the Unibond Northern Premier League Division One North title. 99 points and 107 goals were enough to fend off the challenge of Lancaster City’s Dolly Blues and confirm Town’s status as champions.

The long road back to Conference and League football is a step closer.

Tonight there are no pathetic tears, no pointless despair. Tonight’s celebratory beer is pure, unrivalled, pride.

This beer helps drown all the joys and sorrows of missed play off finals and the unparalleled relief of staying up on the last day of too many seasons. This beer is for the years, the heroes, the woodwork and the bulging net.

This beer is for Steve Norris, Jamie Paterson and Geoff Horsfield; for Lewis Kileen and Chris Wilder. This beer is for Neil Apsin, all the people who resurrected the club, and the fans who trudge to the ground each week.

This beer is for Tom Baker, because his 87th minute goal – which made me erupt with emotion in the presence of 1,932 strangers – is why I’m not in bed yet and instead, still up late, on a school night, drinking beer.

Why beer simultaneously matters and doesn’t matter

In a world of Top 100 lists and a thousand and one books about 1001 things you’ll never be able to afford to do, us Homo Sapien types often lose our perspective. We had caught up in the whims of our tiny, insignificant lives and convince each other that we are more important than we really are.

If I was compiling a list of photographs that you must see before you die, there is no doubt that Pale Blue Dot would be somewhere near the pinnacle of my list. The photo, taken by NASA in 1990, illustrates just how insignificant our little Blue Planet is in the vastness of our solar system. The image of a small dot – less than 1 pixel wide – does not even illustrate what a microscopically tiny part of our galaxy the Earth is, let alone the Universe.

Carl Sagan, at who’s request the photo was taken, summed this up beautifully. He cooly points out that every life, every birth, every death, every war, every fight, every breath, every human thought, all took place in this infinitesimally tiny piece of rock amidst an infinity of rock, gas and nothingness. And that includes every pint in every pub.

So, in the grand scheme of things, beer really doesn’t matter. All the beer ever brewed, ever drunk and ever dreamed about amounts to a relatively tiny bundle of charged particles, given energy by the star we call our Sun and ultimately delivering intoxication to a teeny bunch of people who are doing their best to put their everyday lives and strifes behind them.

One day, that same Sun will eat the Earth in a mind boggling display of unstoppable solar bravado, dwarfing it’s heavenly subjects as it accelerates towards it’s ultimate fate, collapsing under the weight of the universes’ weakest force and destroying, potentially, all the life that there ever will be or has been.

So in some ways, human fate is ultimately doomed. There’s no point to anything we do, we may as well drink, get fat and fuck off, leaving a dead planet behind to rot and burn.

But, as we all know, size isn’t everything.

Our human lifetimes which flash by in an instant are a speckle on the astronomical time line, but to each and every one of us, those moments when we breathe, think and drink are all we will ever have. They are our own personal time-constrained eternities. We will never have any one elses moments, we will never be able to see everything in the world. We will spend our lives missing out on everyone elses moments and clinging desperately to our own.

There are times we come together and share in our (utterly pointless and insignificant) lives. We celebrate the fact we have each other. We celebrate our health and happiness. We counter our grief and illness by coming together and offer our company to those in despair.

And during these moments, at these good times that we remember (and often at the bad ones we can never forget) many of us have beer as the focal point of our communion.

Beer is touted as the most social of our tipples, a drink for the masses, for all of the classes, with simple, earthy ingredients, served in community centres  for the local people, ‘public urban boundary systems‘ where people come together and network, socially, without the need for technology nor pixels.

Beer is arguably no more important than wine, than vodka, whiskey or cider. It’s rarely shared in the same way as the sambucas that you set on fire or the tequilas that we neck along with salt and lemon. It doesn’t have the shock and headfuck kick of a jagerbomb.

It is though, the most popular of all the alcoholic lubrications1. There are beers of various different levels of potency. There’s a beer for every occassion. A gueze to share, a kriek to start a party. A bitter after a long walk, a porter to sit in front of an open fire with. There’s a beer to cool you down in summer sun, a beer to warm you up after a cold winters day.

There’s a beer for a chat, beer for a session. Beers to knock you for six and beer to stay up all night with. There’s beer for drowning our sorrows and beer for celebrating milestones. There’s beer for beer geeks and beer for John Smith down the local WMC.

Arguably no other drink shares this diversity – no other drink can match beer for depth, diversity and refreshment.

‘Nothing ever lasts forever’ sang Echo & his Bunnymen. Not even the sun, this Earth or maybe even time. But in each and everyone of our worlds, our lives are our eternity and to us, everything matters. If beer matters to you, then beer matters.

1 So says a source on Wikipedia, and who am I to argue.

The Misfortunates

The Misfortunates

I’ve been meaning to write something about this since I saw one of the best films I’ve seen for ages at the 23rd Leeds International Film Festival earlier this year.

The Misfortunates follows the trials and tribulations of a highly dysfunctional Belgian family, the Strobbes. Gunther lives with his father, three uncles and grandmother and looks set for a ne’er-do-well adulthood just as his male heroes, all veritable Frank Gallagher types. Through copious amounts of alcohol (including a World Cup drinking game involving only Trappist ales), girlfriends, arguments, tears and more beers, the film is a retrospective look back from Gunther on his childhood and a peak into how he ended up.

Continue reading “The Misfortunates”

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