Bored by Lager? Try a Crafty One!

I’m not entirely sure what the definition of Craft Beer actually is but it looks like might be with us for a while so I guess I should find out. For those of you who haven’t yet partaken it’s a bit like lager but with taste and texture.

Not surprisingly, the concept is said to have started in the United States when, presumably, a large enough slug of the adult population rebelled against having to pretend that they actually enjoyed drinking Bud light. Apparently it is written into their constitution. But like most things supposedly invented across the pond, we need to separate the myth from the truth.

In reality there have been Craft Beers in Europe for centuries but there were no sharp suited  marketing men around to tell them what to call it. The common characteristics of Craft Beers, that differentiate them from more commercial  Lagers are taste, colour, texture and strength….and scale. Small is beautiful, big is ugly……successful, profitable, quaffable, but ugly.

Since real beer should only be made from four ingredients; barley, water, hops and yeast, the art in creating a genuine, truly innovative craft beer is in the selection of those raw materials and the timing and temperature of the fermentation and maturation. These crafty brewers can create fruity flavoured beers with refreshing effervescent mouth feel, without the addition of flavourings.
There are, of course, a few cheats who throw in the odd Kiwi or Gooseberry or Vanilla Pod here and there but hey, it tastes good. The Belgians have been brewing beer with Cherries and Raspberries for centuries and nobody would dare to accuse them of creating Alcopops.

These new Craft Lager brands have created a whole new drinking experience, similar to the recent cask ale explosion, but without requiring the drinker to sport a beard, wear sandals and support Greenpeace. The other obvious similarity to cask ale lies within their brand names and whilst they are not quite as radical and rude as Cask counterparts, beers such as Arrogant Bastard, Hopzilla and Puppy’s Breath are certainly capturing the imagination and generating trial.

Whilst widely available in the States, (have a look at ) we have to search them out over here. Brew Dog, the Scots entrepreneurial anarchists are opening bars and stores like most of us open envelopes and there are communities in Bristol, Camden, Bath, Shoreditch and Covent Garden where, justifiably, it has been deemed a capital offence to be seen drinking Stella.

It should also be noted that just because some of the national brewers produce lagers on an industrial scale, this does not necessarily mean that they compromise on ingredients, fermentation, maturation and quality. They produce quality products, consistently, on a scale that makes it affordable for some of those pubs not fortunate enough to be able to stock a Craft Beer to compete. Craft Beers are likely to cost more due to their differentiated raw materials and scale of production but it’s a price worth paying.

For me, the greatest attraction to the Craft craze is that this is mainly a draught beer offer that has not yet found prominence in supermarkets so anything that improves the experience and makes the pub an interesting place to be, has to be a crafty move in the right direction.

Les Murphy

The pub is dead…….long live the pub

I hear that the University of Leicester is working with English Heritage to explore just what has happened to our traditional English Pubs. Now I do not profess to be a Professor of Pubology but I am an MBO ( Master of the Bleeding Obvious) in Local History.

With 28 pubs a week closing down, you might be tempted to believe that the industry is on its knees. Couple this with the fact that there are now around forty five thousand pubs in the UK, compared with twice that number only a quarter of a century ago, you would think that those puritanical prohibitionist pilgrims from the Daily Mail would be dancing in the streets, provided of course they could find space to do so between all the comatose, beer sodden bodies that they tell us permanently litter our gutters.

Yes, there are fewer pubs but those that remain are, arguably better, busier, more varied and vibrant than at any time during our rich pub going history. What we are witnessing, is a complete transformation of economic and social trends that have rendered many pubs less relevant to today’s society.
Forty years ago, the pub would be the first port of relaxation and refreshment for hard working men folk after a hard shift down the pit, in the foundry or at the mill. Having weaved their way home, there was no satellite dish on the roof or forty inch plasma in the lounge beaming in the latest movie blockbuster or Champions League game so they went back out again.

Young adults would spend their time playing football, darts and pool for the local pub team, not secreted away in a darkened attic with an X box, eradicating the world of flesh eating zombies. If they were lucky enough to have a car, it’s a safe bet that their insurance premium actually cost less than the vehicle itself. When they felt the need to make a phone call, it entailed a walk to a box with a ten pence coin, not a contractual direct debit commitment signing away two thirds of their disposal income in return for the privilege of speaking to someone in the next room or tapping out unintelligible coded messages on devices that now appear to be genetically moulded to the left hand.

The frequency of pub visits has declined gradually but proportionately over the last twenty five years as people have discovered new and different ways of spending their precious leisure time. Contrary to common consensus, pubs have not priced themselves out of survival as a pint of beer now, in relative terms, and as a proportion of average income, represents better value than it’s ever done.

Whilst forty years ago the price of a pint was 14 pence, compared to £2.87 today, average earnings have risen proportionately. The big difference is in how we spend those earnings. Average household never used to have three cars on the driveway and four foreign holidays a year: a bus trip to Butlins every July was today’s equivalent of an exotic annual intercontinental adventure.

The decline in pub visits however, was not mirrored by a proportionate decline in the number of pubs. Big Pub Companies, invested huge sums of money that they didn’t have, in huge numbers of hugely overpriced pubs. Huge mistakes! As business declined, they could not offload these properties and so created a revolving door of hapless and helpless licensees, often investing and very quickly losing, their life savings or redundancy money in the their dream of running a pub. Now, as more of these pubs are eventually calling last orders for the final time it is dispersing those customers who still cherish the character, tradition and experience of Great British Hospitality into fewer, but more viable and vibrant pubs.

For every ten pubs that are closing, a new one is opening but these are much more reflective of contemporary needs and matching very specific requirements and occasions. So numbers may continue to decline but quality, choice, value and service continue to soar.
I will be fascinated to read the University of Leicester conclusions.

Les Murphy

Almost Perfect Pub Night

By the time I arrived in our local at 8.30 on Saturday, our resident DJ, Disco Dave Double-Decks, had already whipped the crowd into a frenzy with such England Classics “World in Motion”and “Its Coming Home” but the roof was well and truly raised when pub football team blessed us with a Karaoke Rendition of the immortal Fat Les classic ” Vindaloo”. Pure Magic.

Nerdy Neil hosted a World Cup Pub Quiz liberally littered with obscure trivia involving unpronounceable names, unimaginable locations, unbelievable scores and unmentionable occurrences. The average score was 3 out of twenty but one spotty, greasy haired youth, complete with tortoiseshell rimmed, fishbowl lensed glasses, scored all twenty. The replica Jules Rimet trophy was duly awarded Nigel, Nerdy Neil’s nerdy nephew.

At 9.30, supper was served. Shield Shaped Pizzas with the red of Italian tomato paste dominated by the broad white cross of melted Lancashire Cheese. Peroni was on sale at £12 per bottle to discourage anyone foolish enough to consider consuming anything other than English Strongbow Cider or John Smiths Bitter.

The sweepstakes followed, scores, scorers, time of first goal, time of Rooney’s sending off…….and at 10.45 the teams emerged. The Pub rose, as one and screeched most of the words of the National Anthem, some even in the correct order, whilst a couple of curmudgeonly Scots cowered in the corner. At eleven o clock, it all kicked off………literally. England surpassed expectations. The world all expected them to get beat but few expected them to actually play something that resembled attacking football.

And so, with a defeat under our belts, we have just entered the knock out stages slightly earlier than we would have liked but we still believe. I certainly believe that there is every reason to be back down the local at 8pm on Thursday.

Come on Engerland!

By Les Murphy

Aaaaaargh! It’s Father’s Day!!

I saw a film few weeks ago called the Purge. It is about an annual event in America when domestic law and order is suspended for a day and it becomes legal for society to exact revenge upon itself. Marauding feral mobs descend upon erstwhile peaceful neighbourhoods and ransack properties. The British Pub Trade has a very similar tradition; it is called Father’s Day.

Hardened drinkers abandon the pubs for a day and barricade themselves in the safety of their homes for the day whilst herds of children, hopelessly shepherded by bewildered adults, run around restaurants, overturning tables, spilling drinks, banging heads, spilling blood and embarking on food fights on a scale last witnessed at Henry VIII’s divorce party.

I personally witnessed the offspring of Wayne and Waynetta, little Tyson and Beyoncé running in and out of the toilet playing their favourite new game of Oscar and Reeva. It was truly Amazing how quickly little Tyrone could zoom under those tables on his knees.
The path from the doorway to the bar was like the road out of Beirut with wheelchairs and Zimmer frames carefully negotiating a route through abandoned prams and overturned pushchairs.

Normal menus are suspended for the day in favour of easy to chew fish pies, ice creams and jellies to meet the particular needs of those once a year visitors at both extremes of the age spectrum. Beer taps stand idle as tea pots fight for table space with Britvic Pineapple and Charlie Chalk liquid bubbly gum.
Just like the purge, a klaxon on sounds to mark the end of the event. Any unaccompanied children found in pubs after 7p.m may be legally sold into slavery or sent up chimneys.

Emergency cleaning crews are brought in from Sporting Stadia and Rentokil work through the night to restore the ravaged hostelries to some semblance of normality.

The tills are checked, the damages deducted and collective sighs are heaved as normal service is resumed………………well at least until Mother’s Day.

By Les Murphy

Cantona 1 Spoilsports 0

I marvelled at the footballing skills of Eric Cantona. I was engrossed by his philosophical musings about the seagulls following the ship and he rose to Deity at the moment that he rose, majestically to Kung Fu kick the cowardly Crystal Palace fan who naively thought it safe to insult Eric from the security of the terraces. These all pale into insignificance, however, when I watch him lampooning today’s crop of Premier League prima donnas as he declares that their status has been usurped by the Farmers of Alsace who harvest the Strisselspalt hop that creates magic dust sprinkled into Kronenbourg 1664.

I was amazed to learn that the advert had been temporarily suspended due to a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency on the grounds that the ad was misleading. I was even more amazed, nay stunned, to discover that this complaint was supported, if not submitted by the MD of the company that produces Kestrel Lager. He claims that claims of spurious provenance is unfair competition.

If I were marketing Kestrel, I would be more concerned about competition from Methylated Spirit distillers than a global brewer.

To test his assertion about misleading impressions created by branding I nipped down to the local off licence to compare Kronenbourg with Kestrel. I had to use the off licence as I could not find a pub within 200 miles of my base that sells Kestrel. I took a sip of Kronenbourg and wow! I had an immediate urge to slurp a lump of sloppy brie, chew a chunk of raw garlic and passionately kiss the deputy speaker of the French Parliament.

Conversely, I took a sip of Kestrel, hurled the can into the air and watched for it to soar silently and serenely across the skyline and hover menacingly above a hedgerow waiting to swoop upon an unsuspecting dormouse. It did neither…… plummeted into the recycling skip to which it had been aimed.
Drinks Branding and Advertising is not to be taken literally but is vitally important to the pub trade in creating the aspiration and motivation to consume premium products in the environment and upon the occasion for which they were intended. Most sensible people get that. Thankfully the Advertising Standards Authority get it too and have now overturned Eric’s suspension.

Les Murphy