Tuesday, 22 September 2009

711 breweries! (part 2, or: Beat the Hun!)

More on the good news that there are now more breweries in the UK than at any time since 1945. CAMRA have Roger Protz saying that Britain now has more small breweries per head than any other country:

For the first time since the 19th century, Britain is the undisputed top brewing country in the world. It has over 700 breweries and has more small craft breweries per head of population than all other major industrialised countries; but it also offers tremendous choice.

Well, for one thing, the incredible number of different beers currently being brewed in the United States make a credible case against the idea that Britain is Top Nation in brewing in absolute terms. But I have no difficulty believing that the number of breweries per head in the US is still tiny, so let's leave the US out for the sake of argument.

Let's have a rough look.

Going on the CAMRA figures, Britain has 711 real ale breweries: one brewery per 84,388 people assuming a population of 60 million.

Germany has 1319 breweries as of 2008. That's one brewery per 60,652 people, assuming a population of 80 million. We can therefore see that the qualifier "small brewery" has been deliberately introduced so that Britain comes out on top.

We can only assume that Protz is using the same definition of a small brewery that the government uses for its small brewer tax relief scheme: under 5000 hectolitres a year.

Of the 1319 German breweries, 870 had an output of less than 5000 hectolitres a year. (source: http://www.brauer-bund.de/brauereien/statistik/brau_aus.htm). Using that measure, the Germans have one small brewery per 91,954 people.

I'd love to find statistics for how many of the 711 British breweries fall into this category and determine whether or not Protz is correct. I have an answer from Hansard from the end of 2008, but given the very rapid growth in the sector over the last year, can't take the figures there as reliable.

Now, as far as I can see, there is no need to limit our attention to microbreweries producing less than 5000 hl, other than some desire to beat the Germans.

If CAMRA is full of lefties as some claim, why does Protz feel the need to link good news about beer to this embarrassing Britain-is-top nationalism?

Saturday, 19 September 2009

O'zapft is!

Starting today it's the Munich Oktoberfest, and it's all set to be the usual couple of weeks of pedestrian pale lager, record-breaking sales of roast chicken and no hotel rooms to be had within 100 kilometres of Munich for love nor money.

This year the chair of the Green Party, Claudia Roth, has caused a bit of a stir by calling it "the biggest open drug scene in the world." In an interview with an Austrian paper she argued:

In a country which in the next few weeks will host the biggest open drug scene in the world, i.e. the Munich Oktoberfest, a liberalisation of soft drugs is sorely needed.

I did so want to post this picture of Ms Roth. She doesn't seem bothered by the lack of a girly glass.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

711 breweries! (part 1)

Here's a fairly upbeat item from Channel 4 news. I find it hilarious that after all these years, journos still can't resist mentioning beards in any story about beer.

With 71 new start-ups in one year, you do start to wonder if this rate of growth can be maintained. I met one brewer recently who was quite pessimistic and thought the real ale market was at saturation point; yet on the other hand I keep hearing stories about micros who are doing very well indeed. I guess the ones who are in trouble tend to keep quiet about it in case their suppliers start demanding cash up front.

Friday, 11 September 2009

BrewDog 77 Lager

This has been out for months but I've only just got round to trying it now. I subconsciously assumed it wouldn't be very exciting. How wrong I was.

This is a fantastic lager.

As soon as you pour it the aroma of perfumey hops fills your nose and if you have the olfactory memories I do you are immediately transported in your mind's eye to a beer garden somewhere in the Black Forest on a sunny Sunday morning in November.

It's better than any lager I've had outside Germany and better than the vast majority of German Pils too. Sweet, clean malt supports the hop aromas and makes way for a deliciously long, bitter finish. I was a bit surprised it's made with Amarillo hops and not a German noble hop.

Really a fantastic lager. If you have friends who say they don't like lager, let them try this. It's absolutely perfect and completely blows me away.

I'm actually rather embarrassed about how this gushing this review is. I nearly didn't post it in case people assumed I was getting paid, but I really don't have a single bad word to say about it.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Beers I hate that everyone else seems to like

And I'm not talking about the Heineken, Miller or Guinness drinkers who clog up the internet with their opinion that their favoured accountant-brewed concoction is the best beer in the world. I mean people who know about beer but favour certain beers that I find nothing special about whatsoever.

Augustiner Edelstoff. I don't actually hate this stuff; it's perfectly acceptable but I don't see how it's any better than the equally dull products of the other big Munich breweries or how it deserves the fanatical devotion to it.

London Pride. Heavy, burnt-sugar beer with no hops to speak of. Why?

Budweiser Budvar. Tedious in the extreme. The dark version is slightly less dull than the pale, but not much.

Porterhouse Wrasslers XXXX. I've only ever been to the London one, and it's a nice bar, but the beer is dull, dull, dull. Better than Guinness of course, but that's damning with faint praise.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Beer binge drinkers have never heard of encourages binge drinking, say idiots in plea for help from makers of drinks actually drunk by binge drinkers

This post is a bit late; this is because both London and Edinburgh keep coming up with such stupid new proposals that it's difficult to keep up.

But now that Alcohol Focus Scotland have gone ahead and lodged a formal complaint against BrewDog Tokyo* with the self-appointed watchdog of the alcoholic drinks trade, the Portman Group, it might be time to return to them once again.

I didn't write about Tokyo* when Alcohol Focus Scotland first started whining to the newspapers and anyone else who would listen, because other people had already made the relevant points very well.

For example, Pete Brown pointed out: "I'll drink it instead of whisky. I'd imagined sharing a bottle between two - I'd actually recommend one bottle between four. The idea of anyone binge drinking a bottle of this beer, of knocking it back quickly, is utterly absurd. I defy anyone to drink a bottle in under an hour. "

Mark Dredge wrote: "There are different modes of drinking. Some are reckless and concerned entirely with being a means to a drunken end. Some are altogether more civilized ... I may open a bottle of 4% ale or I might fancy trying a bottle of super-premium strength, super-premium priced, completely esoteric beer designed for a select few and made on a small, hand-crafted scale from premium ingredients. The difference becomes the way it's consumed and the mentality behind the drinking."

And you don't even have to make the more sophisticated arguments in this case, because absolutely anyone can understand that for less than the price of a single bottle of Tokyo* you can get a bottle of cheap vodka with over four times as much alcohol, and that's what anyone who wants to get drunk will do.

In fact, at the current going rate of Stella Artois, you can get 29 units of alcohol for your tenner compared to the 6 in a bottle of Tokyo*.

Everyone understands this except the headbangers at Alcohol Focus Scotland. Indeed, they've had time between their initial reaction and lodging this complaint to review the discussion there's been in the beer community about it.

We can only conclude that they've not bothered to do so; in which case we should really be asking if they are suitable to be in charge of a government-funded organisation dealing with the very serious issue of alcohol abuse.

The Portman Group, of course, was set up by the manufacturers of cooking lager and alcopops to head off any threat of actual regulation of the industry. It is blackly comic to see Alcohol Focus Scotland shouting for help to these companies. Their products range from the bland to the vile and there is no point in drinking them for the taste; all you can do with them is get drunk. Who exactly is to blame for binge drinking again?

It's interesting to compare Alcohol Focus Scotland's wild and lurid claims about Tokyo* with several other complaints to the Portman Group last year (none of which were upheld), which were brought by the London homeless charity Thames Reach about four of the most popular brands of super lager. Now, I don't necessarily agree with Thames Reach's campaign to ban super lager, but at least they are people involved in helping homeless people and know about the extent of its use among their clients, and they are trying to alleviate a problem of alcohol abuse that actually exists.

Alcohol Focus Scotland, on the other hand, are attacking an entirely imaginary problem. And this stems from their inability to recognise that, as Mark Dredge points out above, there are different contexts for drinking alcohol; some harmful, dangerous and disgusting, others innocent, harmless and enjoyable. The medicalisation approach apparently chosen by Alcohol Focus Scotland, on the other hand, which regards alcohol simply as a drug and different drinks merely as different ways to deliver it into the blood, leads inexorably to prohibition.

Particularly sinister is the way in which the 'safe drinking guidelines' have been changed in meaning by the neo-prohibitionists. The well-known 21 units a week for men and 14 units a week for women were published in 1987 on the basis of no firm evidence:

The disclosure that the 1987 recommendation was prompted by “a feeling that you had to say something” came from Richard Smith, a member of the Royal College of Physicians working party that produced it.

He told The Times that the committee’s epidemiologist had confessed that “it’s impossible to say what’s safe and what isn’t” because “we don’t really have any data whatsoever”.

Mr Smith, a former Editor of the British Medical Journal, said that members of the working party were so concerned by growing evidence of the chronic damage caused by heavy, long-term drinking that they felt obliged to produce guidelines. “Those limits were really plucked out of the air. They were not based on any firm evidence at all. It was a sort of intelligent guess by a committee,” he said.

Well-intentioned doctors thus gave a recommendation of a safe limit which they reasonably thought certainly wouldn't do you any harm.

The neo-prohibitionists have now distorted this to mean that if you consume more than this, you have a drink problem.