Beer people

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s Session topic, chosen by Stonch, is “beer people”.

We puzzled over this one a bit. We’ve met the odd brewer and some pub landlords, but that’s about it when it comes to beer people. “Most of the people we know,” we thought, “aren’t that bothered about beer.”

And that’s the market most ale breweries are working in.

People like our mate Jack are where they make the bulk of their money. Jack drinks real ale by default — it’s in his blood and, these days, a cultural prejudice of the educated middle classes. But he won’t go out of his way to try new beers. If he goes to a pub and all the real ale is off, he’ll be disappointed, shrug, and order a Guinness. He’s not bothered enough about beer to walk to another pub.

On our visit to the Oakdale Arms on Sunday, we met another character who struck us as being a typical British real ale drinker. Charlie was a very chatty, friendly bloke who wandered over to say hello. He wanted to know if we were “tickers”, having seen our type before. We denied it hotly, of course. He then told us that his big problem was that the beer he’d been drinking was off, and he didn’t like to change. “I tend to find a beer I like and stick to it,” he said. “I’m not bothered about trying new things.” But he was adamant about one thing: he was a real ale drinker through and through.

How much money can a brewery make by appealing only to ‘beer people’? Or beer geeks, if you like. Not as much as it can by appealing to people who just want a weakish, refreshing pint of ale and becoming their default choice, perhaps.

A local pub, not just for local people

The Oakdale Arms in Seven Sisters, North London, is the sister pub of the famous Pembury Tavern, but it’s a completely different creature.

The Good Beer Guide has a code it uses to describe pubs like this: they call it a ‘community pub’. In other words, people who actually live near the pub go there. That sometimes translates into a slightly unwelcoming atmosphere, but not here.

For one thing, the locals are very friendly — more of that on Friday when we get to the Session. Secondly, the locals aren’t the only clientele. They rub shoulders with a mix of CAMRA types sniffing their pints and taking notes, and the odd posh person from one of the huge Victorian houses in Finsbury Park’s middle class ghetto. Finally, the bar staff are so friendly. Before taking my order, the bar manager paused to ask: “How are you, mate?” That was nice.

Unlike the Pembury, the Oakdale is cosy, shady and full of moth-eaten carpet, velvet and wood. It’s a real boozer. But, to give it a 21st century edge, there’s a fully stocked mp3 jukebox and a projector filling one wall with Nintendo Wii games. This is an interesting touch — lots of people play computer games these days, not just kids, and it kind of added to the atmosphere. The photo above is of one of the bar staffing having a go on Guitar Hero. He dropped his little plastic guitar like a shot when someone came to the bar, though.

The beer was in perfect condition. There were six Milton’s and two guests, plus a lot of interesting bottles. Of particular note, Great Oakley Gobble, a pale, hoppy beer which reminded Boak of ‘gripe water‘. After a quick text to Any Questions Answered, we narrowed the similarity down to a powerful fennel flavour.

Unfortunately, the pub was very quiet. It’s in the middle of nowhere, frankly, so it’s not surprising. But it really is worth a trip if you want to support this kind of enterprise.

The language we use

beergeek.jpgThere’s some debate abroad about the language we use to describe ourselves, first at Lew Bryson’s blog, and then at A Good Beer Blog.

This reminded me of Stonch’s comment a few months back that he wouldn’t trust anyone who was inordinately proud of being called a beer geek.

We use beer geek all the time — we really don’t mind being called geeks (in this or any other field of obsession…) and don’t really regard it as a pejorative term. Beer nerd, on the other hand, probably is an insult.

Here’s the distinction, according to American comic Patton Oswalt:

A lot of nerds aren’t aware they’re nerds. A geek has thrown his hands up to the universe and gone, “I speak Klingon — who am I fooling? You win! I’m just gonna openly like what I like.” Geeks tend to be a little happier with themselves.

I think most of “us” — by which I mean, anyone who can be bothered to go out of their way to taste a particular beer, or update a blog every day or two with their reflections on this one narrow subject — have gone beyond a mainstream interest in beer.

Whatever we would like to be called, people who don’t share our interest are going to think our interests are a bit odd. It’s just beer, right?

We can try to convince ourselves and others that there’s nothing unusual about it by inventing what we think is a ‘cooler’ term:

GEEK: Actually, we prefer to be called ‘beer experts’.

OTHER: Yeah, whatever. Nerd. Oh, look — you’re slapping yourself. Why are you slapping yourself? Give me your pocket money.

We can try to conceal the level of our obsession, which is fine until you find yourself admitting the truth in tears the night before your wedding when a stack of Michael Jackson books falls out of the wardrobe.

Or we can show some self-awareness, shrug, and be happy with who we are and what we like.

Top of the Pops

jamesclay.jpgBeer enthusiasts in the UK owe James Clay and Sons a debt of thanks.

They’re the canny importers who have made it possible for us to get our hands on Brooklyn Lager, Goose Island IPA, and other exciting beers we’ve banged on about in the past.

On their website, they list their top ten sellers. As of Monday 24 March, this is how the chart looked:

    1.Duvel
    2.Erdinger Weiss
    3.Lindemans Kriek
    4.Lindemans Framboise
    5.Chimay Red Cap
    6.Schneider Weisse
    7.Vedett
    8.Brooklyn Lager
    9.Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
    10.Karmeliet Triple

Ring any bells? It’s what’s in the fridges in almost every even vaguely aspirational bar or pub in Britain.

Sure, it gets a bit boring seeing those same beers all the time, and, yes, Vedett is shite, but I’d be very glad if my local swapped its fridge full of Stella, Becks, Holsten and WKD Blue for just a few of those.