On Friday, we asked people to tell us which breweries they think get more than their fair share of attention, and which are being overlooked.
The results were interesting, though perhaps not quite in the way we had hoped.
There are going on for c.1,300 breweries in Britain (the numbers are disputed) but there were hardly any names put forward for either list that were not familiar to us from blog posts or newspaper articles. That rather confirmed our view that, if no-one is raving about Bloggs’s Brew Co of Dufton, it’s probably because the beer it produces is, at best, unremarkable. Or, to put that another way, there are only a handful of breweries really worth writing home about.
The publicity… goes to those breweries with well-thought out marketing strategies, ambitious export programmes and PR agencies… So you shouldn’t form your picture of what is going on in Britain based on the UK mass media, or on beer blogs written by a small number of extremely passionate extreme beer drinkers.
Of course it’s not only the bloggerati/crafterati who have their favourites — just look at winners of CAMRA’s various beer competitions over the past couple of decades.
In an article for All About Beer, American writer Jeff Alworth said: ‘If you read the English beer blogs, you’ll find mention of cask ale is nearly absent.’
He’s reading the wrong blogs, then, we thought, and came up with this reading list of people who mostly write about cask-conditioned beer consumed in the pub.
Before we get to the links, though, it’s worth noting that we do think Jeff might be broadly right: the bloggers we’ve suggested below are all on the… erm… experienced side, and while younger bloggers do write about cask-conditioned beer, it does seem that it’s not often what that gets them excited.
A long-time Campaign for Real Ale activist based in Manchester, Tandleman is proud to say that he rarely drinks beer at home, and rarely touches keg beer when he’s out. With experience in pub cellars and managing festival bars, he understands the technical ins-and-outs of cask ale better than most, and a recurring theme on his blog is the generally poor condition in which he finds it in London pubs.
Sample quote: ‘There is nothing more vexing than coughing up the best part of four quid for a pint in London (or anywhere to be fair) and then finding it warm enough to poach an egg in.’
While not dogmatic about cask vs. keg, Paul has been a CAMRA member since the 1970s and writes frequently about his memories of drinking cask-conditioned beer over the course of four decades, as well as providing first-hand commentary on the contemporary scene such as this piece on Doom Bar.
Another Manchester-based blogger and CAMRA loyalist, Phil is an academic by day and so knows how to string a sentence together. He is outspoken in his praise of cask-conditioned beer and, despite repeated efforts to ‘get’ what it is people see in it, an intelligent critic of modern kegged craft beer, and especially the way it is priced and marketed.
Sample quote: ‘The answer to the question, I honestly believe, is “because any given beer is better from a cask than a keg (or bottle, or can)”.’
We’ve reached dead ends in various strands of research and thought we’d throw these questions open to the floor in search of solid leads.
1. Who exactly was Andrew Campbell? We can’t find out anything about the author of 1956’s Book of Beer, published by Dennis Dobson. We asked Barrie Pepper, collector of beer books and veteran beer writer, and he put the word out through his network, to no avail. Our guess is that it was a pseudonym for a better-known writer or journalist not eager to be associated with beer.
2. What did AK stand for? This is Martyn Cornell’s fault: he’s been trying to work this out for years but, in an idle moment, we joined the hunt for evidence and are now obsessed. Bailey managed to find an early reference (1846) in the newspaper archives but that trail went cold. Have you come across an earlier reference? Or does your local archive or family brewery have old brewing records and papers that might hold the key?