Weird and worrying news, which we picked up through Akelas Biggins — Steve Harrison, the Vice President of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, has gone missing. It seems he had been depressed. Let’s hope he’s OK.
Wrocław, Poland, is a fascinating place. It’s been part of Bohemia, Poland, Germany, and probably a few other countries I’ve forgotten. It also has a decent brew pub, Spiż, in the town square – probably on the same site as a German bierkeller from its days as the German city of Breslau.
What I didn’t realise until today is that it was also the home of something called “The beer war of 1380”. The city’s website says:
The duality of municipal governance – ecclesiastical and secular – gave rise to the famous ‘beer war’ of 1380. The City Council defended the city’s monopoly on the sale of beer against the Cathedral canons, who lived in Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island). As a result, an interdict (a church disciplinary measure) was imposed on the city’s churches, which were subsequently pillaged. It took a papal bull to end the conflict.
Now, having a war about beer really is taking it too seriously.
I read about the beer war in Norman Davies’ Microcosm, a history of the city of Wrocław/Breslau. In the same book, he also talks intriguingly about the two dominant beers in Wrocław in the middle ages. One was called “Schöps” — Davies says it was a brand name and was first mentioned in 1392. It came to be the most popular brand in the area in the late 15th century, superceding something called “Schweidnitzer”. I’m adding both to the list of weird historical beers, along with Pimlico Ale.
Also see a much older post, “Why isn’t Polish beer good?”
A quick post on the highlights of GBBF for us. More posts to come on some of the beers we had there in the next couple of days…
Things we liked about GBBF
- The diversity of the punters. You get a lot of people here who would not normally come to beer festivals. The ratio of women to men is considerably higher here than at other festivals, and it’s not uncommon to see groups of women enjoying the beers. OK, so there’s still a queue for the gents but none at all for the ladies… but each time we come back to GBBF (we were last here a couple of years ago) it becomes more representative of the UK population as a whole.
- Obviously, the huge numbers of beers, from some quite obscure breweries. Nice to see so many milds, porters and stouts – even real ale pubs don’t tend to stock these as much as “plain” bitters styles. Our favourites from the UK were “Old Freddie Walker” from the Moor Beer Company in Somerset – a dark strong ale (7.3%) with a lovely rich, raisiny flavour, and Glencoe Wild Oat Stout, made by the Bridge of Allan Brewery in Scotland. This latter packed in a huge amount of flavour for its 4.1% – and it’s organic too.
- We liked the layout by region, and the “new” stalls, such as the vegetarian / organic beer, and the “Bar Nouveau” – handy for helping you organise your session!
- The Bieres Sans Frontieres stalls. The beer-tasting highlight of the evening was probably a couple of American beers – Pennichuk Halligan RyePA (5.1%) and the Portsmouth Brewery’s “BottleRocket” IPA (6.something I think). Both full of aroma and flavouring hops, but beautifully balanced.
- The third-of-a-pint measure. Really nice little glasses, fabulous for tasting as much as possible – and economical too. And you didn’t feel bad about tipping 60-pence worth of beer down the sink.
- The programme was extremely helpful to beer-geeks and non-beer-geeks alike, and helpfully priced at Â£1. The tasting notes, basic information about beer, and interesting articles about beer and food, and the “local” nature of cask beer, will surely help raise interest in good beer amongst the casual punters.
- The fact that we found some Baltic porters! We bought these for takeaway (and later blog posts). Seriously impressed that GBBF can deliver what even specialist beers shops and Russian delis cannot…
- The food selection – we thought this was pretty decent, with a range of meat products, Thai & Indian food, and of course “snacks to beer” (pork scratchings and pies). Not too over-priced either, considering this was a “premier venue” in the middle of London.
It seems churlish to point to weaknesses when we had such a good time, but as my line manager would say, there’s always something you could do better.
- The condition of the beers. This is probably our biggest gripe – let’s face it, a beer festival is not the best place to store cask ale, and a lot of the beers we tried (particularly low ABV British styles) were slightly off – had to tip a few down the sink. To return to the point of yesterday’s post, it seems a shame to get so many potential new punters in one spot and then serve them stuff that smells like farts and tastes like cider. No, I wasn’t at the cider and perry bar at the time!
- More seating – or at least make sure the floor’s a bit cleaner. If I was being really lah-di-dah, I’d suggest more umbrellas for the tables – this would help the venue feel more like a large beer garden and less like an aircraft hangar.
- It would be great to have some water points. You need something to (a) cleanse your palate (b) cleanse your glass (c) help stave off the hangover.
All in all, we had a great time, and well done to CAMRA for excellent organisation. Special mention of the pre-festival publicity on the Tube and in the London papers for raising awareness outside the beer-geek world.
Don’t just take our word for it!
Other bloggers have some good perspectives on GBBF. Stonch gives us a fabulous description of the atmosphere, together with a roll-call of the great and the good in UK brewing. We loved Pete “the second-best beer drinker in Britain ” Brown’s view on GBBF, which challenges the insistence on cask ale but still recommends you go. Melissa Cole (“Girls Guide to beer“) seems to have had a good time as well.
The GBBF is on until Saturday at Earls Court, London. We’ve found that a lot of the beer runs out by Friday, so go as soon as you can! Link to GBBF page on CAMRA website.
“Paula Waters [CAMRA’s first ever chairwoman] said most adverts for beer were biased towards male drinkers: “When is the last time you saw any press or TV advert for beer which is meant to attract women?
“At best they are inoffensively aimed at men and at worst they are downright patronising to women.”
She has a point – although I wouldn’t say I’d noticed that many adverts for real ale outside of specialist magazines and beer festivals. And I wonder what an advert aimed at women would look like (would I find it more patronising, like the idea of “girls’ bars” at beer festivals?)
Does marketing play that big a part in attracting people (male or female) to real ale? I think it can have a part to play, based on my own experiences.
Why did I get into real ale? Well, I almost didn’t – it took a long time because, frankly, so many of the pints were bad. At the time, I just assumed that’s what real ale tasted like. Now I can see that the kind of places I was drinking were not looking after their beer terribly well.
Why did I keep persisting with ale? It was because I liked the idea of drinking something traditional and “real” (and so did the crowd I was with) This seemed much cooler than drinking Guinness or mass-produced lager – even if I didn’t enjoy it at first.
So perhaps marketing does help in arousing the initial interest. The “real ale” concept is a great asset to start with – even more could be made of this to emphasise how natural and traditional real ale is. The “local” angle is important here, too – people are increasingly trying to eat locally-sourced food, and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t help sell real ale too.
However, a marketing campaign on its own is no good if you go into a pub for your first pint (or half) of real ale and it’s stale or off. So perhaps CAMRA could put more effort into promoting knowledge amongst landlords and bar staff on keeping and serving real ale (I’m sure CAMRA already does this, but there’s definitely still work to be done)
Here are my thoughts on how you introduce people (male or female) to real ale .
- Make sure it’s a good beer, in a pub where they know how to keep it! Sounds obvious, but you don’t want their first pint to be the last. You also want there to be a range available, so they don’t have to stick to the one drink, and so that they get a sense of the fantastic variety in real ale.
- Alternatively, consider introducing your victim to a range of bottle-conditioned beers in the comfort of your own home (or theirs). Bottle-conditioned beers are often less variable, fresher, and if you’re serving it at home, you have the advantage of controlling the glassware (which we’re very keen on) and the serving temperature.
- I’d usually start with something pale, but definitely not bland – a well-balanced IPA for example. I’ve got a friend coming round tonight, and I’m going to try her on a St Austell “Proper Job” IPA (bottle-conditioned, of course). Then possibly Hopback Summer Lightning.
- Resist the temptation to demonstrate all your knowledge about hop varieties and malt complexity. Unless you are trying to convert a nerd, in which case go in all guns blazing – even if they don’t like the beer, it’s something to else to be nerdy about.
- Be patient! You probably aren’t going to convert someone to real ale overnight – it may take a prolongued campaign.
Has anyone got any success stories in converting people to real ale? Is a beer festival, such as the Great British Beer Festival, the place to do it?
Wilson’s comment on the beer glass we used for the photo of our blackberry wheat beer yesterday got me thinking: is everyone else as weird about beer glasses as us?
We’ve got boxes of different glasses stacked around the house. The idea is that we’ve got the right style of glass, in the right size, for almost anything that gets chucked at us. In a lot of cases, we’ve even got glasses with the right branding.
I think, as a bare minimum, you need:
- Two half-pint stem glasses — for sharing 500ml bottles.
- A straight-sided pint glass.
- A “goblet” for Belgian beer.
- A tall wheat beer glass.
- A half-litre “krug” for drinking German stuff.
- A litre stein for drinking German stuff in the summer…
Optional extras would be a tiny US pint glass; a koelsch glass; a tall “pils” flute… I could go on.
Of course, like a lot of people, I have a favourite glass that I use more than all the others. Mine’s a nice, sturdy, straight-sided pint glass from the George Inn, Middlezoy, Somerset, which honours the Queen’s Golden Jubilee with an inscription in Comic Sans. Ha.
So, who else is fussy about their glassware? And if so, do you know where I can get a Marston’s glass…?