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.

Increased costs of GBBF cause CAMRA to make a loss

gbbf.jpgThis month’s “What’s Brewing” contains the CAMRA financial statements, showing an operating loss of £71K compared to an operating profit of £44K last year. Net current liabilities are also up considerably.

Slightly concerned about the financial position of the organisation, I eventually found some commentary in “Beer”, the other paper that comes out with What’s Brewing. Apparently, the loss is due to not meeting income targets from the Great British Beer Festival. The commentary from the chair, Paula Waters, says that:

…we had to experiment with the amount of beer we bought in in order to judge how much we will require in future…we now know what we need to do to make the event work in 2008 with lower costs and the right amount of beer”

Interesting. I suppose it’s all well and good us members making demands about what the GBBF should contain, but we do need to remember that this is one of the premier sources of income for CAMRA. It’s oviously a fine balance to get enough beers to appeal to the hardened tickers yet not have too much left over at the end.

Personally, I wouldn’t mind a smaller selection, particularly if it was kept better. Let’s face it, even if you sat there from opening day to closing day and had a liver of iron, you’d never get through it all. Other members may disagree.