Brew Britannia Update

cover_final_march_200Reviews have been coming in thick and fast this week:

  • Zak Avery — “It’s a fascinating tale of peculiarly British pluck and pioneering spirit, all washed down with lots of great beer. “
  • Jeff Evans (Inside Beer) — “…perhaps the greatest asset they bring to the project is a degree of objectivity. “
  • Leigh Linley — “Brew Britannia is an excellent book; investigative, frank, even-handed and, above all, vital to both the beer geek and the neophyte alike.”
  • Rowan Molyneux — “Brew Britannia doesn’t just fill in the gaps in the landscape, it gets out its felt tips, adds trees, houses, and little cartoon dogs, then colours everything in very carefully without going over the lines.”
  • Tandleman — “Those that are familiar with the story and those that are not and those that have even the most passing interest in British beer and brewing will equally find fascinating and educational.”
  • Adrian Tierney-Jones — “Brew Britannia is a fascinating odyssey through the last half-century of British beer and I would recommend this without a moment’s thought.” (Read his review for the ‘but’, though…)

Suffice to say, we’re delighted with the response so far.

Though the official launch isn’t until 19 June, we understand that Amazon are currently dispatching copies.

We’ve added a few London events to our tour calendar: do come and say hello at BrewDog Camden on Sunday 15 June, 1-3 pm; or at the King’s Arms, E2, on Friday 20 June, from 7-9 pm.

And, finally, the Amazon Kindle version is now available to pre-order at £6.17 (less than half the price of the paperback) and we are told that it will also be released in other e-book formats (e.g. Nook, Apple) fairly shortly.

Win Brew Britannia Beers

Mixed case of Brew Britannia beers from Beer Hawk.

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED. (06/06/2014, 17:00)

WINNERS TO BE ANNOUNCED SHORTLY

How do you fancy winning a mixed case of 15 beers and copy of Brew Britannia?

When Beer Hawk told us they wanted to stock Brew Britannia, we asked if we could suggest (ahem — ‘curate’) a mixed case of beer to go with it, and they said, “Yes!”

Bearing in mind that we had to choose (more or less) from their catalogue, we’re pretty pleased with the selection, which includes influential Belgian and American beers, historical homages, and beers which have played a significant part in the last 50 years of British brewing.

We’ve written a short guide to go with it, which also suggests (no joke) which chapter of the book to ‘pair’ each beer with.

Now, Beer Hawk are offering two people chance to win one of these packs.

To enter, simply comment below, telling us, in no more than 100 words, about the single most memorable beer you’ve ever tasted.

Entries received after 5pm BST on Friday 6 June won’t be valid, so get your comment in before then, and make sure to use a valid email address so we can let you know if you’ve won.

We’ll contact the two winners by email on Saturday 7 June and announce their names in another blog post once we’ve confirmed their acceptance of the prize, probably (hopefully) on Sunday 8 June.

This is just a bit of fun, but…

Terms and conditions and rules and regulations and health and safety

  • This competition is only open to residents of mainland UK and Northern Ireland.
  • Entries received after 5pm on Friday 6 June will be invalid.
  • We reserve the right to disqualify entries for suspected cheating, or any other reason whatsoever.
  • There is no right of appeal; we won’t debate terms and conditions; and any misunderstandings are the fault of the contestant.
  • We’ll choose the two winners at random.
  • Once we’ve emailed the winners to get their postal addresses for despatch, they’ll have 48 hours to respond or the prize will default to another randomly chosen winner.
  • If you don’t like those terms, don’t enter.

Reflections on our Northern Tour

Revitalisation beer pump clip.

Last week’s visit to the north of England (Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield) was actually as near as we’re getting to a holiday this year.

We figured that, even if we didn’t get chance to plug Brew Britannia, we’d at least have fun drinking decent beer in great pubs and bars, and seeing the sights. But, as it happened, we were invited to appear and/or speak at a few venues.

psbh

At Port Street Beer House on Sunday afternoon, we were in competition with blazing sunlight which had turned Manchester into a dead ringer for Barcelona. Nonetheless, several people turned up to share a beer with us and buy advance copies of the book.

It was great to meet everyone, but we have to admit that we were especially pleased to make the acquaintance of Len, a reader who usually ‘lurks’, and who settled our nerves with a few kind words in the first few minutes.

We also found ourselves thinking that someone — maybe us — ought to write a proper portrait piece about 6TownsMart, whose commitment to, and first-hand knowledge of, Belgian beer is awe-inspiring. ‘Brewers as rock stars’ is a well-worn angle, but dedicated drinkers deserve some attention too.

At North Bar in Leeds on Monday, we got to try the Kirkstall Brewery beer Revitalisation, thoughtfully developed by Matt Lovatt from some vague thoughts we put in an email. We drank lots of it, and it prompted plenty of conversation among the Leeds crafterati, as well as finding favour with a few of the locals with more conservative tastes. We’ll write more about it in a substantial post about Boddington’s to follow in the next week or so.

We did our best to give a reading, but our puny voices struggled a bit against the non-stop partying which characterises the venue. Someone made us drink tequila, and Ghost Drinker plied us with wonderful, wonderful gueuze. We signed and sold a lot of copies of the book, which saved us lugging any back to Manchester, though the 20 copies of The Grist we acquired were heavier and more awkwardly shaped.

We had two engagements in Sheffield. First, at the Thornbridge-owned Hallamshire House, on Wednesday night. This was the first actual ‘talk’ we gave. Forty or so people, many of them actually there for a German student’s birthday drinks, listened politely as we spoke about the origins of the term ‘craft beer’. Some sidled up with questions, including, to our delight, the German birthday boy, who wanted to know why porter was so hard to find: “Ah,” he said on hearing our off-the-cuff answer. “This is the same as with Dortmund Export.”

We were delighted to meet Jim Harrison, one of the founders of Thornbridge — he is a very charming man — but cringed as we watched he and his wife read what we’d written about them in the book from across the room. They didn’t take offence, but seemed perhaps a little hurt that we’d portrayed them as ‘lordly’: “I came on the bus tonight.”

As the crowd thinned, we were joined by Thornbridge brewers Rob Lovatt and Will Inman, who indulged our naive questions about processes and yeast, and politely disagreed with a couple of our thoughts on Thornbridge’s beer. Very civilised.

The cafe next door to the Hop Hideout.

We finished on a real high note with a ticketed talk at the Hop Hideout on Abbeydale Road in Sheffield. It is a tiny but lovingly-managed specialist beer shop in the corner of a larger unit selling vintage… stuff, so the talk actually took place in the cafe next door. With blinds drawn, it felt like a lock-in or speakeasy, and talking to a crowd who wanted to be there was a real treat.

Over the course of a couple of hours, we tasted:

  • John Smith’s Bitter — a ‘palate cleanser’ and reminder of the ‘bad old days’.
  • Chimay Rouge — the first ‘world beer’ to hit the UK, in 1974.
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale — highly influential on the use of hops in British brewing.
  • Marble Dobber — the kind of beer British brewers made once they’d ‘got’ New World hops, and with a tentative connection to Brendan Dobbin.
  • Camden Hells — exemplifying the post-1990s trend for ‘craft lager’, and exploring questions of provenance.
  • Wild Beer Co Ninkasi — exploring the ‘outer limits’ of diversity in British beer, and finishing on a showstopper.

Most people seemed to agree that Chimay was cruelly overlooked these days; that SNPA was still a really good beer; that Dobber was on fantastically good form; and that Ninkasi was extremely complex and interesting. Watching someone smell the Cascade aroma of SNPA for the first time was a treat, too.

We’ll be in London in the week commencing 16 June and will hopefully be able to announce a programme of appearances in the coming days. We’re also at Beer Wolf in Falmouth, Cornwall, on 28 June from 4pm. Come and see us somewhere, at some time!

Archive Round-up: CAMRA and Real Ale

One of the fun things about working on Brew Britannia was thinking aloud on the blog as we conducted our research.

We wrote quite a few posts about the pre-Campaign for Real Ale era and the early years of CAMRA, and we find ourselves sharing the links fairly frequently.

With that in mind, and to give the undecided a taster of what they might be getting in the book, we thought we’d corral them in one place.

Pub User's Preservation Society memorabilia.

First, there was a series of posts about the organisations that pre-dated the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) and CAMRA. First we discovered the Ancient Order of Frothblowers and the Pub Users’ Protection Society; then the National Society for the Promotion of Pure Beer; and, finally, Young & Co’s 135 Association, inspired by a precursor to CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide.

Cover of Monopolies Commission report on beer, 1969.

Trying to trace the development of the language around beer, we found a 1934 reference to cask ale as ‘the real thing’, and considered how that kind of general use eventually led to the more technical term ‘real ale’. We also discovered the role of civil servants in fixing the way we use the words ‘draught’, ‘cask’ and ‘keg’ today:

We use the description ‘draught’ beer to include any beer which is supplied to the retailer in bulk containers and drawn to order in the pub for each customer. All the large brewers and many smaller ones now brew a kind of draught beer which has become known as ‘keg’ beer. Although the word ‘draught’ is sometimes used to distinguish traditional draught from keg beer, for the purposes of this report we call the former ‘cask’ beer. [B&B’s emphasis.]

And here’s what we discovered about CAMRA’s flirtation with the rhetoric of the ‘whole food’ movement and ‘natural beer’.

John Simpson's depiction of middle class student CAMRA members, 1975.

Finally, we considered the culture and image of CAMRA in its early years. At first, no-one seemed sure if the typical CAMRA member was a blazer-wearing young ‘trendy’, a bearded hippy, or a burly bloke with a beer belly.  The beard-and-sandals image, which CAMRA has spent decades trying to shake, seems really to have taken hold after David Bellamy opened the 1979 Great British Beer Festival.

Quite apart from how members looked, the question of how CAMRA was perceived also interests us. We put together a brief history of ‘CAMRA bashing’ which reflected the impatience some early supporters, such as Richard Boston, felt over the boring technical debates about dispense methods which ravaged the Campaign during 1977.

We also noted that bickering among members on the letters page of What’s Brewing (a) started early and (b) hasn’t changed much in 40+ years.

(*Ahem*.)

Brew Britannia has Landed

Selfie

Until copies arrived by courier today, there was a lingering suspicion in our minds that Brew Britannia might be a dream, or perhaps a cruel prank.

But, no, it really exists, and we’re cooing over it like new parents. Look at the spot varnish on its wittle cover — awww!  It’s a good job they sent two so we can each hold one. (And, yes, we did smell them — top marks for aroma.)

Detail of a page from Brew Britannia.

Now the hard bit: selling it

Writing it was fun; selling it does not come naturally, but it has to be done.

There’s no reason why you should help, of course, especially as you haven’t read it yet, but if you do feel inclined…

1. Though the book will no doubt mostly interest beer geeks, we also hope it will be a good read for foodies, wine lovers and ‘normals’. If you feel like sharing a link with your pals, especially those outside the beer geek bubble, then that’d be lovely.

2. If you’re intending to pick a copy up at some point, it’s really helpful if you pre-order it online. Pre-orders help to demonstrate to Amazon and Waterstones that there’s demand and increases the chances of them giving it a bit of a push at their end. It also helps it stand out here. (If you’ve already pre-ordered, thank you!)

Screenshot: Amazon 'hot new releases'.

3. If you don’t like ordering from big chains, you could ask your local independent bookshop to get one in for you instead. If enough people ask, it might convince them to get a few copies and put it on display where impulse purchasers will see it.

4. If you run a website, magazine, fanzine, podcast or video blog and would like us to write/record/draw/sculpt you a guest article/interview/mime, gratis and free of charge, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do.

Psst! Psst! Wanna signed book?

Even though the launch date is 19 June, we’ll also have a limited number of copies to sell and sign in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield later this month.