How do you win converts to real ale?

Thanks to Stonch, for posting this link to a BBC article on CAMRA‘s bid to make ales women-friendly.

“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.

fixed_perspective.jpgWhy 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 .Proper Job!

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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?

Boak

Beer Glasses

SAHM’s tradition gobletWilson’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:

  1. Two half-pint stem glasses — for sharing 500ml bottles.
  2. A straight-sided pint glass.
  3. A “goblet” for Belgian beer.
  4. A tall wheat beer glass.
  5. A half-litre “krug” for drinking German stuff.
  6. 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…?

The August Session – Blackberries & beer

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s session was set by Beer, Beats & Bites, and the challenge is to write about fruit beer.

As this coincides neatly with the start of the blackberry season in the UK – or at least in our part of East London – we thought we’d focus on blackberries and beer for this post. (By the way – is it me or is the blackberry season getting earlier and earlier?)

We’ve often wondered why blackberries don’t feature more in beer. They’re fairly similar in structure / texture to raspberries, and are easier to grow. It seemed natural to us to try and use last year’s haul in one of our brews. But how? We looked around for inspiration.bramble_stout.jpg

One idea was to add the juice to some stout. We found out the Burton Bridge Brewery had beaten us to it. Their “Bramble Stout” is an excellent stout – but if you didn’t know that there were blackberries in it, you probably wouldn’t guess. It has a sourness that could be attributable to the blackberries, and the chocolatey aroma is perhaps also a bit fruity. We’ve just had another bottle in honour of The Session, and enjoyed it just as much as last year, and we would definitely recommend it, even to”serious” beer drinkers who don’t like fruit beers.

When it came to our own brew, we wanted something where the blackberry flavour came out more, and so we decided to try and brew it with a wheatbeer. The inspiration for this came partly from the Meantime Raspberry beer, which we think manages to achieve a full fruity flavour without being an alcopop.

blackberry_wheat.jpgOur recipe was easy enough — pretty much a standard German wheat beer recipe, except that, when we transferred into secondary fermentation, we threw in a slightly over-the-top 7lbs of blackberries. (We had pasteurised them by cooking them for 20 minutes and then we strained them through a sterilised sieve when they were cool) This kicked off a fairly vigorous secondary fermentation — there’s a lot of sugar in 7lbs of blackberries.

The finished product is very popular with our friends. We’re quite hard on ourselves, though, and will probably work on the recipe some more. For one thing, our fancy-pants German wheat beer yeast didn’t really get going, so we ended up using dried lager yeast, which didn’t exactly impart a lot of character. We might also try to keep a bit more malt sweetness — it’s quite sour. But the colour is great… like Calpol. Altogether, it’s very refreshing, and looks spectacular, but needs to be more complex if it’s going to knock anyone’s socks off.

tayberry.jpgAnd, as a “bonus track”, in honour of this Session’s topic, we also tried a bottle of the Williams Bros Brewing Company’s “Roisin” tayberry beer. Tayberries are a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry, but this beer is probably accented more towards the raspberry flavours. Like other British fruit beers — notably Cain’s excellent raisin beer — it’s an ale first, and a fruit beer second. You can taste the malt, and particularly the hops, and is only slightly redder than a standard bitter (unlike our blackberry effort). The hop bitterness is perhaps rather overpowering, although it seemed to mellow as we got down the glass. It has a very pleasing fruity aftertaste. It’s worth a look – again, even for those who aren’t particularly into fruit beers. It’s available in Oddbins in the UK, and is plastered all over with US import information, so must be available there, too.

Note: more fancy beer photos, although a bit rough and ready this time. The “Roisin” pic has a grey background because trying to white out around the base of a stem glass was beyond me… for now.

#UPDATE# Session round up posted here.

Nice places to drink in Westminster, London

There are no nice places to drink in Westminster.

Joking aside, Westminster is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Britain, so most of the visible pubs are tourist traps selling “traditional fish and chips”. But there are a few gems, mostly full of gossiping civil servants and political types.

1. The Sanctuary, 33 Tothill Street — that old reliable, a Fuller’s pub. It gets heavingly busy between 5-7 most nights, but the beer’s always good.

2. The Buckingham Arms, Petty France and The Royal Oak, Regency Street — two cosy (small) Young’s pubs. As with all Young’s pubs, the range isn’t quite what it used to be in either pub, but there’s still enough variety to have something different on every round.

3. The White Horse and Bower, Horseferry Road — a Shepherd Neame pub which has always been good, but horribly smoke-filled. That shouldn’t now be a problem. A range of SN beers on tap, including the seasonal special, and a few more in bottles. The last few times we’ve been, the bar manager has been a very cheerful chap who will wax enthusiastic on the beer, if given the chance.

4. St Stephen’s Tavern, Bridge Road (Westminster Bridge approach on the Parliament side) — the beer’s usually a bit rough, to be honest, but it’s one of the two Hall & Woodhouse (Badger) pubs in London, and very “historical”. It’s the one with the bell that rings when it’s time for MPs to get over the House of Commons to vote. Great Victorian interior, too.

5. Westminster Arms, Storey’s Gate — a pub which has cleverly sub-divided into a hole for civil servants to drink real ale in, and an upstairs to fleece tourists. There are usually two or three guest ales on, all well kept, and not the usual suspects. Don’t expect a seat; do expect to see lots of famous politicians walking past the window.

Updated

6. The Speaker, Great Peter Street – probably the best place for real ale if you like variety. It’s the traditional haunt of old-school civil servants with a fondness for liquid lunches, and the windows are full of passive-aggressive signs (”This is a real pub! We don’t have music…” and so on). But for all that, it’s rather charming, with surprisingly friendly staff, and a deep commitment to serving a variety of interesting real ales from around the country.

7. The Old Monk Exchange, 61-71Victoria Street. It’s a bit of a hole in the ground, and can be very busy, but it’s got a large range of foreign lagers and other bottled beers — fruit beers, wheat beers, that kind of thing. They also seem to be improving on the real ale front. We didn’t used to like it much at all, but it’s growing on us.

Here’s a another post about it.

See also our guide to places to drink in Victoria — it’s only a short walk from Westminster to, say, the Cardinal (Sam Smith’s pub near Westminster Cathedral)

Link to Google map showing all of the above, including the Cardinal.