News, Nuggets and Longreads 13 April 2019: Peroni, Pricing, Perceptions

Here’s everything that struck us as interesting or readworthy in the past week, from notes on enamel signs to news of the CAMRA AGM.

First, a sug­ges­tion for a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing about beer from Stan Hierony­mus:

What if we tast­ed beer in some sort of his­toric reverse? That is, start­ing with a par­tic­u­lar type of beer as it is brewed today, and fol­low­ing it with pre­vi­ous episodes of the same beer… I ask this, and ask it this way, because the Game of Thrones returns Sun­day, and like Zak Jason I didn’t start watch­ing the series when it debuted in 2011 and haven’t since.


Enamel Orval signs.
SOURCE: Eoghan Walsh/Brussels Beer City.

At Brus­sels Beer City Eoghan Walsh has turned his atten­tion to an aspect of Bel­gian beer cul­ture we’ve been aware of with­out real­ly think­ing about – who makes all those enam­el signs you see in bars?

Email­lerie Belge is the last enam­el advert pro­duc­er in the Low Coun­tries, and it has been mak­ing ad pan­els for Bel­gian brew­eries for almost a cen­tu­ry… The com­pa­ny sur­vived a tumul­tuous 20th cen­tu­ry and sev­er­al flir­ta­tions with bank­rupt­cy. Now under new man­age­ment, it’s work­ing to recap­ture the glo­ry days of the enam­el ad indus­try, bet­ting that its small scale, cus­tom, and high qual­i­ty out­put can suc­ceed against low-cost, indus­tri­al enam­el pro­duc­ers.

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News, Nuggets and Longreads 06 April 2019: Berlin, Brett, Better Lager

Here’s all the news, commentary and thinking about beer that’s seized our attention in the past week, from Berlin to Peckham, via Huddersfield.

First, some inter­est­ing news: Brew­Dog has acquired the brew­ery Amer­i­can out­fit Stone launched in Berlin a few years ago. Stone says Ger­mans didn’t take to their beer or brand; Brew­Dog, which already has a bar in the city, cites a need for a post-Brex­it con­ti­nen­tal brew­ing baseJeff Alworth offers com­men­tary.


Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

It’s fit­ting that the new lead­er­ship at the Cam­paign for Real Ale should use an inter­view by vet­er­an beer writer Roger Protz as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to make a state­ment of intent:

Nik [Antona] and Tom [Stain­er] are quick to point out that a pro­pos­al to allow CAMRA beer fes­ti­vals to include key kegs was sup­port­ed by the nec­es­sary major­i­ty and many fes­ti­vals are now sup­port­ing this change.

A num­ber of fes­ti­vals have key kegs with expla­na­tions that are not dog­mat­ic about the dif­fer­ent ways beer can be served. I accept that we’ve poor about explain­ing this in the past,” Tom says. “We need to rep­re­sent all pub­go­ers.”

We may revis­it Revi­tal­i­sa­tion in a few years,” Nik adds, “but in real­i­ty we’re doing it now. Younger peo­ple are drink­ing cask but they want to try dif­fer­ent things – they want to drink good beer but not nec­es­sar­i­ly from casks.”

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 5 January 2019: Gratitude and Onions

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the past few weeks (given that we took Christmas off) from St Albans to air raid shelters.

At The Pur­suit of Abbey­ness Mar­tin Stew­ard asks an excel­lent ques­tion: why do peo­ple vis­it brew­ery tap­rooms?

On the face of it, this is an odd thing to do. Brew­eries with­out tap­rooms may give you a taste of their beer, but they are hard­ly places to kick back and put the world to rights over a good ses­sion. They can be inter­est­ing for beer lovers, but, if we’re hon­est, set­ting aside the few with spe­cial archi­tec­tur­al, his­tor­i­cal or brew­ing points of inter­est, one is much the same as anoth­er.

But per­haps there is some­thing deep­er going on:

When we knock on the door of a pokey lit­tle brew­ery at the ragged end of a rain­swept indus­tri­al estate, are we real­ly respond­ing to a soul-deep thirst to express our grat­i­tude, in per­son, to the brew­ers of our much-loved beer?

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Davey Jones, the Man Behind the Real Ale Twats

The ‘Real Ale Twats’ strip first appeared in the adult comic Viz in 2001 and has a cult following among beer enthusiasts, because they recognise in it either themselves, or The Enemy.

We’re long-time Viz sub­scribers and spent a bit of time research­ing the RATs, as they are abbre­vi­at­ed, when we were writ­ing Brew Bri­tan­nia. A cou­ple of peo­ple had sug­gest­ed to us that the RATs might be the source of the pop­u­lar stereo­type of the beard­ed CAMRA mem­ber, assum­ing incor­rect­ly (as did we) that it had first appeared as far back as the 1980s. That proved to be a dead end for the book but gave us a fresh appre­ci­a­tion for the strip, espe­cial­ly on those occa­sions when it felt as if the author was eaves­drop­ping on beer social media.

Then, when we hap­pened to con­nect via Twit­ter with its cre­ator, Viz vet­er­an Dav­ey Jones, ear­li­er this year, we took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask him some ques­tions about how the strip came to be, and the source of its often painful­ly accu­rate obser­va­tions.

The fol­low­ing Q&A was con­duct­ed by back-and-forth of emails with some light edit­ing for clar­i­ty and flow.

* * *

What prompt­ed the idea of the Real Ale Twats? Was there some spe­cif­ic inci­dent or per­son you had in mind?

I’ve always been a fan of the band Half Man Half Bis­cuit and they had done a song called ‘CAMRA Man’ which made me want to draw a strip along those lines. It’s got lyrics like “Week­end vin­tage car show, Dr Who afi­ciona­do” and so on.

Also I’ve spent quite a lot of time in pubs and the char­ac­ters are sort of com­pos­ites of types that I encoun­tered. There was a bloke who used to come into my local in New­cas­tle who had a big beard and a beret and always seemed to be car­ry­ing sev­er­al shoul­der bags. He may not even have been a real ale enthu­si­ast – I don’t think I ever heard him speak – but he had the right look, so I drew him. Prob­a­bly very unfair­ly.

How did the edi­to­r­i­al team react to the idea when you pitched it?

Back then I was part of the edi­to­r­i­al team – there were five of us at the time, I think. I’ve since gone back to being a free­lancer, work­ing on my own. But in 2001 we were sat around in someone’s back gar­den, try­ing to come up with ideas, and I men­tioned want­i­ng to do this strip about real ale drinkers. As we were chat­ting about it, Simon Don­ald, who did the Sid the Sex­ist strip, start­ed talk­ing in this stu­pid ‘stout yeo­man of the bar’ voice – “Hith­er bar­lord, a foam­ing tankard of your finest” and all that, and that seemed to fit.

The first strip involved the three char­ac­ters going to a pub called The Murderer’s Arms by mis­take, and ends with the main char­ac­ter get­ting a pint glass shoved in his face. Which is some­thing that hap­pens quite often in Viz car­toons.

A panel from the strip about Christmas pubgoers.

How does a strip typ­i­cal­ly come togeth­er? How do you go about find­ing the seed for a sto­ry?

I just try to think of a pub-relat­ed theme that I haven’t done yet – vap­ing, or pub grub, or what­ev­er. I enjoy doing ones that are vague­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, or at least are exag­ger­a­tions of thoughts that I’ve had myself. For instance, I’ve caught myself inward­ly grum­bling about all the peo­ple who only go to the pub over Christ­mas, crowd­ing the place out and not know­ing the cor­rect rules of behav­iour at the bar. So I got a cou­ple of strips out of that, with the Twats pon­tif­i­cat­ing about “ama­teur drinkers” and so on. It can be quite sat­is­fy­ing to make fun of your­self, espe­cial­ly if you’re the only one who knows that you’re mak­ing fun of your­self.

That’s inter­est­ing. It makes it seem a bit less ‘mean’, for want of a bet­ter word.

Yes, I do regard myself as being a bit of a Twat. It takes one to know one, to some extent.

But what about real ale – have you ever been a CAMRA mem­ber your­self?

I nev­er got round to join­ing CAMRA. I don’t know why. I love pubs. When I was younger I spent a lot of time sit­ting in pubs on my own, and there’s noth­ing quite like it. You just sit there drift­ing from thought to thought, and tun­ing in and out of con­ver­sa­tions going on around you, as the drink set­tles in. As I’ve got old­er I do less soli­tary drink­ing, but some­times think I should go back to it a bit more, because you get to observe all these weird social dynam­ics and pow­er games going on around the bar. All the boast­ing and one-upman­ship. When you’re hav­ing a socia­ble drink with friends, you tend to miss all that, prob­a­bly because you’re doing all those things your­self.

I drink real ale and like it, but I’m not knowl­edge­able about it. If it’s about 4 to 4.5 per­cent, and got ‘sum­mer’ or ‘blonde’ or ‘gold­en’ in the name, I’ll prob­a­bly give it a go. But by the time I get home, I’ll have for­got­ten what I was drink­ing. Hav­ing said that, my favourite beer is Wye Val­ley Brewery’s But­ty Bach. I’m from Here­ford, where Wye Val­ley Brew­ery is based, and when­ev­er I go back to vis­it fam­i­ly I’ll have a few pints of that. Part of the rea­son they’re my favourite is that they sent me a free box of their HPA when I men­tioned them in a RATs strip. I also like Wylam Brew­ery who are based in the North East, and who once sent a cou­ple of crates of their assort­ed beers to the Viz office.

One of our local pubs in Bris­tol, a fair­ly down-to-earth place that doesn’t tend to have real ale on offer, has one of your RAT strips pinned on the wall, and that’s some­thing we’ve seen a few times up and down the coun­try. It feels a bit like a warn­ing to us, or per­haps just an expres­sion of frus­tra­tion on the part of pub­li­cans. How do you feel about that kind of thing?

Yeah, I’ve occa­sion­al­ly seen them pinned up in pubs. I don’t think it’s nec­es­sar­i­ly a sign that they hate real ale enthu­si­asts. I’ve nev­er worked behind a bar, but I imag­ine it’s a job that often involves putting up with bores. Not all pub bores are real ale bores of course, by any means. But the main RAT char­ac­ter with the beard is def­i­nite­ly a bore, and I quite often have him hold­ing forth to the bar staff, because they’re a cap­tive audi­ence. And as you say it must get quite frus­trat­ing to be sub­ject­ed to someone’s pompous opin­ions for hours. But in gen­er­al the strips are intend­ed as a fair­ly affec­tion­ate piss-take, so I hope they’re pinned up in the same spir­it.

What has been the feed­back from read­ers over the years?

Read­ers will some­times send in pic­tures of looka­likes who they’ve spot­ted in the pub. Some of them are, er, quite remark­able.

And CAMRA mem­bers? Have you ever received any com­plaints?

I don’t think CAMRA has ever com­plained, as far as I know. The Real Ale Twats are doubt­less CAMRA mem­bers but they’re not real­ly sup­posed to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive. They’re stereo­types of a cer­tain kind of pub-goer, real­ly.

On a relat­ed note, what do you make of the num­ber of real life real ale drinkers who iden­ti­fy them­selves as Real Ale Twats?

It’s quite odd. I recent­ly became aware of a Real Ale Twats group on Face­book, which has thou­sands of mem­bers. Which felt strange. I don’t sup­pose they’re all famil­iar with the Viz car­toon, but if they’re hap­py to laugh at them­selves that’s prob­a­bly a good thing. I think.

"One does yearn for the days when womenfolk were not permitted in pubs."

In recent years it’s felt as if the strip has fall­en into sync with ideas around ‘mansplain­ing’ and the latent sex­ism of a cer­tain type of know-all bloke. How con­scious­ly have you set out to make that kind of point?

It was nev­er a con­scious attempt to make a point, I don’t think. The char­ac­ters just lend them­selves to those atti­tudes. The types of peo­ple the RATs are based on are ones I’d see in the pub, a bit social­ly inept, com­ing out every night and mak­ing ham-fist­ed attempts at flirt­ing with the bar­maid. I’d imag­ine that a lot of women who do bar work can feel their hearts sink when they see a par­tic­u­lar reg­u­lar com­ing in through the door – some­one who is going to spend the whole night on a barstool regal­ing them with wit­ty ban­ter, and spray­ing crisp crumbs in their face. And blokes going on and on about their divorces – “Best thing that ever hap­pened to me!” repeat­ed over and over through­out the evening. I think the RATs are scared of women but try to cov­er that up with brava­do, which is fuelled by booze. A bit like Sid the Sex­ist in that respect, come to think of it.

Do you still think, in 2018, that real ale drinkers are a tar­get worth satiris­ing? Is there any chance of the RATs mor­ph­ing into the Craft Beer Twats at any point, for exam­ple?

That’s a good ques­tion. I don’t know if the beardy, pot-bel­lied stereo­type is a bit out­dat­ed. Maybe it is. Viz has always dealt with quite broad­ly-drawn stereo­types, but the char­ac­ters some­how devel­op lives and per­son­al­i­ties of their own. To some extent it becomes more about the char­ac­ters than about satire. So as long as you keep think­ing of sit­u­a­tions to put them in, you keep draw­ing the strips. Actu­al­ly there was a strip a few years ago which had the RATs look­ing down their noses at craft beer-drink­ing hip­sters. I think it end­ed with the RATs start­ing up a ‘Cam­paign for Real Real Ale Cam­paign­ers’ or some­thing.

Hipsters in the pub.

Of all the RAT strips you’ve pro­duced over the years are there any you think stand up par­tic­u­lar­ly well?

I think my per­son­al favourite was one where the RATs set off to their local, talk­ing about the wide range of fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters you meet in the pub, and then there’s a big pic­ture of the pub inte­ri­or and all the cus­tomers look, and talk, just like the Twats. The rea­son I like that one is that I spent quite a long time on the draw­ing and was quite pleased with how it turned out. Which doesn’t always hap­pen.

Have you ever thought about a Real Ale Twats book? We sus­pect all of us beer bores would buy it.

Yeah, I’d like the idea of doing a col­lect­ed book, but all the copy­right belongs to Viz and the pub­lish­ers, so it would be up to them, real­ly. (I retired from the edi­to­r­i­al six years ago, and went back to being free­lance). I’m not sure there’d be enough mate­r­i­al to jus­ti­fy a book just yet. But cheers for the vote of con­fi­dence.

* * *

You can read ‘The Real Ale Twats’ in Viz on an irreg­u­lar basis, in the Christ­mas annu­als, and there is a sam­ple on the offi­cial web­site. Images in this post were sup­plied by Dav­ey Jones.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 12 May 2018: Bass, Bavaria, Bambini

Here’s everything that grabbed our attention in the world of beer and pubs in the past week, from the masculinity of beer to the fascination of Bass.

Dea Latis, an indus­try group ded­i­cat­ed to pro­mot­ing beer to women, and chal­leng­ing the idea that beer is a male pre­serve. It com­mis­sioned a study from YouGov into women’s atti­tudes to beer which is sum­marised here, with a link to the full report:

Beer Som­me­li­er and Dea Latis direc­tor Annabel Smith said: “We know that the beer cat­e­go­ry has seen mas­sive progress in the last decade – you only need to look at the wide vari­ety of styles and flavours which weren’t avail­able wide­ly in the UK ten years ago. Yet it appears the female con­sumer either hasn’t come on the same jour­ney, or the beer indus­try just isn’t address­ing their female audi­ence ade­quate­ly. Overt­ly mas­cu­line adver­tis­ing and pro­mo­tion of beer has been large­ly absent from media chan­nels for a num­ber of years but there is a lot of his­to­ry to unrav­el. Women still per­ceive beer brand­ing is tar­get­ed at men.”

We’ve already linked to this once this week but why not a sec­ond time? It’s a sub­stan­tial bit of work, after all.

There’s some inter­est­ing com­men­tary on this, too, from Kirst Walk­er, who says: “If we want more women in the beer club, we have to sweep up the crap from the floors and admit that flow­ers are nice and it pays not to smell of horse piss. How’s that for a man­i­festo?”


Bass Pale Ale mirror, Plymouth.

Ian Thur­man, AKA @thewickingman, was born and brought up in Bur­ton-upon-Trent and has a lin­ger­ing affec­tion for Bass. He has writ­ten a long reflec­tion on this famous beer’s rise and fall accom­pa­nied by a crowd-sourced direc­to­ry of pubs where it is always avail­able:

It’s dif­fi­cult for me to be unemo­tion­al about Draught Bass. It was part of grow­ing up in Bur­ton. But what are the facts.

The EU AB InBev careers’ web­site accu­rate­ly describes the rel­a­tive impor­tance of their brands to the com­pa­ny.

The UK has a strong port­fo­lio of AB InBev brands. This includes, glob­al brands, Stel­la Artois and Bud­weis­er, inter­na­tion­al brands, Beck’s, Leffe and Hoe­gaar­den, as well as local brands, includ­ing Bod­ding­tons and Bass.”

We’re fas­ci­nat­ed by the re-emer­gence of the Cult of Bass as a sym­bol of a cer­tain con­ser­v­a­tive atti­tude to pubs and beer. You might regard this arti­cle as its man­i­festo.

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