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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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 EUAB 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.
April was a relatively quiet month because we went on holiday for ten days in the middle of it, but we managed a few decent posts nonetheless.
If you got something out of this lot, and the peripheral activity on social media, then do consider signing up for our Patreon. We’d love to get to to 100 sign-ups by the end of this year. Or, failing that, buy us a one-off pint – we’ve had a few of these already and it’s a lovely boost when they land in the inbox.
Kinnegar Rustbucket, at 5.1%.… smelled wonderful, taking us back to those days of a decade ago when Goose Island IPA was considered Way Out There, all orange and pine. Red-brown in colour, it tasted like a well executed, tongue-coating, jammy IPA of the old school, and gave the impression of being a much bigger beer. It was perfectly clean, nicely bitter, and just a touch peppery by way of a twist. What a breath of fresh air, and good value, too. We’d drink more of this.
(Side note: we had a couple of private messages from brewers of the back of this run of posts, offering follow-up information on what might have been wrong with beers we hadn’t enjoyed, and updating us on background goings-on that should mean better beer in months to come.)
Amongst all the chat about the Campaign for Real Ale’s AGM at the weekend we noticed a few old questions resurfacing: why, exactly, does CAMRA campaign for Real Ale and not Cask Ale? And, of course, “Why is everyone using that bloody awful, meaningless word ‘craft’?”
With that in mind, this isn’t an attempt to justify or promote any one term over another but rather a chronological list of terms and that we’ve noticed in circulation, how they have been and continue to be used, and (to the best of our reckoning) where they came from.
If there is a point we’re trying to make it’s probably that most of these terms are newer than they seem, and that their meanings are less fixed in law or tradition than you might assume.
If there are terms you think ought to be added, let us know in the comments below.
And if you want more detailed accounts of some of this click the links throughout which will take you to old posts of ours, and get hold of a copy of our 2014 book Brew Britannia which covers the birth of CAMRA and rise of craft beer in some detail.
* * *
Beer from the Wood, 1880s. A near-synonym for cask ale, probably derived from ‘Wines from the Wood’ (1850s) which distinguished wine dispensed on tap from bulk wooden casks from the bottled product. The Society for the Preservation of Beer From the Wood (SPBW) was founded in 1963 and were probably drawn to the phrase because of it’s stout yeoman of the bar archaic quality. It was used freely in the 1960s, e.g. in Batsford guides, often but not always referring to what we now call cask ale, even though by this time most casks were not actually made of wood. These days, it refers specifically to cask-conditioned beer served from wooden casks – a growing trend.
Keg Beer, 1955. Keg beer as we know it – stored and served from pressurised containers – was pioneered by Watney’s in the 1930s but this particular phrase was first used by Flowers in the mid-1950s. The terminology was muddled for most of the decade that followed with kegs sometimes called casks and so on. Which leads us to…
Cask Beer, 1968. The British Government’s inquiry into monopolies in the beer industry at the end of the 1960s required the firming up of some previously vague terminology. “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”, the final report said. “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.”
Bière Artisanale, French, c.1970. We’re a bit shaky on this one because it’s harder to access sources, and we understand them less well even when we can dig them up, but there are definitely instances of this exact phrase in print from around 1970 onward. (And see Craft-brewing, below.) Artisanale and direct translations in other languages are used widely on the Continent in a way that roughly corresponds to the late 20th century sense of craft beer in English, i.e. distinctive, special, interesting, and probably from smaller independent producers. The union of Belgian Lambic producers, HORAL, for example, founded in 1997, is De Hoge Raad voor Ambachtelijke Lambiekbieren, and translates its name in English as the High Council for Artisanal Lambic Beers.
Real Ale, 1973. In 1971, the founders of the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale (CAMRA) chose the word ‘ale’ rather than beer because it seemed more down-to-earth than ‘beer’. Then at the 1973 CAMRA annual general a decision was made to change the organisation’s name so it would be easier to say (especially after a few drinks) and activist Peter Lynlie suggested the Campaign for Real Ale, to permit the retention of the existing acronym. And so Real Ale, almost by accident, became a synonym for Cask Beer.
Craft-brewing, 1977. Used by British writer Michael Jackson in his World Guide to Beer to refer to rare examples of non-industrial “speciality brews” in France, along with craft-brewers in the section on the American brewing industry during prohibition. It was probably a direct translation of bière artisanale.
Micro-brewery, 1982. A phrase that first began to appear in print with reference to American breweries at around the time of the first Great American Beer Festival, and which saw off ‘mini-brewery’ and ‘boutique brewery’ (see Boutique Beer, below) as competitors. In Britain these were generally called ‘small’ or ‘free trade’ breweries until the 1990s. An ambiguous term, Micro-brewery was also often applied to what we might now distinguish as Brewpubs.
Brewpub, 1982. At the 1982 conference of the American Homebrewers’ Association David Bruce, of Firkin fame, gave a talk entitled ‘The English Brewpub and the Resurgence of the Small, Local Brewery in England and America’. In Britain pubs that made their own beer on the premises were known as ‘home-brew houses’, or ‘home-brew pubs’, which morphed into Brewpub, we would guess, to avoid confusion with home-brewing of the amateur variety.
Bottle-conditioned Beer, 1984. In 1980, CAMRA was describing bottled Guinness as naturally conditioned. By 1983 it was conditioned in the bottle. Then in the 1984 Good Beer Guide it was finally described using the phrase we know today.
Craft Beer, 1986. There are almost certainly earlier uses of this exact phrase but 1986 is when it started to appear in print in US publications such as this newspaper article and Vince Cottone’s Good Beer Guide: Brewers and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest. The earliest instance in a British publication we’ve been able to find is from CAMRA’s What’s Brewing for August 1993, in an article by an American writer, but Roger Protz and other soon took it up. Initially used as a deliberately vague catch-all to distinguish supposedly interesting/distinctive/independent beers (including, but not exclusively referring to, Real Ale) from loathed bland/industrial/macro products.
Boutique Beer, 1988. Used by Michael Jackson in the 1988 edition of his World Guide to Beer and occasionally up until the present day. In Jackson’s usage exactly synonymous with Craft Beer, above. Earlier in the decade a variant, ‘Boutique Brewery’, had occasionally been used as an alternative to Micro-brewery.
Designer Beer, 1991. Overlapping with Craft Beer but with more focus on style and branding than the beer itself. Sapporo, in its weird pint-glass-shaped can, was considered designer, but doesn’t seem to have qualified as craft.
Micropub, 2005. The first Micropub was launched in Herne, Kent, by Martyn Hillier and as far as we have been able to ascertain was described that way from the very start. The term was Hillier’s own invention inspired by the idea that it was the pub equivalent of the Micro-brewery. By his own admission he has spent a lot of time since explaining that, no, it isn’t a Brewpub or Micro-brewery.
Nano-brewery, c.2005. As some of the first wave of Micro-breweries got big a word was needed to describe tiny commercial setups operating on a home-brew scale. We can’t trace the exact roots of the phrase but here’s a 2006 post on Beer Advocate which seems to suggest it was in general circulation among the cognoscenti by this point.
KeyKeg, 2006. This is a trademark for a specific line of products produced by Lightweight Containers, a Dutch company, and launched at a brewing trade fair in November 2006. Whereas traditional Keg Beer is exposed to propellant gas KeyKeg beer sits in a bag inside a pressurised ball and does not come into contact with the propellant. Depending on how the beer derives its carbonation, it may or may not qualify as Real Ale under the standards of CAMRA’s Technical Committee. (KeyCask is also a trademark of Lightweight Containers, applied to essentially the same products.)
Craft Keg, 2010. This is a hard one to pin down but this 2012 article by Adrian Tierney-Jones for All About Beer places a marker point for the term having truly arrived. Before this, from around 2010, most people were carefully referring to “craft keg beer” – that is, Keg Beer, that was also Craft Beer, but looking at old Tweets you’ll see people like Dave ‘Hardknott’ Bailey using it quite freely. There wasn’t really an urgent need for a way to distinguish good keg from bad (yes, we know – just a shortcut) until the 1990s because until then all keg was bad; and that need didn’t become urgent until after BrewDog began to make waves.
UPDATED 26/04/2018: Added entries for Micro-brewery, Brewpub, Nano-brewery, Micropub and KeyKeg, and amended other entries to fit as required.