Beer Tribes
May 5, 2010

Hastings May Day Revelers in the ruined castle

Sometimes I’ll be at a pub and see people drinking one thing or another and wonder how they came to that decision– these burly footie fans drinking Guinness– did their father’s drink it?  And the lager drinkers, did their mates give them the first sip, ages ago?  To change their beer is to change teams.  There’s something tribal about it, even the real ale drinkers– or perhaps especially.  Is Timothy Taylor Landlord the tribal beer of the ale nerd? I’ve never had a decent pint of the stuff, though I’ll admit to ordering it when I think someone’s watching and there’s nothing else.  I always regret it.

But what if it’s the May Day bank holiday weekend and you find yourself in Hastings (with the inimitable Pete Brown no less) amongst a sea of people painted green, festooned with leaves, dancing in the street and singing.  What do you drink?

Most of the pubs are Shepherd Neame, and the brewery has made a beer just for the Jack in the Green Festival. It had a lovely malt character, laced through with ripe green hops, very fitting of the day.  But I didn’t drink a lot of that.  I’ll admit I’m put off Shepherd Neame beers because of their ad campaigns– the “Bishops Finger” still manages to make me queasy whenever I even see the name, and the “…and a bowl of water for me bitches” campaign just compounded my dislike, making it difficult for me to enjoy their beers.

But what beer is most loved among the greenery?  It’s Harveys Best Bitter.  Two years ago I happened upon some neo-pagan shenanigans in the City.  These folklorists of the street had  fashioned a giant tree in the Market Porter pub, and it was worn by someone and paraded through the streets of the financial district with the help of green leafy bogies, while everyone followed, playing music on tin whistles and accordion, getting more blotto with every pub and bank we passed.  It was the best pub crawl, ever.  And we drank Harveys.

The similar festival in Hastings, Jack-in-the-Green,  is much bigger and even more life affirming. Harvey’s was on offer at the Dolphin, a sea-side pub right by the imposing black net huts and the motley fleet and fishing equipment strewn about this working beach. I could have stayed there drinking that all day.

It was interesting to note that one of the Shepherd Neame pubs in the old town, the Stag, was filled with song on Saturday afternoon– everyone in the room seemed to know the folk songs and the tiny room reverberated with their voices which welcomed spring with a melancholy certainty that these songs might be forgotten, and soon.  One gentleman had written his own clever lyrics to old tunes and he mentioned a wayward lover who’d sneaked away with the green folk to sing and dance and drink Harvey’s Best. That’s exactly what I would have been drinking, had the pub served it, because two years ago a kind man with a green beard put a pint of it in my hand and at that moment, which is this moment, it was the loveliest beer.

Going Retro
May 16, 2009

Have you noticed the 80′s are back?  This isn’t really news–neon tube dresses and big bangs are never really news.  Some even report the 90′s are back also, in a kind of apocalyptic pile-up of decades.   The contemporary teen version of the 80′s is something much shinier than what the teens of the 80′s actually lived with, as if they are willfully embodying nostalgia for a time they never knew.  If the 90′s come back, what will the zeitgeist polish up for us?

If I was going to bring back the 90′s beer wise, it would be dishonest not to include Oranjeboom, a beer I drank a lot of–in cans–in Southern California.  I don’t know if it was because it was, to us, exotic, Euro-trashy, and had this name we liked to say.  Before I knew anything about beer, it was cheap and easy.

Yesterday I met up with a lovely Scouser friend, G, for beer and shoe shopping.  He was gracious enough to ask me to suggest a beer to him.  We were in a Shepherd’s Neame pub Mabel’s Tavern, and I haven’t had many of their beers because I’ve been put off by the ad campaigns.  I ordered a Bishop’s Finger for G and a Kent’s Best for me– this beer was a winner, with a dominant, piny hop character and an enveloping malt, and he preferred his beer to mine.  So then, on our second round, why do I decide to throw out all my beer know-how and order us two halves of crap lager?

I’d never seen Oranjeboom outside of Trader Joe’s in SoCal.  The little red tree–the happy name–I gave in to nostalgia.  So much for being a beer expert! The beer was a forgettable, too-sweet lager.  Apparently it is now brewed by Shepherd Neame, and is one of those rare beers that was probably better in the can!

According to my friend, Oranjeboom’s big British moment was in the 80′s– maybe it’s right at home with the gladiator sandals and splatter prints on the high street.  G regaled me with stories about the British marketing campaign in the 80′s  which included Oranjeboom’s own version of the Bud Girl and he even sang me the jingle.  And he drank it without complaint.  What are friends for, after all?

What are your ‘retro beers’? What beer, when confronted with a tap of it, would have an irresistably surreal nostalgia for you?

Naked on a beer rug.
August 11, 2008

Pump clips from the GBBF.  So. Not. Sexy.

Pump clips from the GBBF. So. Not. Sexy.

Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder…from today’s Mirror, researchers prove beer goggles exist. Which begs the questions– why did they need experts to prove this, and why, exactly, is this news?

The researchers administered vodka to test subjects– probably mixed with something to mask the alcohol. So, technically, they really haven’t proved the validity of beer goggles, at least in my mind.

Beer isn’t really sexy-making, is it? Beer in the quantity that gives one goggles also bloats and queases. Beer marketers have a lot of work to do if they really want to bring sexy back in a more universal aspect– this would mean more than a stemmed glass (apparently the stemmed 1/3 pint glass at the GBBF was designed to appeal to women. Does anyone else find this strange?)

Yesterday I was at the Market Porter, drinking a wonderfully estery Crouch Vale Eldorado when I spied a pump clip for a beer called “Forbidden Fruit” featuring a be-thonged prepubescent-looking buttocks with a disembodied hand holding a strawberry over the tail bone. The tag line read, You know you want it. Er…ok. But can you put it in a stemmed glass? Part of me thought, gee– that beer must be pretty great to survive such a horrible pump clip, but I’m not getting anywhere near it. Many beers are marketed as “sexy”, with a shameless use of women’s bodies. (In the US these babed-out ad campaigns are reserved for the “Bud Girls” and other megabreweries.) It’s just uncool, really, and no amount of beer goggles could make this bad taste good. Every time I see something like this it’s the equivalent of a cold shower. Is it any wonder women drink wine? Have you ever seen a crappily drawn bikini clad woman on a wine bottle? Real ale in the UK would be forward looking if that approach were just ditched, lumped, exstinctified. In my more paranoid moments I figure these ad campaigns in the UK are designed to deter women and save all the good stuff for men.

Witness the wrong-on-all-levels Shepherd Neame ad:

...a bowl of water for me bitches

...a bowl of water for me bitches

So, while beer advertising evolves (one lives in hope), let’s talk about beer. What is the sexiest beer you’ve even had? What made it so? Mine without a doubt would be Paradox Grain. Teh hotness.

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