Sunday 13 March 2011

A look to the future

On Thursday I helped to organise a beer dinner at The Masons Arms. It was great fun and I hope at least a few of the people present were as impressed as I was at the quality of the beer and food presented.

It was the inaugural event of a loose organisation of people we are calling the Cumbrian Beer Appreciation Group. It includes, amongst others, myself, the great beer critic; Jeff Pickthall, the ever increasing light in support of great beer in Cumbria; Neil Bowness and one of the key management of aforementioned pub; Alex Routledge.

We currently have no formal structure, no constitution and no membership criteria. Indeed, if you like beer and live in Cumbria, or like Cumbrian beer, or visit Cumbria and drink beer, or perhaps just observe beery goings on in Cumbria then perhaps you have a right to be involved, if you want.

We stand for beer appreciation in Cumbria. Any beer really. We try not to have preconceived ideas about beer, other than we know what we like. Neither is there any real reason to be geographically constrained, other than for reasons that all the current "members" are Cumbrian residents. We like cask, keg, bottle conditioned, chill filtered and canned beer alike. We have even talked about doing a serious mainstream beer review video. We consider a well executed version of a traditional brown bitter to be just as worthy as a modern pale mild, a mainstream interpretation of classic IPA to be just as notable as a 9% hopbomb and indeed, for my own sake must admit that nitrokeg stout is a sound fall-back where that couple of pints are required in unwind mode should beer esoteria be unavailable.

I know that scorn has been poured on the concept of beer and food matching in some quarters. Perhaps it's my upbringing, but I feel that there is much milage in matching beer and food. Don't get me wrong, in my youth I have consumed my fair share of economy foods, and still do when quick calorific intake is required. From an early age I was taught the value of quality, even though we could rarely afford it. Quality events with my relatives, work colleagues, business associates and friends have often involved good food and perhaps wine of some sort of superior value. I never could get the hang of wine connoisseurship but I am certainly influenced by the fact that many good people I know have it mastered and are often revered by their peers for their knowledge, even if I suspect there is an element of male bovine excreta present.

Because I believe that beer deserves an element of progressive appreciation I have willingly, and I believe successfully, been involved in this sterling effort to bring a little bit of this to the Cumbrian beer world. It is just one of the many things that is bringing me great joy and hope about the 21st century beer world.

I notice that The Pub Curmudgeon has started a poll on his blog asking what decade the reader would most like to drink in. I voted unashamedly for 2011, mainly because 2021 and 2031 were not made available. I can't remember drinking in 1971, but in 1981 the beer wasn't that good and it's been progressively improving since. Yes, perhaps some things have got worse, less pubs for instance, but I'm not convinced that many of the losses will be greatly missed. Mudgie recounts his view of the way things were, just to give us a reminder. He asserts that the future is gloomy. Although I like Mudgie's approach generally, I do feel that today is a good time to drink beer and it's getting better, there is plenty to look forward to.

The opportunity to present beer in the way we did on Thursday is a great leap forward. We've been asked to do the same thing again in a few weeks at a different venue and so we hope the momentum will continue.

The evening itself was attended by a good mix of people. Some were confirmed beer enthusiasts like me, people who were looking for real beer inspiration. Others were interested industry people from Cumbria, brewers, licensees and the like. The rest were ordinary punters with no great beer aspirations, but looking for a good night of food and drink.

I found it interesting that some thought the early beers a little uninspiring, but conversely, the latter beers to others far too overwhelming. Overall, we believe we got the balance right and I hope that the Crafterati present understood that the exceptional balanced subtlety of the craft brewed pilsner and pale ales went extremely well with the soup and fish courses. Equally, to match beer with a rich chocolate desert or strongly flavoured cheese requires robust beer that would normally fail to find any appeal in a normal drinking session. If we sent one person away with a greater enthusiasm for progressive beer then I'd consider that a success.

This sort of dinner is a specialist event. Most beer drinkers will be unimpressed with the idea of sitting down in a posh joint and pontificating about flavour descriptors of the beer and food in question. I think it can only be good that there is a progression towards respectability for what I believe to be our core alcoholic beverage of the UK. Long may it continue to gain pace, as this is part, if only a small part, of what some are calling a beer revolution.

I'm raising a glass to the great future of beer.


Mark Dredge said...

I think it sounds like a great event and I really like the menu you put together. Personally, I think food and beer is key to the future of great beer appreciation - it's what will see it trip over into the mainstream in the way that wine did in the 1980s. It's a point of reference for people to understand - if this beer works well with a Thai green curry then the eater knows the tastes in the curry so can appreciate something that'll work with it. The next step is about education and something like this gives those handy nuggets of info to give people more confidence to try different beers!

Good work!

Eddie86 said...

I agree with most of that Mark, but the word education always sends alarm bells ringing. We have to be careful not to force education on people.

Scott Murray said...

Cant wait to see what you bring to the Sheffield tap on Tuesday, would love to see more of your beers around these areas.

Unknown said...

Eddie, yes, making people aware that they are being educated can certainly be off-putting. One thing that everyone would agree on I'm sure, is that beer is about enjoyment. Education sounds like school and may well turn people off.

But it's just a word. People like to be engaged, empowered and informed; entertained, stimulated and involved. If they happen to get educated, without them realising that is what is happening, then this is a worthy activity.

Scott, you won't be disappointed I'm sure.

Eddie86 said...

It's part of the 'theatre of the pub' - which I know to some people is a rubbish concept but people go out to be entertained, and learn something new.

Doing it in the right way is the crux.

Unknown said...

Theatre of the pub is most certainly not a rubbish concept, it's just that most punters don't understand it until it's done so badly that it's as obvious as a brick between the eyes.

Done right it is one of the most important value added components of a good pub. Done right it should send the punter away thinking what a fine pub that was without them ever suspecting they have been subjected to deliberate theatre.

Alex Routledge said...

Excellent post Dave. Vive la revolucion!

ZakAvery said...

Dave - I think that's a common problem if you're putting on a tasting - some of the people will be new to beer, and some old hands. I'm not sure there's any easy solution. I find having a bottle of somethng really rare on hand to quieten the jaded old lags often helps.

Mark - I'm not sure that wine rose to prominence via food matching in the 80s. Quite the reverse, in fact - it was the arrival of Aussie wines that pricked the widespread pomposity of wine, and that drove it into the mainstream. The Aussie wines were fun to drink and easy to understand, much lke American craft beer today.

Curmudgeon said...

You think you'll be able to drink a pint in a pub in 2031?

Neil Bowness said...

From my part, the evening was a resounding success. I qualify this not in terms of the standard of the food, nor that of the beer, but from a comment in an email I received from one of the people who attended the event:

"Really enjoyed the night and looking forward to next time. On the down side, I grabbed a can of Carling out of the fridge on Friday night and it tasted like... Scans brain for clever description... basically it tasted like watered down watery stuff with a feint chemical beer finish.

That'll be shit then.

So thanks for ruining my life Neil, looks like my £10 for 24 cans days are over!"

If events like this can help open the eyes of just a few people to drink better beer, then surely what we are collectively doing is worth the effort?

Neil, Eating isn't Cheating said...

very much enjoyed reading both your most recent posts. Beer and food matching is something which I am very interested in, also the concept of beer as a gourmet product (as wine is seen) interests me. Many people think of beer as something which should be safe and approachable, and in many cases it should be. I have drank and enjoyed amny an evening on session bitter. But it's the innovative beers which fall otuside this category which really excite. I think you'd like a blog post I wrote most recently about the lack of detail given to beer by chef's and food writer sin this country. Have a look if you get a minute, would love to know your thoughts on it aswell.

Dave Thackeray said...

What an awesome and refreshing article, Dave. As you know I'm on the hunt for validation of the keg craft beer concept and it's beautiful to know that beer experts like yourself are keen to embrace it, rather than push it away as so many traditionalists do.

Keep up the excellent work and do update us on how your 'Tap escapade goes.

beerbud said...

From what I have read from this blog and the menu it seems very self indulging for the brewers who have set this up, only using their own beers and beers from a brewery that they have a contract with? Is this introducing different beers to a wider audience within Cumbria or an excuse for marketing your own products wrapped up in a "appreciation group"? What about the other breweries (even within Cumbria) who are making waves within the beer world?

Neil Bowness said...

Beerbud – as this was our first ‘stab’ at an event such as this, please forgive us for including breweries we know well and who we also knew would be supportive of our efforts and able to help us organising the evening.

I can assure you that the intention is to invite breweries from around Cumbria to contribute their beer and, if possible, bring along people for ‘Meet The Brewer’ events. If you would like to contact Dave or myself then we can discuss how your beers can be showcased at CBAG events.

Personally speaking, I want to see the Cumbrian brewing scene being appreciated on as big a stage as possible. By creating CBAG, holding events like this and promoting through social networks then I believe we are doing our bit to shout about Cumbria’s brewers.

If, along the way, we are doing even a little bit to educate people in the county about good beer – the stories behind the beers, why it tastes the way it does and what sets it apart from mass produced, bland beer – then I think that can only be a good thing. I hope you agree.

I’d also like to invite you to read some of the article again: “if you like beer and live in Cumbria, or like Cumbrian beer, or visit Cumbria and drink beer, or perhaps just observe beery goings on in Cumbria, then perhaps you have a right to be involved, if you want.”

By the sound of things, you fit into this (very open) criteria. So would you like to be involved?

Unknown said...

BeerBud, yes, of course the time I gave up to help with this event was influenced by the fact that I am hoping to get some return. I am a very busy person and give up a lot of time to beer; I live and breath it and go way beyond what I believe most brewers would go to try and be all inclusive. I think anyone who knows me well would agree with that.

I could have very easily organised a Hardknott only event, but I think the result we achieved, from my perspective, was a reasonably balanced compromise. CBAG formed as a result of like-minded people wanting a more inclusive and far-thinking approach to beer. My idea of including beer I sell in a beer dinner was a driver and I make no secret of that.

I did choose 4 out of the 7 beers on this occasion. Perhaps you are right my influence there was too great. However, the other brewers involved, Cumbrian Legendary Ales and Coniston, did not become involved until we told them we had chosen their beers to be included.

I did not choose these other three beers.

Future events will have different biases and will inevitably include other brewers from Cumbria and further afield. We may even run events that include no Cumbrian brewed beers whatsoever. Perhaps a Belgian trapiste night, or and American IPA night for instance.

We would love you to be involved and further influence events under the banner of CBAG. What we do not want is an exclusive organisation. We want it to be all-inclusive.

StringersBeer said...

Personally, had I been organising such a thing, I like to believe I'd have thought twice about using beers I had an interest in, particularly at what I hope is the first event of many. That would be mainly because I'd be wary of provoking a "beerbud" reaction, and undermining the CBAG "brand" by being seen to push my own inappropriately.

But then I didn't organise it - they did - kudos - and we certainly can't accuse Dave of being in anyway underhand about it. Everybody (and I mean everybody!) should know by now what he does for a living. And he seems to do it all the time!.

Anyway, commercial sponsorship of beery events is pretty normal nowadays isn't it? Even CAMRA lap it up. For instance, it was almost impossible to get anything other than free beer from the sponsor, at the trade session for a large BF I went to recently. Even when I tried to pay for something else, I had free sponsors beer forced on me (and very nice it was, but it still didn't feel quite right, even though the sponsorship was carefully made explicit).