Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Home Sweet Home

Finally! My blog has been dequarantined by Google, thank god, and I've got a lot to catch up on, not least my adventures in the US at the ever-awesome GABF, on which I'll be doing a separate post in the next few days.

But this evening I felt I had to share a recipe that I have seriously enjoyed eating this evening and was super-tasty despite being really pretty darn healthy! The beer match I would suggest for the below would be something like a Vienna-style lager or even a crystal wheat or Belgian-style but nothing too dark and heavy or, conversely, very bitter as there is some very subtle and pretty spice notes in the dish that I feel would be overwhelmed

So, here goes my Oxymoronic One Pot Wonder (or slightly bastardised tagine recipe if you like!)

Serves 4 (with quite a good bit of bulgur wheat and veg left over for salads)

Sorry picture isn't great, I was hungry!
Toasted spice mix:
Half a cinnamon stick
3 tbsp Ras-el-Hanout (Moroccan spice mix)
2tbsp cumin seeds
1tbsp coriander seeds
1/2tsp chilli flakes

Dressing & Sprinkly Bits!
Finely chopped mint leaves
Two garlic cloves
Lime - juice & rind (juice of two if it's not very juicy)
Half an inch ginger very finely grated
Small pot of natural yoghurt
Pomegranate seeds
Pomegranate molasses

Main ingredients:
8 x chicken thighs
1 x medium butternut squash chopped into inch cubes
1 x large aubergine chopped into inch cubes
4 x large garlic cloves smashed
1 x onion finely chopped
1tsp harissa
600gms bulgur wheat
Ready-to-eat prunes & dried apricots
Chai tea bags (optional to replace with a spiced Winter Ale, porter or mild)
1 x tin of chickpeas
1tbsp Harissa (or a slightly smokey not super-hot chilli paste)
1x bottle spicy ginger beer
Small splash of groundnut oil

  1. Soak your dried fruit *childish snigger* in the chai tea or one of the mentioned beers
  2. Pop a dry pan on the hob to heat up
  3. Whilst it's doing that, pop salt & garlic in a pestle & mortar and pulp
  4. Add lime rind & juice + mint leaves & ginger - leave to macerate
  5. By now pan should be nice and hot, add spices from spice mix list, turn heat down and toast spices carefully, don't burn and then set aside
  6. Heat a large pot or hob-friendly tagine (I can't recommend Emile Henry highly enough)
  7. Add oil and quickly brown chicken thighs, add half the toasted spices, then add onions and cook until they go translucent then add aubergines & butternut squash for four or five minutes, then the chickpeas and then add garlic, some seasoning & harissa
  8. A minute after the garlic is added deglaze with a bit of water before adding any beer you're using
  9. Add the bulgur wheat and stir everything together carefully, keep an eye on the liquid levels every five minutes, it's not an exact science
  10. Whilst it's cooking add your mushed garlic, mint, lime etc. into your natural yoghurt
  11. To serve: test for seasoning then pile into bowls, drizzle over yoghurt and a bit of pomegranate molasses and sprinkle with some more chopped mint and pomegranate seeds - serve!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Not Beer and Certainly Not Fear

Via @rickontour on twitpic
This is a quick post that's not about beer, although I am having one as I'm writing this, it's about saying no to fear.

The streets of London, and other areas of the country, have seen the most appalling violence, thuggery and downright criminality in a way that I have never experienced in my lifetime.

Most heartbreaking was the footage of the scum who robbed an injured young man, after pretending to take care of him, I have never witnessed such a sickening display and if I had my way they wouldn't be left to breed, but that's why I'm not a police officer.

However, you lot all know about the horrors, so I'm not going to bang on about it.

First off, I want to thank our emergency services and for all the citizens who protected their own territories - you have all done amazing work in the face of tremendous adversity.

And to the people behind @riotcleanup I say bravo, you are true heroes and have engendered some of the most remarkable scenes of human strength, fortitude and beauty I've ever witnessed too - the brooms being held aloft around Clapham as hundreds took the streets to clean up the mess the thugs had left is still bringing tears to my eyes.

If these mindless thugs take to the streets again tonight and continue to trash our fair city, I'll be out there tomorrow with you because we need to show that they are a disgraceful minority, we will not tolerate it and FEAR WILL NOT WIN!

Be safe fellow Londoners - Drink Beer & Carry On x

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Mild Makes Its Mark Again at GBBF

I have nothing to declare but my genius
Mild has taken the crown again at Champion Beer of Britain, which is nice and will hopefully see more pubs stocking this refreshing, generally low-ABV, tasty style.

In light of the constant screeching from the neo-prohibitionists, this kind of low-alcohol beer is unlikely to get as many headlines but you never know, someone might screw their head on straight and laud it like they should!

Anyway, here's the list of winners, well done to Mighty Oak for its win and well done everyone else too.

Overall winners 
Champion Beer of Britain - Mighty Oak, Oscar Wilde (3.7% ABV, Maldon, Essex) 
Second - Marble, Chocolate (5.5% ABV, Manchester, Gtr Manchester) 
Third - Salopian, Shropshire Gold (3.8%ABV, Shrewsbury, Shropshire) 

Mild category 
Gold- Mighty Oak, Oscar Wilde (3.7% ABV, Maldon, Essex) 
Silver- Rudgate, Ruby Mild (4.4% ABV, York, North Yorkshire) 
Bronze- Coastal, Merry Maidens (4% ABV, Redruth, Cornwall) 

Bitter category 
Gold- Salopian, Shropshire Gold (3.8%ABV, Shrewsbury, Shropshire) 
Silver- Teignworthy, Reel Ale (4% ABV, Newton Abbot, Devon) 
Joint Bronze- Triple fff, Alton's Pride (3.8% ABV, Alton, Hampshire) 
Joint Bronze- Potton, Shannon IPA (3.6% ABV, Potton, Bedfordshire) 

Best Bitter category 
Gold- Houston, Peter's Well (4.2% ABV, Houston, Renfrewshire) 
Silver- Country Life, Golden Pig (4.7% ABV, Bideford, Devon) 
Joint Bronze- Castle Rock, Preservation (4.4% ABV, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire) 
Joint Bronze- Bollington, Best Bitter (4.2% ABV, Bollington, Cheshire) 
Joint Bronze- Blythe, Staffie (4.4% ABV, Rugeley, Staffordshire) 

Golden Ale category 
Gold- Cumbrian Legendary Ales, Loweswater Gold (4.3% ABV, Hawkshead, Cumbria) 
Silver- Salamander, Golden Salamander (4.5% ABV, Bradford, West Yorkshire) 
Bronze- Holden's, Golden Glow (4.4% ABV, Dudley, West Midlands) 

Strong Bitter category 
Gold- Moles, Mole Catcher (5% ABV, Melksham, Wiltshire) 
Silver- Kinver, Half Centurion (5% ABV, Kinver, Staffordshire) 
Bronze- Adnams Broadside (4.7% ABV, Southwold, Suffolk) 

Speciality Beer category 
Gold- Oakleaf, I Can't Believe It's Not Bitter (4.9% ABV, Gosport, Hampshire) 
Silver- Amber, Chocolate Orange Stout (4% ABV, Ripley, Derbyshire) 
Bronze- Orkney, Atlas Wayfarer (4.4% ABV, Stromness, Orkney) 

Winter Beer of Britain winner (announced in January 2011) 
Dow Bridge, Praetorian Porter (5% ABV, Catthorpe, Leicestershire) 
Holden's, Old Ale (7.2% ABV, Dudley, West Midlands) 
Hop Back, Entire Stout (4.5% ABV, Downton, Wiltshire) 
Marble, Chocolate (5.5% ABV, Manchester, Gtr Manchester) 

Bottled Beer of Britain winners (sponsored by Hotel du Vin) 
Gold- St Austell, Proper Job (5.5% ABV, St Austell, Cornwall) 
Joint Silver- Molson Coors, Worthington White Shield (5.6% ABV, Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire) 
Joint Silver- Brown Cow, Captain Oates Dark Oat Mild (4.5% ABV, Selby, North Yorkshire) 

Monday, 1 August 2011

Anti-Alcohol Lobby Is Taking Their Ball In

What Don Shenker thinks inside
our heads looks like
Thanks to Jay Brooks for finding this
The Anti-Alcohol Lobby is one of the most infuriating, self-righteous, hypocritical and, frankly, downright untruthful bunch of blinkered blitherers (outside of religious fundamentalism) one could ever have the misfortune to meet.

And the national press's insistence that it will pander to them without thought or balance is equally disturbing and unprofessional. 

Having been quite pleased with the Guardian's piece on health & alcohol not actually using a glass of beer for a change* I've now been utterly enraged by a piece in today's paper because it leaves several mahoosive issues surrounding balance, let's see if you can spot them?

"The drinks industry has secured heavy representation on a key government advisory working group on alcohol, putting it in a strong position to influence the coalition's forthcoming alcohol strategy.
Minutes of the Government and Partners Alcohol Working Group, which meets bi-monthly and is chaired by the Home Office director of drugs and alcohol, show that drinks industry membership has massively increased during the last year.
"Under the Labour government, there were a couple of industry representatives, but the coalition has swelled their numbers to the point where they make up almost half the membership of the committee, excluding the civil servants who represent government departments, such as health and the Treasury. Minutes of meetings before and after the election were obtained by the BBC's Panorama programme, which on Monday night will show the damage excessive drinking is wreaking on young people and asks why the government has not acted to raise alcohol prices.

"When the committee met in March 2009 – then called the Alcohol Strategy Delivery Group – eight of the members were non-civil servants and two of them were from the drinks industry – one from Bacardi and the other from retailers Morrisons. Five others came from a health background and the sixth represented local government.
"But the membership changed under the coalition government. In December 2010, there were 10 members from the drinks industry and seven others. In March this year, there were 10 members from the drinks industry, eight of whom were present, and six others – three of whom were in the room."

Did you see it? No? Yes? Well in case you didn't, it was the bit that says of the original committee: "eight of the members were non-civil servants and two were from the drinks industry."

Hmmm, anyone care to speculate on who those 'eight non-civil servants' might have been? My money is on anti-alcohol or 'concern' groups, but the piece doesn't address it, so we don't know (am ringing to find out later today, so will report back).

Also, is it just me that can't make the maths work in this piece either? First off they say that the drinks industry now makes up nearly half of the committee's membership, excluding civil servants, and then they say that they outnumber everyone else by three members - and it's not surprising that their presence looks a lot stronger when most of the 'other side' can't be arsed to turn up!

And it seriously infuriates me that the idea of balance, in making alcohol policy decisions, has so truly appalled the Grand High Poobah of neo-prohibitionists Don Shenker - chief executive of Alcohol Concern.

He is of the opinion that the ability to shape and define alcohol strategy lies firmly with him and his cronies, as evinced by his comment: "This government needs to decide if it wishes to truly get to grips with the significant levels of alcohol harms in the UK, or stick with the status quo of allowing the drinks industry to call the shots. It can't have it both ways." 

Are you kidding me? Let's get this straight, you don't want to engage with the drinks industry unless you outnumber them 8:2? Yet you will continue to disseminate and champion completely skewed and totally unethical policy formed from erroneous information?** 

Here are my top three favourites:

  • In 1987 the Government released daily guideline figures on drinking; it has since been admitted by one of the members of the Royal College of Physicians' original working party, figures were "plucked out of the air" in the absence of any clear evidence about how much alcohol constitutes a risk to health
  • The Government and EU have both been using research from a body called the Institute of Alcohol Studies as the basis for their alcohol policy, this is solely funded by THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT and has also been found by the Charities Commission to not fulfil the criteria to be a charity, despite saying so publicly
  • In April the ONS released statistics, based on flawed methodology, saying that women consuming excessive alcohol was on the rise, which isn't true, and several newspapers reported, several organisations shouted it and no- one retracted it once the ONS said, in very small letters: Oops we got that wrong, it's not actually, sorry!
So, I've decided that I'm going to come out with a couple of my own!
  • Since the Drink Aware Trust was formed there has been a drop in drinking levels in the UK
I can't actually prove that, but there is a faint correlation, so it must be true! Now, what else have I got? Oooh, here's a good one!

  • Drinking cask ale makes you 87.5% less inclined to have a punch-up; because in my experience in the last eight years of going to the Great British Beer Festival I've only ever seen one fight

But that's how the neo-pros work, not me, so I'm just using these random observations to make a point - because it appears to be how you get government to form policy. Hmm, maybe I should jack this in and become a lobbyist?

Anyway, I'm wandering off point here.

In no sane democracy should one standpoint hold the entire ground on a decision-making, and policy-forming, committee, but this seems to be what Don Shenker is saying should be so. Sorry Don, but democracy just doesn't work like that! 

Do you hear other areas of Government, like the Department of Health and its various lobbying grouper fish, saying: "We need to lower obesity in the UK, but we won't talk to any of the major fast-food chains, they will bamboozle us with fatty acids and sweet liquids!"

No, you hear them saying: "We need to engage with this industry to ensure that the minority that abuses their products have more safeguards put in place to protect them from themselves."

And here's the nub of it all, people like Don look at all of us who drink and see a 'problem', which he and his cult of neo-prohibinists believe can only be solved by treating us all like three-year-old children or dirty tramps with a can of Special Brew.

Sorry Don, I'm neither, and just because you know don't have the whole of government's ear to ensure they treat me like one of these, doesn't mean you should crying like a little girl about it.

And nor should the Guardian or any other area of the press be taking your complaints at face value either.

We, the demos, deserve better than that.

*sadly it was later pointed out to me on twitter that it was women and health, so of course they were drinking wine! Silly me...
**For an in-depth look at the total bollocks that's been coming out from the anti-alcohol lobby over recent years see Pete Brown's tireless work to look at reams of numbers and uncover the truth.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Just When You Think It Can't Get Any Worse...

This is Chick Beer.

No, this is not a joke.

I repeat, this is not a joke.

And apart from a couple of comments, I am going to let this chirp for itself. To understand what I'm talking about you need to visit the website in all its glory.

'Hi, my name is Shazz. Let me tell you the cool story of how Chick Beer happened.' - Shazz? I nearly spat my tea all over the screen...

The bottle is designed to reflect the beautiful shape of a woman in a little black dress - Really? what an oddly angular woman 'Shazz' must be.

The six-pack looks like you are carrying your beer in a hip stylish, purse - A cardboard handbag? Hmm, it's that hobo chic I've been missing all my life!

p.s. this has been launched in the States, not over here - yet!!

Friday, 22 July 2011

Back to the Snug Age

Here's the pre-edit version of the article that I wrote for Guardian Comment is Free in case you need a little 'light & fruity' reading for the weekend - I'm off on holidays, so please play nicely in my absence!

This week was the official launch of Animée , a range of three ‘beers’ specifically designed for women, and beer writer Melissa Cole isn’t impressed at all – but why?

Did you know in the 1930s a Mass Observation survey found women in the north-west town of Bolton weren’t allowed to order at the bar of a pub? I think I saw a step back to that by the brewing industry the other evening when Molson Coors announced the launch of Animée .

Now, maybe I’m not very good at being told what to do, but the idea of a beer specifically designed for women really winds me up.

But why you may ask? Well, quite simply, what the big breweries need to be doing is asking themselves why more women don’t drink the beers they are already selling – and the answer to that is because they have busily been disenfranchising women from the beer market for the last 40 years and now seem are trying to entice them to return with tempting trinkets and shiny things.

It’s kind of the business equivalent of someone breaking up with you horribly at school, only to beg you to come back in your mid-30s! It’s both disturbing and ridiculous.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m keenly aware of the challenges that face the brewing market right now, with big brands in decline and less people going to pubs, but is a range of prettily packaged, flavoured drinks for the ‘ladeez’ the silver bullet to all the industry’s woes? No, it simply isn’t.

Several pieces of research - ironically including one done by the Molson Coors ‘girly arm’ BitterSweet Partnership – clearly show the major barriers to women drinking beer are myriad; mostly it’s based around a lack of education, too much gassy rubbish and ugly glassware.

But, top of the list, is that they find the inherent sexism in beer advertising and marketing the most off-putting. There’s little that says ‘it’s not pink and fruity enough’.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When Professor Fons Trompenaar, one Europe’s leading market research gurus, investigated this issue last year, he found it was the divide the brewers themselves have created between the sexes that has put women off beer.

What the female market most wants is to be more informed through unisex marketing and education – not adverts about groups of lads who can’t get into a cosmic nightclub or who shelter their pints in the shade of some Sheila’s giant rack.

But why are the big brewers running so scared? Mostly it’s because where they are seeing a decline, small breweries - which are putting an emphasis on provenance, strong tasting notes and exciting natural flavours - are seeing a sharp growth curve.

We now have more breweries in this country than at any other time since WWII and, over the past few years, the Society for Independent Brewers (SIBA) has reported a 7.7% growth for its members, a stark contrast to the 30% decline in beer sales over the last 30 years, which can nearly all be attributed to the big brands.

And, in case you think I’m picking on Molson Coors, which I genuinely feel is a business trying its hardest albeit in an epically misguided fashion, Carlsberg also entered the battlefield last year in an even more shameful way with Eve, the ‘shh, it’s not beer really ladies, it’s a malt-based beverage’.

I will give Molson Coors its due, it is trying to change that curve with what, at rough cut stage, looks like it might be a decent stab at some good unisex marketing - and I've yet to find anyone who doesn't find the Jean Claude van Damm Coors Light adverts truly entertaining.

However, I also don't believe that everyone can be bought by advertising (and am not so stupid as to think it doesn't matter either!) but I am on record saying I wasn’t going to fully comment on these products until I’d actually tried them and so, to the meat of the matter, what does the Animée  range of drinks taste like?

Well, despite having some pretty pictures of hops on the bottle, if anyone can identify anything even approaching a normal beer flavour in any of these drinks I’ll eat my hat! The standard ‘clear beer’ may have a passing resemblance to shandy, but the lemon is simply undrinkable, closely resembling a locket, and as for the rosé version... well, if you want to hark back to your childhood days when your mum used to buy those cheap ice lollies from the ambient shelf to stop you whining about not being bought sweets - then you'll recognise the taste... because pretty in pink it ain’t. 

And if the comments I received on Twitter when I simply posted a picture of the new products saying ‘Thoughts?’ I’m not alone in my overwhelming despair at these products either.

The reactions from both men and women ranged from @GuideDogSaint saying ‘way beyond contempt’ to @annie_dunn ‘that’s not beer’ and I don’t think I should print what @shoozographer said…

So, I’ll be interested in what you all think, but before I go I’ll leave you with this thought from Molson Coors marketing director Chris McDonough: “It’s important when launching a female beer not to be too patronising.”

Oh… the irony.

Monday, 18 July 2011

In the Interests of a Fair Press...

Okay people, I've banged on before about journalistic ethics, so it's only right and proper that I give all products a fair crack of the whip.

So, I'm going to join Molson Coors for dinner this evening to hear all about the launch of these 'female-friendly' beers.

I shall report back later!

p.s. Well I hope so, I'm still feeling rotten from having a cold this weekend, it's decided it's going to be an achy one!