When I founded my business School of Booze to educate about and celebrate alcohol I could not have imagined that I would be espousing Low-No Alcohol beer and wishing that pubs had a better selection. Like many people my first experience of alcohol-free was a near beer version of pale lager, lacking hops and body, tasting of cardboard, and resembling soap suds in water. Never again I pledged. And that’s how it remained until years later when I was commissioned to write a feature about the growth in low and non-alcohol beers. For research I sampled several different styles and particularly enjoyed the highly hopped pale ales and milk stout. Soon I felt rather buzzed and repeatedly checked that they really were no more than 0.5% ABV. Then I realised that because it tasted like beer my brain responded by rewarding me with all the pleasure and none of the pain. Sisters and brothers, I’ve seen the light!
George Orwell’s fictitious perfect pub, The Moon Under Water may not exist but the Clean Vic does or should I say it did exist for 3 days in July 2019. The Clean Vic boozer was the perfect pub for people who do not drink or do drink but fancy something other than alcohol. The Clean Vic was a project by Sainsbury’s supermarket to showcase the chain’s range of 50 No and Low alcohol drinks – beer, wine, cider and alt spirits. Read more
If you are a devotee of lavish Victorian pubs then Madam Geneva deserves your gratitude. Madam Geneva, one of the 18th century nicknames for gin, is the reason that such splendid boozers exist. During the 18th and 19th centuries when so much of the under-class in Britain was blighted by the gin frenzy, the juniper based spirit could not only be purchased in pubs, but in unexpected places such as the barber’s, the blacksmith, even in a church. Competition for customers increased when the Government acted to mitigate the devastation to society caused by addiction to gin. In 1830 the Beerhouses Act was passed which encouraged the opening of pubs and for beer to be sold at a reduced price with the intention of moderating gin consumption. People still craved gin however because it was the most effective method of intoxication.
It’s show-time! That phrase sings in my head each time I visit London’s Blackfriar pub. If Walt Disney had been a pub designer this is what he would have devised. Every surface of this spectacular Arts & Crafts/Art Nouveau hostelry is decorated and then decorated again. More is more is more. If minimalism is your style then either wear sunglasses in this pub or go to the post-industrial concrete bunker boozer nearby.
A woman walks into a pub. If that sounds like the first line of a joke, you’re right but this one is a bad joke. She asked for a cider but was served with a glass of beer. When she pointed out the barman’s mistake he responded condescendingly ‘Beer and cider – it’s the same thing’. That unfortunately is a true story. I know, I overheard the conversation.
I doubt that he is the only one who is clueless about cider. I regularly hear and read people referring to cider breweries. Cider is not apple beer and is not brewed. It is made in a cidery by pressing apples and fermenting the juice. Like wine is with grapes.
In 2008 I founded a business called School of Booze to educate about and celebrate alcohol. I never would have imagined that a decade later I would be doing so much work connected with Low or No Alcohol. 10 years ago I would also never have believed how dynamic the No-Low sector would be in 2018 with small businesses creating a variety of imaginative and most importantly delicious and satisfying No-Low libations and one-stop on-line shops such as Wise Bartender to sell them.
I do hear sarcastic comments from some people along the lines of ‘What’s the point’, ‘Cardboard’, and ‘I’d rather drink water’. Those are the people who may once have tried Kaliber beer in the 1980s and still regret it.
When I received an invitation to visit the Mahou Brewery in Madrid in July 2018 I knew barely anything about the company and had never tasted its flagship beer Cinco Estrellas. In the UK I am probably not alone, although there can be few people who do not know another hugely popular brand owned by Mahou– San Miguel. Mahou (pronounced Mow) is Spain’s largest brewing company with its beers in 60 countries. It also owns the Alhambra brand, plus stakes in Spanish craft brewer Nómada Brewing and the influential Founders Brewery in the USA.
‘Big Beer’ I muttered to myself when I learned these facts. But then I spent a couple of days in Madrid with members of the brewing and marketing teams and had the full Mahou experience. It started with a visit to the gargantuan main brewery, then on to the company’s stylish brew-pub Espacio Cervecero where I helped to judge the food and beer matches created by catering students sponsored by Mahou, followed by dinner at the fabulous Street XO restaurant for some stunning food matched with exemplary barrel aged lagers (more of those later). It ended with some gentle head-banging at the Mad Cool music festival. I was smitten.
A few years ago I was quoted in the Daily Telegraph about how the shape of glassware enhances specific characteristics in beer and that the ugly pint glass had no place on a dining table because it was one of several reasons why in Britain beer was widely perceived as declassé. The editor of the Op-Ed column, mentioning that I had said beer was a brilliant match for food, wrote that I was ‘utterly wrong’ and that beer should only ever be consumed in the pub and ‘if sustenance is needed a scotch egg or pork scratching will suffice’. I wrote to the letters page defending my opinion and offered to arrange a battle of the bottle meal where wine and beer were served so the Op-Editor, who I shall call Mr Cholmondeley-Feathestonehaugh, could decide which was a better match. He did not accept the challenge.
Around the same time I had written a blog for the Huff Post in which I fantasised that Buckingham Palace would offer beer to match the dishes at a State Banquet held in honour of President Barack Obama. Of course it remained a dream. In reality President Obama is much more likely to enjoy a beer state banquet than Queen Elizabeth is because he lives on Planet Beer and in beer and food matching particularly, America is the leader of the free world.
One of my friends was so inspired by Betty Boothroyd, first female Speaker of the House of Commons, that she named her daughter after the British politician.
My teenage niece, a distant relation of Nurse Edith Cavell is considering a career in nursing motivated by the sacrifice of the World War I medic.
My muse is fictional. A fearsome old battle axe in a hair net who trod the cobbles of Weatherfield striking fear into Elsie Tanner’s party shoes. If you are familiar with the soap opera Coronation Street you will know that I am talking about the acid tongued Ena Sharples. I owe everything to Ena for she was the first person I ever saw drinking beer. Ena drank Milk Stout and she poured it with relish into the glass as she sat in the snug of the Rovers’ Return and gossiped with her friend Minnie Caldwell. Seeing her do that is one of my earliest recollections. In pre-colour TV days the contrast of the mahogany hued body and the white head of the beer was stark and made it stand out from the muddy shades of grey that dominated the screen. Remembering that scene when I was older I realised it was not just the beer that was so vivid in the monochrome tableau of my memory it was that they were in a pub and the pub is where people assemble for a good time.
Imagine life without the pub. Where would we go to meet friends, flirt with prospective lovers, escape to, commemorate special occasions, put the world to rights, unite to watch our footy team be victorious, and find refuge when we are alone and need to be with other people?
There is a reason why every soap opera has a pub. They are places for communal activity where storylines develop and cast members have valid reasons to interact. I have Coronation Street and the Rovers Return to thank for showing to me as a 7-year old how marvellous the pub is. Watching the characters gossiping and being convivial had a deep impact. I am fortunate to come from a family that also reveres pubs and as a child my extended clan would regularly gather in the pub for what we called ‘a jollification’.