Macc To Basics

For the oh so many people that have been asking me about this, I can at last confirm that this years Macclesfield #Twissup is go!

P1020544As you can probably guess from the lack of updates, since we decided to kill the “Macc To The Future” idea through lack of interest (it seemed a great idea when we were drunk), things have been a little quiet..

I stand and solely take the blame for this, as for many reasons which are now thankfully all gone, I’d lost my drive to drive the event as much as I had in previous years. But thankfully due in truth to the support from you guys, and in particular I’d say Matt at the Treacle too for pushing me on, we going ahead as planned on Saturday 22nd August 2015.

What has made it trickier this time around is that there has been so much going on behind the scenes. Toby at RedWillow building a new brewery, Chris closing and reopening a new, larger and much improved Brewtique, and Bronwyn and Tim with their network of fine establishments. So we decided to take it back to basics (#MaccToBasics) and just go with a great social drinking theme. No big beer launches (unless of course anyone fancies it), just a great range of beer and food, a good crowd of friendly people having a beery bimble around the usual haunts.

IMG_6367So far we have the return of the amazing Great North (breakfast) Pie Co at The Treacle Tap as our starting point at 11AM. Where we will also have the pleasure of an informal Meet The Brewer session with Marble and I’m sure a fine selection of their beers tbc.

Toby is again opening up RedWillow brewery for us to try a few beers and take a look around the new brewery building so that you can see it as a work in progress.

Chris at The Wharf is escaping on holiday, but again is happy to welcome us and put on some “cellar specials” as well as the normal top range. He is also hoping that folk will take an excursion up to the new shop which now has beer on tap including a dedicated sour line. It’s probably not feasible for us all to go “en-masse”, but we should have plenty of time to visit as they are open all day till late.

Image 1Finishing off the day as last year in RedWillow Bar, which I am sure will have enough to keep you all happy on the cask, keg and gin front among other things. Molly and the team will I’m sure pull out the stops to make the days beer board as amazing as last year.

IMG_0273Full details to be confirmed for all venues as soon as I have them on the likely beer lists, venue timing itineraries, food etc. “So keep em peeled”. Hope to see you all soon.

Cheers

Building blocks #bCubed

Think of your favourite beer festival, all that lovely beer just waiting to be poured, supped and savoured.

Think of the vast selection, the nibbles, even better, the pulled pork oozing from golden brioche buns. That ‘oh so” DIRTY burger, or that pizza, so screamingly hot but so irresistible you are unable to wait long enough to tuck in. Think of that bloody annoying cheese coated blister just behind your teeth as a result..

Then think again, think of it like this, an empty blank canvas.
IMG_3421 IMG_2721Or even like this, the lightbulb moment, “ooooh I now, lets create a mahoosive beer festival right in the heart of one of Britain’s biggest cities”..

I recently signed up to help out at Birmingham Beer Bash or #bCubed as it is known in the Twittersphere. Mixing serving days with drinking days was always going to be tricky (and expensive) for me as I was already committed to Thursday and Saturday afternoon sessions beer sampling.

So I decided to go and help set up on Tuesday, right at the beginning, but of course that wasn’t really the beginning was it? IMG_3422 The pictures above were taken at around 11am on Tuesday morning (the rest at various points throughout the day), the venue having being open from around 8:30.

There were a few folk milling about when I finally made an appearance mid-morning. Eager volunteers ticking the few beers that had already arrived off lists, some creating more lists, gathering pump-clips, trying to look busy. Others were out and about, gathering bar equipment, BARS, furniture, stuff! The bits and bobs that they just know is going to be required at some point.

A large van literally packed to the ceiling with “stuff” turns up, is quickly unloaded and contents shifted to the back of the still echoing hall ready for distribution when the time is right.

IMG_3424It is starting to get busier now, suddenly there are no folk “milling”, all are rushing about, lugging this, dragging that, pushing the other. The mornings relaxed start now starting to be a worryingly distant memory, are there enough of us, there is a lot to do..?
IMG_3425 Then the “Beaver-bar” ships up, it’s big, it’s complete, it is beautifully crafted but also very heavy. Fortunately it is on a pallet.

Unfortunately, it won’t fit through the doors as it is too high, but with a bit of twisting, turning, leaning and strained cajoling, she’s in…IMG_3428 More bars arrive, the room is staring to take shape, time to take stock, have a breather and a quick but well earned sandwich.IMG_3429 In no time we are back at work, as fridges, cask stillages, chiller units, more bars, glasses and even MORE beer arrives and everything is checked off.IMG_3431“Almost” everything that was due to arrive today, and a bit more, has done and now we have to make sense of it all. Bars are moved into place and made ready to go, spaces are left for those due back to help tomorrow. Stillages are set up and cooling fitted in readiness for casks. Time to organise beer!IMG_3433

Casks are sorted and rolled around the room, a few laps apiece. Kegs are examined and placed in sections, lager, sours, international and everything else, then sifted and dragged into some sort of alphabetical order in readiness for the Wednesday crew. Things are starting to get heavy, as are my aching feet.

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A pensive bar manager, what have I forgot?

IMG_3434 Before we leave though, those casks need racking. Did I mention the heavy things and my aching feet?IMG_3435 Suddenly it’s almost 7PM and time for another breather as we wait for that one last elusive delivery, stuck somewhere in Birmingham traffic. Time for a beer or two from the fridge, handily placed there earlier by Mr Shipman, who’s brainchild this all is. No doubt from previous experiences knowing this would be required.  IMG_3436

At last, at 7:30PM the day is done and we trundle wearily off to the Craven Arms for several glasses of well earned liquid refreshment.

Later, as I sat on the train home, completely knackered, I couldn’t stop thinking about the organised chaos I’d witnessed. I say chaos, but what I mean is, it was manic, it has to be, but everything had a place, each arrival was expected but also beyond control.

I also thought about me, I was tired yes, but I was a tiny cog in a massive wheel, I did one day. “ONE DAY”! Some of the volunteers were doing three to five, the Beer Bash crew will be doing it even longer as it all has to be taken down again and some of them have been working on this for a full year. All this doesn’t organise itself.

The festival of course was stunning as usual, the venue is great, the beer was great, the people are great, it was you guessed it GREAT! (Is this starting to grate?)

You can read a little more about how it all went here, via Simon at CAMRGB.

The next time you arrive at your favourite festival though, be that bCubed, Indy Man Beer Con, Craft Beer Rising, Leeds, Liverpool, GBBF, you name it, think about that beer lined room you rush eagerly into, beer list clutched excitedly in hand. Think about that room being completely empty, your footsteps echoing back at you as if in an empty church. Think about all the hard work that went into filling it up and the wonderful people like those behind Birmingham Beer Bash. Then rush to the bar and fill your boots!

A massive thanks to Dave and all the bCubed crew for all their hard work in making this wonderful beery extravaganza happen, you guys rock!

Mug Shots #coffee

Steve LeightonIt’s a slight departure from beer talk today, looking at coffee, more specifically at Stephen Leighton‘s weekly video blog “In My Mug” for his Staffordshire based coffee company Has Bean.

It is fair to say that I am a bit of a coffee geek, and I do think that there are lots of similarities to be found in picking out the aroma, flavours, mouthfeel and sometimes bitterness of a decent fresh brewed coffee as there are in beer, they sort of go hand in hand. Which sort of explains one of Steve’s other online activities with a weekly podcast with roasting pal Roland, SARBP (Steve and Rolands Beer Podcast).

Two reasons for this today, one is revenge! ;) “Well, not really”. Purely a bit of fun (I hope), which came into my head after Steve invaded my dreams last night. He turned up at my house in a white van driven by a tall, bald, moustachioed chap. He handed me five white 100g bags of mystery coffee, he wouldn’t tell me what it was or how much it was going to cost, but I handed him a £100 note and he disappeared. Damn that coffee must have been special!

The other thought that spurred me on to post this was after watching this weeks In My Mug, which has become a bit of a Monday morning ritual for me when time allows. To explain, the show forms part of a subscription service offered by Hasbean, the coffee turns up on Saturday morning and the weekly show airs on the following Monday, talking coffee news, focussing on the delivered coffee’s origin country, farm, various tastings using different brewing methods and the infamous “map bit”. There are lots more to it than that, but you get the idea.

This week (episode 347), looked different somehow, at first I thought it was just a lack of the seemingly obligatory Sunderland outfit, but no, a new video camera upgrade it seems was the reason. But it got me wondering though as to what these shows looked like in their infancy as I only started to subscribe in the latter 200’s, so I started to do a little digging into the YouTube and Vimeo archives…

The results are really interesting, yes it’s funny watching Steve, younger obviously, but nervously pulling the first few shows together, especially when you see the confident flamboyant presenter he has become today. But seeing the show developing over time as that confidence grew along with the Has Bean company is where things really come into focus. Showing what a great idea, blogging and a good social media presence can really do for a business. Ideas come, and either stay and improve, or are discarded. Simple graphics and themes developing over time into a highly polished professional “tour de coffee”. It really is a remarkable transformation.

So, go grind some beans, brew up some “tasty and delicious drinks”, and take twenty minutes to reminisce, chuckle and most importantly see how it’s done.

Episode One…

Episode 7 (so many changes already)

Episode 100

Episode 156 – purely because I liked the opening sequence.

Episode 200 – Another milestone, more format changes and shiny new furniture

Episode 299 – with a great “Map Bit”

Steve will probably kill me for this (I hate reading my really old blog posts), and I expect a bottle of Camp Coffee with chicory in the post next Saturday instead of my usual delicious coffee beans. But if nothing else, please check Has Bean out, I’ve learned so much following this journey and drank some absolutely fabulous coffee, you should try some.

Here’s to episode 400, CHEERS!

 

Edinburgh jaunt

We recently visited Edinburgh for a couple of days and after taking lots of recommendations from folk (thanks @davomanic and @ckdsaddlers), managed to hit quite a few new places both on the beer and coffee, food and beer front. (We found a few bloody awful places too, but we won’t dwell on those) No in-depth reviews of any here really, a few words at most, plus photographs taken hastily, often blurry, using my iPhone of some of the most interesting.

First on my hit list was The Hanging Bat and indeed it was to there we headed immediately after dumping our belongings at the nearby Premier Inn on Lauriston Place, which I have to add was ideally placed to put a lot of places we hoped to try within easy walking distance. The Hanging Bat didn’t disappoint in any way, a lovely looking venue with the aroma of smoke mixing with brewhouse niffs. The beer list was tip-top and I was really happy to find a few new Scottish breweries making the beer list, Pilot and Fallen both hitting the spot several times over the weekend.

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Food was trickier as Mrs H (the wife) doesn’t really like smoked food, which here does not compute, I had the ribs with Vimto glaze which was absolutely beautiful, but left my fingers with a lingering smell of smouldering oak. This is fine until about 3am when you wake up gnawing at your knuckles dreaming about beer post beer munchies..

I was also really impressed by Blackfriars, tucked away a stones throw away from Brewdog and easy to miss unless you know what it is and where it is. Split in two on the ground floor with a restaurant one side and bar the other, but linked at cellar level sharing a kitchen and restrooms. The decor is bright and modern and had a cracking little beer list ably served by cheery knowledge staff.

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The bar, in case you hadn’t guessed…IMG_2869

I have no idea what this was, other than it was sour, murky and very drinkable.
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Stephen….(seagull)

Moving away from beer, Caffiene Drip was very much a Mrs H find and I have to admit on first impressions I was sceptical as we headed in for our first breakfast visit. However all that changed as we went down into the cellar serving and café area which had a really cool “in the know” kind of feel, with rows of small tables set in coffee sack clad walls. The menu was very coffee-deli like, but set at such a high standard.

IMG_2889 IMG_2888I went for the three egg and enormous toast, “pick your own” breakfast, with three superbly seasoned eggs (obviously), toast made from bread to die for and paired it with tasty bacon and local sausage. Such a great feed and extremely filling which is  good thing, but sadly I couldn’t face any of the delicious looking cakes, granola and pastries also available. Of course fresh coffee washed it all down well with the long black my cup of choice.

We spent far more time in Brewdog on Cowgate than I expected and no doubt than was healthy. Despite being small and a little tired compared to some of the new establishments, the beer list was excellent, no doubt aided by the Ballast Point tap takeover we had just missed. It was great to try some of those.

IMG_2873 IMG_2872 IMG_2875One slight disappointment being that nobody had a clue what was in the AB’ bottles in the fridges, consequently I didn’t but any, however the “Mills & Hills” collaboration between Fyne and De Molen plus the Ballast Point “Victory At Sea” amply made up for that loss, both being absolutely beautiful.

I had hoped to write a bit more at this point, but a WordPress “no save” disaster put paid to that as now I am running out of time and about to go for a few days away with the good lady wife. I’ll leave you with a few more pics though and wish you all the best until next time.

 

CHEERS!

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SPIT/FIRE

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Castello Coffee

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A gardening trapèze artistiering genius

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As sampled at Hanging Bat

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As sampled at Hanging Bat

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OX184

 

Pulled Pork Quesadillas!

IMG_2811That’s right, pulled pork quesadillas!

Whoa there vegetarian types! Don’t dash off just yet, we can get around this pig related dilemma, stick with it. Although clearly this dish has meat in it, you can replace it, or just leave it out as you wish.

This recipe isn’t rocket science, but I had it yesterday and just thought “wow, this would be great beer food”, and some folks “may” not have tried quesadillas.

So, clearly my creation requires pulled pork right, but I’m not going to go all in-depth on how to make that or we’d be here all day. But what I will say is that for this recipe it needs to be pretty dry so if yours isn’t, maybe drain it off, or cook it down so it has no real sauce to speak of for this recipe.

In brief, for my pulled pork, I used a large leg joint of “pork” (obviously), although generally shoulder is better.

There’s no magic spicy rub mix required here as I wanted to go a bit less smokey barbecue and more with the apple thing. I just sealed the meat by frying it off with a spray of oil in a deep sided roasting pan to sear all sides, paying extra attention to the skin side to help get all that flavoursome fat rendering down right away. Remove the meat and set aside.

Peel, core and roughly chop two decent sized apples and one large onion, fry them off a little too in the same pan. Place the pork on top. Add a decent bottle of apple cider, a sprinkle of dried sage, thyme, rosemary, salt, ground black pepper, a heaped desert spoon of dark brown sugar and a teaspoon of smoked paprika. Tightly cover with foil and slow cook for about 4-5 hours.

Remove the pork from the pan and try to take off as much fat as possible, then shred the meat roughly and mix in with the remaining sauce back in the roasting pan mashing the apple and onion mix as you do to thicken. Add a good splash of Calvados or Bourbon to taste. Cover again with foil and return to the oven for a few more hours if possible, basically cook on until there is as much sauce left as you personally prefer. Easy!

If like me though, when you choose that joint of pork, your eyes are much bigger than your belly (a tough act in itself), inevitably you will have loads of delicious meat left over which is where this recipe comes in.

Making these is really easy, the key is to chop everything finely so that the filling binds and those flavours really blend together. It’s really all very slapdash too, so don’t take my measurements as gospel, add or remove things to taste, use leftovers, increase or decrease ingredients as your fridge/larder dictates, it’s all good…

Right, to work. Take a large mixing bowl. Into that, finely chop a handful of spring onions, four or five mushrooms, a fresh chilli or to taste (I used half a Scotch Bonnet which was really zingy, it was just enough) and a roughly chopped fistful of coriander, (I actually used the frozen pre-chopped stuff this time and it worked really well). Grab a heap of the leftover pork and chop/mince with a chefs knife to basically make it less stringy, throw that in too. Season with a little black pepper. Finally, grate in a good hunk of mature cheddar or similar, basically you want a good cheese to additions ratio.. I know, I’m just TOO precise..

Mix all the ingredients together gently, use a spoon and not your fingers, take it steady or else it just all goes into a massive gooey clump!

Take three large tortilla wraps and lay them on a work surface, spread the mixture evenly between them all to take the dry mixture to about 1 cm from the edge. Lay another wrap over the top of each and give them a firm press down.

IMG_2809Pile them on a plate and tightly cover with clingfilm and stick them in the fridge till you are ready to cook. (You can always cook immediately of course)

Using a dry frying pan on a medium heat, cook the quesadillas for about one and a half to two minutes each side, turning as required.

IMG_2807You are aiming for a piping hot melted centre and a nice crispy outer, so try to get the cheese melted a little before the first turn. I suppose you could oven cook or worse, microwave, but I’d definitely recommend sticking with the dry pan option for best results.

IMG_2810IMG_2811Slice like pizza into bite size portions and serve on a warm plate with sour cream and guacamole. It is DELICIOUS!

Beer wise, I’d go with something like a crisp Kölsch, or perhaps a really light hoppy IPA, you could even go mad and sort of mix the two with one of those new fangled India Pale Lagers.

Hope you enjoy whatever you choose.

Cheers

 

Bargain Beverages

Everyone loves to bag a cheap beer don’t they, or at least a decent beer that doesn’t break the bank, a BOGOF, three for a fiver or a cheeky little discount here and there. But how far can it go?

How often do we hear about the demise of the British high street, it’s all over the news, in the papers and on many a documentary.

It’s all too clear when you walk into town too, well it is around these parts at least. Even in Hanley which is known as the “shopping centre” of the Potteries, the place that is credited to have sucked the life out of all the other local towns, walk a few hundred yards from the “Intu” centre and there are more boarded up shop fronts than those open for business.

This is why headlines like this worry me a little:

Lidl embraces craft ale craze following success with upmarket wine sales

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jun/03/lidl-embraces-craft-ale-craze-following-success-with-upmarket-wine-sales

It’s not that I’m against supermarkets stocking decent beer as such, I’ve been moaning about the piss-poor selection in most for years. In fact even now I still always take a look down the beer aisle just to see if anything decent is in, often wearily trudging away, shaking my head at the assumed lack of thought that has gone into the stock choice.

Going back eighteen months or so, we had the “faux-craft” knee jerk reaction, as some of the big retailers realised how much money was at stake if only they could convince their existing bulk suppliers to rebrand or create something “crafty” at production line prices. Personally speaking I think only M&S managed to pull this of with any success, by selling existing products like Oakham Citra under their own banner whereas others like Tesco for example, chose to go the other way with the “Marstons Revisionist” range, which absolutely sucked among many more.

More recently of course, things have started to look better, with Waitrose, M&S, and even Tesco and Morrisons trying a little harder, with a small range of decent UK and International breweries finally getting shelf space, the two premium retailers taking the lead. Not forgetting Sainsbury’s of course who made strides with “the great British beer hunt”, but still seemed to favour current supermarket brands when choosing winners.

Looking at the picture which came from the Lidl headline though, my eyes were immediately drawn to the “Boulevard Tank 7, Single Wide IPA” and “La Chouffe” bottles. I’ve always been a fan of Chouffe beers especially (Houblon) and although only trying it recently for the first time, Tank 7 was absolutely lovely, Single Wide IPA too.

Maybe those beers had just been casually “prominently placed” in the shot, yes, it could be that…

It is worth noting that (unless I’m very much mistaken) all these brands are owned by Duvel Moortgat, having being acquired at various stages over the last 10-15 years. Amongst others not shown, including Bernard, De Koninck, Maredsous and Ommegang of whom I also think they held a founding stake.

Is that itself a good thing? I still like most of the brands listed above, but it’s not rocket science to see that a deal has clearly been struck here between multi-national beer giant and huge discounter, to supply to a bargain hungry beer guzzling public. But then who is next to be swallowed up, the “small micros” also mentioned, or even bigger “cult beer” fish?

Then of course there are the independent specialist beer retailers. Shops, micro-pubs and bars. Those places that folk either really want nearby on their high street, or has, and perhaps complains that they do, but can only rarely visit because the prices are just too high and so are “forced” into supermarket purchases. What of those, how long before the huge purchasing power of the shopping giants starts to close those one by one because they simply can’t compete on price?

Déjà vu, or pessimistic scaremongering?

It is fair to say that I have completed no real in-depth research to back any of this up and as such it is pretty much only my own thoughts/concerns. It is also worth pointing out that I’m not knocking any of the few breweries lucky/successful enough to secure a supermarket deal either. As an argument for, you could say for example, deals like this make good beer accessible to everyone and in doing so, gets more people interested in trying something new. Maybe the only way this ever expanding growth in beer can continue is that some do fall by the wayside, or the reverse, are bought out and go mainstream replacing existing big brands. Although, I definitely hope that this isn’t the future.

Personally speaking I’ve just taken a decision to try really hard to support local high street traders where possible, not just in beer purchases, but for as much as I possibly can on everything. Which speaking from the town officially listed as having the most empty shops in the UK this year isn’t easy, but seems the only way to encourage positive change or face the consequences..

What are your thoughts, is the discount store the way to go, your only route, or a potential disaster in the making?

Cheers

 

 

What’s in a rate?

60302320The problem with rating anything is that it is personally subjective, plus there are so many variable external influences that can, or could, influence the reviewers score or comments either consciously or unconsciously. Rating beer is no different.

Mood, location, are you too warm or too cold, is the beer to warm or too cold. Is it lively or flat as a kippers dick, is it supposed to be lively or like the other.

Knowledge, personal preference, location, experience, expectation, loyalty, brand perception, the unknown, peer pressure.

The last drink you had, that bag of spicy Space Raiders you just ate, or the delicious cheese you are eating right now that just pairs so well.

Who brewed it, when did they brew it, how was it shipped, is it fresh, is it old, is it “meant” to be drunk fresh or is it better to save it until it is old, if so for how long, how long is too long?

Where was it stored, how was it stored, how did you pour it, into what, was it clean, did you bother to pour it into anything, a can is for supping from right, did I see you just chugg that Orval??

Too bitter, too sweet, too hoppy, “hoppy, this isn’t hoppy”? Wow that’s strong, pfft too weak, way too much whisky barrel, it’s cloudy, that’s haze, too clear, I love unfiltered, this is boring, too brown, why is there fruit in here, can you taste phenolic sweetcorn?

What you just read on Untappd, Ratebeer, Beeradvocate and such?

Then there’s the actual rate, how do you rate, what is “good” for you, a three, a four, a FIVE, in that case what is exceptional?

Untappd Groupie!

Untappd Groupie!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking folks who rate, I personally use Untappd for example, and as such am at times (and definitely without any positive thought going into it), a certified “badge wanker”.. It was during such activity last night that these thoughts were pondered.

I don’t normally post comments, or at least anything worth reading tasting note wise, maybe an expression of delight or at worst a “meh”, but last night reading down some of the others below before I “tappd” I was a little bemused by some of the comments, so I did:

“Fucking hell there are some odd remarks about this beer on Untappd, it is ace, end of :-D #justsaying” I said, exactly.

The beer in question being the Buxton-Evil Twin collaboration “Anglo Mania, described as an English Barley Wine.

What made me think that more than anything were the two comments on separate rates below.

“My rating is based on expectation of a smash English Barleywine. Way too hoppy. It’s more of an American Barleywine.”

“Love a good barleywine but I feel this could do with some big piney American hops.”

One was expecting an English Barley Wine and clearly didn’t get one, too damn American tasting, what WERE those brewers thinking!?! The other bought an English Barley Wine and wanted it to be bloody “Merican”, maybe that clue in the title just wasn’t clear enough… For me, I don’t really care which style it was, it tasted great, I loved it.

Then of course there’s the marking system, (if you use one). I do, but it’s hardly rocket science and probably changes several times a session depending on many things including alcohol and memory. It goes something like this.

1-1.5. Shite, drain pour, why me..

2-3. Meh, below average, probably wouldn’t drink again.

3-4 Decent, rising through regular standard, I like sorta beer.

4.5. OOOOOH, really good, I could drink loads of this.

and finally

5. Fuckadoodledoo, call the registrar and arrange a special licence, I’m in love and we are gonna have ourselves a wedding. (I actually rated this as a five, it was probably only a 4.75, so put away that wedding dress Mr Stronge.) 

But then of course others rates are totally different, as again was evident in a conversation with a good mate who I know, knows his beer. He (Rich) said “I gave it a 3.8 so it was quality”. On chatting he clearly loved it, but obviously has a different, perhaps more in-depth (or less haphazard) way of logging what he’s tried than I. Different strokes for different folks…

Then do you share your thoughts on social media, or keep them to yourselves? Personally speaking I rarely share these days apart from the odd one or two and of course the obligatory “badgewankery”. Some do though and at times I think for slightly unscrupulous reasons too on occasion.

The thing is, people do read these comments and can pre-judge by what has been said and/or for low or high scores. I know I have, especially if it relates to an unknown brewery or perhaps a particularly expensive beer, where I will have a quick peek at what people are saying before deciding on whether or not to buy. I’m not proud of it, and dread to think of how many really good beers I’ve passed by in doing so.

So, what’s in a rate, a personal opinion of a moment in time is all it is. So keep an open mind when you next read beer notes and be mindful of what you write.

Cheers