The Vultures Are Circling – The Spreading of the Propaganda

(This is a draft that has been sat in my folder for a while. And I wanted to get rid. Because it’s a metaphorical splinter in my heel)

For me, this was the first (and at the time – hopefully – the last) example of an attempt to manipulate the discourse of the debate on Small Brewers Duty Relief. By the Small Brewers Duty Relief Coalition (henceforth SBDRC).

That cosy and mendacious coagulation of self – interested large breweries who want to line their own pockets at the expense of their smaller kin.

The above motion – rightly rejected by the 2018 CAMRA AGM – was drafted and proposed by a self-confessed admirer of family brewers and their traditional outlook on beer. He wasn’t a fan of Micros, it’s fair to say that about Brian Sheriden. As you can see….

SBDRC Motion 8 snip

If you want to see what “undercutting in the cask ale market” looks like, try Wetherspoon. A chain within which there are no lack of SBDRC member produced beers.

But. Just when you thought you were safe to think progressive thoughts…… We get this.

Now then. Curmudgeon is an opinion piece column that features in the Stockport and South Manchester CAMRA magazine “Opening Times”. And let me be clear, I am a fan of Opening Times. It’s an excellent read. Its editor likes to have a sense of balance – which is completely laudable.

But – after an amnesia inducing amount of beer the evening before – my goat was well and truly “got”. My piss was boiled. To put it mildly.

I ranted. Like you do.

And the editor – fair minded as he is – invited reply. So I did. And he published it…

And I was reasonable. And restrained of vernacular. But THIS is my space. And I can vent.

What I say on these virtual pages are MY words. I own them. For good or ill.

What boiled my piss was the apparent “cut and paste” nature of the comments in this piece above.

Cut and pasted from documents and statements vomited by the SBDRC themselves. And – in particular – Rupert Thompson, Co-chairman.

Let’s dissect…..

“The Squeezed Middle” (Predictive text remembered….)

A trope repeatedly peddled by the SBDRC to gain sympathy for their “plight”. They compare themselves with this phrase to the international behemoths that they are ACTUALLY in bed with in the British Beer and Pubs Association (henceforth BBPA). Think Heineken.

They’re NOT “The Squeezed Middle”. They are a coagulation of Britain’s largest breweries. Let’s get this straight.

Don’t forget, not long before they sold to Asahi, Fullers themselves swallowed Dark Star. The only UK brewery to make such a purchase… NOT the sign of a company on its uppers…..

“….however, as with many such well intentioned measures……it has had unintended consequences” (the words that I have italicised are the ones that hooked me in….)

SBDRC Letter Snip 2

(I’ll let you make your own mind up about THIS lift – from a letter from Rupert Thompson – co-Chair SBDRC to Philip Hammond MP, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer)

“Progressive Beer Duty was introduced by Gordon Brown………… to stimulate the number of small breweries…..”

SBDRC Letter Snip 1

(I’ll let you make your own mind up about THIS lift too – from the same letter from Rupert Thompson – co-Chair SBDRC to Philip Hammond MP, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer)

It wasn’t. It WAS introduced to enable small brewers to compete – price wise – with the likes of Fullers who could utilise their purchasing power and economies of scale and still beer at a lower price than Micros could.

And this worked. So well that it had the side effect of encouraging more people to set up small breweries. Resulting in the number that we have now. A number celebrated by all. Except the SBDRC, BBPA & IFBB (“Independent” Family Brewers of Britain)

Who are – almost all – members of each of those 3 bodies (with – in the BBPA – the addition of Heineken and the major Pubcos)

“In practice, some of the small brewers have used the duty relief not to bolster the finances of their business, but to sell beer more cheaply…..putting the “established” brewers at a severe price disadvantage.”

Jesus may weep for the SBDRC. But I won’t.

Firstly. To “sell beer more cheaply” (read “compete”) was the POINT of the original legislation. The above phrase is merely a matter of dark spin. What the SBDRC and their propagandists are most excellent at spouting.

Not that I’d call “Curmudgeon” a “corporate shill”. I’m not clever enough for such phraseology.

(Just for the record, that WASN’T written by me! I don’t hide)

“Curmudgeon” posts his columns on his blog (or the reverse into OT – I can never quite tell the order). I do read his OT column occasionally and – like the rest of OT – his columns are occasionally provocative, mostly personal to him and sometimes make unarguable points.

However, when you appear to spout the rhetoric of the SBDRC, appearing to quote (almost verbatim) their slanted mendacity, you are open to challenge. I don’t know what a “Corporate Shill” is. But I’ll check my dictionary. And if I’m right, I’l be only too happy to arrange a cap fitting session.


2020 – The Year of Living Dangerously

“When you wake up, it’s not the first thing that you want to know.

Can you still count all of the reasons that you’re not alone?”

Charcoal Baby” – Blood Orange

On 20th April, I turn 55. Now to many, that may not seem like a momentous event. The reality is, that it’s just another year. And it is.

But not if you are a Civil Servant.

You see, under current rules (until Demonic Cummings has his evil way), 55 years old is the earliest that a Civil Servant can “retire”.

I used to love my job. Felt that it/I made “a difference”. But – for the last three years – it has felt like a treadmill. One from which I need to disembark.

I feel quite strange. I’ve never had a plan in life. I’ve merely stumbled from event to event. Birth, school, (via a modicum of intelligence) Grammar School, work, social…..

Since Fionn, there’s been a hole. I have come to terms with the fact that nothing can fill that void. And that that void is now part of who I am. I have almost learned to live with that, it’s what “survivors” do. I’ve talked about “the mask” and “emotional make-up” enough not to feel the need to do so again.

As I said, nothing can fill that void. But some things can “take the edge off”, make that precipice less harsh, less rough. ISBF is part of that for me and – as explained here – has been used as a salve on the wound in the past. But it isn’t a cure. It’s a stimulant, adrenaline, best taken in small doses.

There needs to be something else. Something more substantial.

So we come back to “work”.

A number of things have helped me through the last few years. Friends, family, the beer “community”, but it is the need to be occupied daily that I only understood when I returned to the job in February 2017. The love (and I really DID love my job) had gone. To be replaced by a strange dependancy.

Yes, on the “occupation”, my brain being “occupied”, but also on the people I work with. For all the typical “Cat v Dog” stuff that office relationships can be, I – in the truest of senses – love this duo. But, on returning, I knew that these daily interactions were finite.

One left last July. And looks like a new man. The other is likely to leave this year.

My thoughts started to crystallise at the point that I realised that.

So. The point. The “plan”.

It’s possibly incredibly stupid. But it FEELS sane. And I’ll take that.

If one or two other dominoes fall into place, on 31st October 2020, I will wave goodbye to the Civil Service.

Initially, I’ll be busy enough with #ISBF7, only 12 days away at that point. But – longer term – the aim is to see if there is something I can do in this here beer industry. Something to pour my heart and soul into. Something to believe in.

After years on a treadmill, that would be lovely.

That could be anything. Bar work, admin, sales, publicity, odd-jobs, anything. Hell, if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll look for a job stacking shelves locally.

Work is a diversion. But the sweeter the diversion, the better.

This is a risk. Of that I am in no doubt. But that counting down is such a sweet, sweet sound.

That first session at #ISBF7 will be special. It will be the 7th iteration of my little bit of fun. It will be Caelan’s first birthday. And I’ll be off the treadmill.

And that’s something to look forward to. For me, at any rate!

Apple Venus – Manchester Cider Club : Ross Cider

“I had a dream where the car is reduced to a fossil.
I had a dream where the car is reduced to a fossil.
Take a packet of seeds, take yourself out to play,
I wanna see a river of orchids where we had a motorway.”

River of Orchids” – XTC

Elsewhere, I have written about a chance meeting I had in December 2018 with two people at Torrside Brewery. A brief conversation revealing that they were usually Cider drinkers, but came to #ISBF5 and drank Saisons and Sours thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Now then, I’m a bit slow. So it was only on the train back from New Mills that I realised who I’d been talking to. Mancunian Cider Royalty. Dick Withecombe and his partner Cath Potter (henceforth, my Apple Venus of the title).

We met on a number of occasions leading up to #ISBF6. And they took on the creation of an exceptional Cider bar and bottle list. So good, that a number of beer drinkers that travelled up couldn’t tear themselves away.

Prior to that, we talked. They shared samples from their “cellar” with me and won me over to the charms of Pomona, the Roman orchard Goddess.

I started occasionally ordering a bottle of Ross, Little Pomona or Oliver’s Cider when I’d walk in a pub. For lovers of tart and sour beers, the interface was obvious. And led to directly to a tasting event at #ISBF6.

Anyway, I digress.

The Arch Nemesis messaged me. There was a Manchester Cider Club meeting. Showcasing Ross Cider. “Do you want a ticket? I’ve bought a spare, just in case…”

With a bloody stump where his hand had previously been, I had myself a ticket….

I’m a fan.

Myself and Jaz had been down to the vast Orchards and smaller Cidery of Ross Cider in September to blend a special for #ISBF6. My liquid highlight of 2019.

Due almost entirely to the efforts of Dick and Cath, quality Cider has been appearing in some of the best shops and bars of Greater Manchester. And nowhere highlights great Cider better than the venue on Thursday, The Crown & Kettle.

Just prior to the event, I was politely ambushed by Mr Withecombe and asked if I’d like to introduce Albert (Johnson – Ross Cider). With Albert being such a lovely fella (our host for the Blending and a thoroughly bad influence…. 😉) that was a joy.

Following my stumbling intro, Albert revealed some nerves about the unveiling of the first keg-conditioned Ciders from Ross. He needn’t have worried….

Taking us through the draught Ciders one by one, Albert talked around the history of Ross Cider, how the orchards originally supplied the mighty Bulmers, but how, following the Heineken Takeover of the Hereford cider maker, they no longer required apples from these Peterstow orchards. And the decision to make Cider and Perry themselves.

And the decision to make Cider and Perry with minimal intervention. No chemicals or pesticides.

On to the first drink. Dabinett (like the other Ciders, a single varietal Cider)

(All Cider pictures shamelessly stolen from @The_Lady_Sybil)

A “bittersweet” apple. With a fullish body (at 7.8% abv), this was possible the ideal starting point for this fruity adventure. Slight sweetness with a gentle tannic bitterness in the finish.

Utterly delicious. So much so that I introduced a number of colleagues to its joys the next day. And they completely agreed.

Next up. My appley siren call. Foxwhelp.

Slightly sherberty aroma masking the lovely tartness. If you like sour beers, really sour beers and aren’t sure about cider, get this in your face.

Bloody lovely, cheek-puckering stuff. My personal favourite cider apple.

Next up was Yarlington Mill. Deeper gold – almost amber – in colour, softer. Fruitier and less “challenging” than foxwhelp, but then…..

Exceptionally easy drinking. And (like many Ciders) deceptively so at 6.3% abv!

The final draught cider was

Somerset Redstreak.

One of the older recorded varieties of cider apple (dating around early 17th century), according to sources, Cider made from these apples commanded a very high price (“as high as the best imported wine”)

This was again a bittersweet, deep golden, fruity, with lovely soft tannic dryness. Again, FAR too easy to drink.

Albert need not have worried about the carbonation with the keg-conditioning. It was spot on. The Ciders were SO easy to drink with the carbonation on the gentle – rather than assertive – side.

Then came single varietals in bottle.

Ashton Bitter, Court Royal & Dymock Red

Codename Dabingnac

Ashton Brown Jersey

Three unreleased bottles. All superb – I’m getting to like Cider and have (in so many ways) liked them too much this particular evening – with a marginal preference for the Codename Dabingnac with its enhanced complexity from the Armagnac barrel.

Albert, as ever (having spent an afternoon to beyond midnight, previously, drinking with him) was witty, informative and – understandably – nervous with these new releases in new format. But there was no need.

Forget Cider. These were just exceptional drinks. Drinks that are helping to slowly shift me towards the apple from the barley.

As is Manchester Cider Club. The event has grown from the tiny back room in the Crown & Kettle to having to occupy (and increasingly fill) the main bar area. A testament to the charm of the event. And the passion for all things Apple & Pear of its organisers.

If you are interested in learning more about events ft the best in low intervention Cider and Perry, I’d follow them on Twitter (hyperlink in previous paragraph) and keep careful watch. Because these tickets fly fast.

I’ll certainly be back.

Cath and Dick are also instrumental in the changed (and improved) Cider offer at the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival. If you’re there, go say hello! You might learn what I did.

That Cider has changed. For the better.

(Big thanks to Charlie and Dick for the photos – and to Albert for coming all the way from Peterstow and bringing GOODIES!)