Thursday, 27 November 2008

Time to Bury Bad News

Ok, this isn't really about beer, imstead it's about a topic that's been done to death by our friends in the media over the last few months. I'm referring of course to the so-caled credit crunch and economic downturn.

Right, we all know that the housing market's taken a bit of a tumble and several of the big banks have screwed up in spectacular fashion, but why keep ramming it down our throats? It seems to me that certain journalists and other "media" types have taken a great delight over the past weeks and months in bringing us bad news. I would even go so far as to suggest that they have talked us into a recession.

This is not so far fetched as it seems. Keep telling people that things are getting tough and we're heading for trouble and guess what? they start tightening their belts. People rein in their spending and put certain purchases on hold "just in case". Major items, such as a new car or a foreign holiday are postponed and before one knows it, the whole thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. It's a bit like telling people not to panic buy petrol when there's a minor problem with tanker deliveries.

It's fair to say that good news doesn't sell newspapers, but why try and utterly depress us with tales of doom and gloom, financial meltdown and how we'll all be out of work by next Christmas? Most of the news reporters who trot out these depressing statistics day after day do so safe in the knowledge that their well-paid jobs are safe and secure, come what may.

I stopped buying a daily newspaper years ago, as I firmly believe papers only exist to make money for their proprietors. There's a lot of mileage in the saying "never let the truth get in the way of a good story", and that the only thing you can believe on the front of a newspaper is the date! I would urge others to take a leaf out of my book; stop buying these sordid publications and hit these doom-mongers where it really hurts - in their pockets!

As we approach the festive season let's try and lighten the mood a little and look around us. Despite what the media would have us believe, it isn't all bad. People have survived far worse times and although there will undoubtedly be casualties along the way we'll eventually pull through. Don't forget, there is always light at the end of the tunnel. There are plenty of good things happening in the world; the media just don't want us to know about them.

So with Christmas fast approaching now's the time to look on the bright side. For beer lovers there will be plenty of seasonal brews available shortly, alongside those darker beers that are already on sale. What could be more satisfying than sitting in an unspoilt country pub, next to a roaring log fire, enjoying a glass of warming winter ale following a brisk walk across the frost-covered fields? As I raise my glass of Larkins Porter it's definitely time to bury bad news, along with all the prophets of doom who take great delight in bringing it to us!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

A Short Video of Larkins Brewery Chiddingstone

One duty I undertake for CAMRA is to act as Brewery Liaison Officer for my local brewery, which is Larkins of Chiddingstone. Duty is probably the wrong word, as it implies something potentially onerous. It is much more a pleasure to fulfill his role.

For those of you not in the know, Larkins Brewery was founded and is still run by Bob Dockerty and takes its name from the family farm. Larkins beers are full bodied ales brewed entirely from malt and hops, with no added sugar or other adjuncts. They have a real smack of Kentish hops, and are a firm favourite with local drinkers.

Bob has been brewing Larkins beers now for over a quarter of a century. Three regular bitters are produced, starting with the 3.4% Traditional Ale, ranging through to the full-bodied 4.4% Best Bitter. In between is Chiddingstone Bitter at 4.0%. My personal favourite though is Larkins Porter, which is a magnificent, almost black-coloured beer with strong roast coffee and chocolate flavours produced by the liberal amounts of chocolate malt used in the brew. It is only available between November and March, but is well worth tracking down.

Larkins have their own tied pub, the Rock at Chiddingstone Hoath. The Rock with its low beamed ceilings and floor of bare brick is as about as unspolit as pubs get nowadays, and mix this in with a roaring log fire in winter and a pint or two of Porter and one gets pretty close to paradise.

The Rock features on the video clip, but also shown is the Castle in Chiddingstone village - just a stone's throw from the brewery. The Castle is owned by the National Trust, as is much of the village itself, and has one of the few genuine public bars remaining. The Castle's public bar is another excellent place in which to sample Larkins Beers, and the video ends with owner, and brewer, Bob Dockerty enjoying a pint of his beer in the pub.

First Posting

The above title is not quite true, as I've posted a couple of Blogs on Paul Garrard's excellent Real Ale Network, where I'm a guest blogger.

As someone who's been passionate about beer for the last 35 years or so I thought it about time that I published some of my thoughts and observations online. But with such a long history spent enjoying decent beer, where does one start?

I won't repeat the boring stuff about me - that's listed elsewhere on the site. What I will say though is although I've been a CAMRA member since the mid 1970's, unlike some campaign diehards I do not confine my beer sampling solely to real ale. (It's strange, but I know several CAMRA members who won't even try dark cask ales, such as old ales, porters or stouts).

Having just returned from a very enjoyable trip to the United States I would have been denying myself the chances of drinking some truly excellent beers if I had! Earlier this year I spent a week in Regensburg, Eastern Bavaria, where again the beers available, whilst obviously not cask-conditioned, were superb. On home soil though, I invariably choose the cask-ale option, and would not compromise my principles by drinking such travesties of brewing as "smooth" and "creamflow" beers!

What I found particularly encouraging about my recent trans-atlantic trip was the amount of interest in, and availablity of, what the Americans would call craft-brewed beers. I had expected to have to track down these beers , but even in the small Ohio town I was staying in beers from the likes of Great Lakes, Samual Adams and Blue Moon were widely available, alongside the offerings from Bud and Miller, and what's more a lot of people were drinking them! A brew-pub I visited had a guest beer list to die for, alongside its own excellent offerings.

This desire to try something a little out of the ordinary, and something that actually tastes of malt and hops, seems also to becoming more prevalent over here. Obviously CAMRA must take a lot of the credit for this, but so should companies like J.D. Wetherspoon with their strong committment to real ale, coupled with their support for micro-breweries, plus the availability of some of the decent contintental beers sold in their pubs. Publications such as "Beers of the World" have also played their part as have, of course, the growing number of beer writers, many of whom of course host their own websites or produce blogs of their own.

All beer has to do now to maintain its new-found respectability, is to fight off the twin threats from the anti-alcohol brigade and health lobby. It is up to all of us that care about the "best long drink in the world" to ensure that it does.