Archive for October, 2008

The 4-6 law

Cask ales at the Ginger Man

Cask ales at the Ginger Man

Well, it’s not a law, perhaps. It’s a rule of thumb.

I was in New York a month ago, and I still have ambitions about blogging from my stay. I have even promised Alana contribution. But that’s not the point. What I am trying to get to was that I popped into an excellent beer bar in Midtown Manhattan several times during my stay. good beer range, good beer quality, fast and friendly service.

I want back on my last day to buy a t-shirt as a souvenir and found it totally transformed. The quiet pub with a sprinkling of customers was packed with after work drinkers. It’s at times like these you see how many actually work in the skyscrapers around you.

This visit was at about 6:15 in the evening. The previous days I had been there between 4 and 5.

But this is not unique for New York. To run a successful pub, you obviously need customers. Some have their busiest periods on sunny Sundays, some are packed for lunch, some have the extremely busy after office hours trade.

But for the tourist – beer geek or not – the time to go is between four and six. Maybe three and six – I am open to adjusting the law of there is sensible input. Those are the golden hours. Maybe your meeting ended at lunch, and you have some time before catching your train, tram, whatever. You can read a book or a newspaper, if you are really lucky there is no piped music.

And you can chat with the bartender, getting advice on which beers are in top form. If it’s a brewpub, you might even have a chat with the brewer.

And these are the hours for your camera catching the rays of sunlight filtered first through the windows and then through your beer glass. You can get photos of the interior, the pump clips and everything else without bothering the natives, much, too. Or even strike up a conversation.

There are other laws, too. In Norway, we have coined Tore‘s law:

Bottled beers will weigh an average of one kilogram when you put them in your suitcase.

Very useful knowledge. Given enough beer time, we might compile a law book.

Read Full Post »

Jeff’s parents probably tried to do the right thing. They followed Willie Nelson’s advice in Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”, namely let them be doctors and lawyers and such. But what does it help when your son abandons his career among the dusty tomes of law reviews and starts running a pub instead? Especially at a time when pub licencees are reported to be leaving the trade in hordes, the rest crying in their beer as the last regulars pop down to the corner where they give away canned Stella for free.

They should be pleased. I walked into his pub off Clerkenwell Street last week, and was got a warm greeting. And this warmth was not only for an acquaintance known to publish his views of beers and bars on various websites. No, Jeff and his two female staff gave the same greetings to everyone who looked in the door, led them towards the dining room or offered the a choice of drinks.

So, why should Jeff and his crew succeed when others fail? ?

On-trade beer sales continue to plummet BBPA figures show 1.8 million less pints were sold in three months to September, says the Publican. Not in the Gunmakers Arms. Why not?
1. Service. Old fashioned service. Jeff and his staff seem genuinely enthusiastic about the place they are running. A place where everyone is greeted and made welcome.
2. Location. Despite it being down a side street, they are building a loyal customer base from the area, particularly those who work in the office blocks nearby.
3. Food. When I entered at 12.30 on a Tuesday, it was empty. When I left an hour later, most of the tables were taken. A dozen meals on the menu, from the basic pasta and burger to slightly more sophisticated stuff. Pork pies, too.
4. Beer.  There are currently two cask ales on, lovingly tended for. They will be joined by two more, which gives a fine selection. And the beers have a fast turnover, which means all drinkers will have a fine pint – and will want to come back for another.

5. There is probably a lot of hard work here, too, but without the positive attitude you could put in just as many hours, but without the result. More about the work and the philosophy behind it on Jeff’s own blog.

I’ll be back the next time I’m in London- I look forward to the expanded beer selection! And why can’t I have a pub like this in my town?

Read Full Post »

A perfect place for a lunchtime pint…

Read Full Post »


Alan spotted it right away. A new camera?

Yes, the scratched five year old Canon compact has given way to something new.

Possibly the best point-and-click compact on the market.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4, which comes with a Leica lens.
I bought two at the BH megastore at Ninth Avenue, NYC, a shop that was an experience in itself.
I first went on a Saturday to find it closed, as they observe the Sabbath. On Sunday morning there were hundreds of customers crowding the sidewalk, but speedy service and an automated system of whizzing the goods around the premises meant that I was able to part with the best part of a thousand dollars within 45 minutes. Extra batteries, memory cars, the works.

I even bought a flip.

Now, my skills as a photographer have not necessarily become better. But at least I have good technology to help me out.

Read Full Post »

Sometimes I wonder. I usually don’t quote industry newsletters at length, but occationally I just gape when I read what so called analysts of the beer markets manage to give as qualified advice. I assume that there is even more to be had if you pay them by the hour…

European beer exporters risk being squeezed out of the US market as Americans increasingly turn away from well-known European brands in favour of locally produced ‘craft’ beers.

Sales of European beers look to have stalled in recent years and analysis suggests that one reason for this could be the rise of real ale brands, known as ‘craft’ beers in the States.

According to Euromonitor research analyst Roman Shuster, the problem for European exporters lies in stale marketing, but he emphasises the need to differentiate between the two most popular European beers consumed in the States – Corona and Heineken -and smaller European exporters.

He told BeverageDaily.com: “The shrinking share for imports is coming from the big time brands, Corona and Heineken. It’s driven by the fact that they are not new, unique or different. Once they became top ten brands, their difference was eroded.”

On the other hand, he said that the appeal of craft beers is in the variety on offer and, with more than 3000 craft breweries in the US, they have more opportunity to stand out as something new. This is where he feels there is still opportunity for European beer exporters to make their mark.

Marketing focus

“Corona got to where it is through iconic advertising but it hasn’t changed for many years,” he said. “Stella Artois has done well in the last three years because it is cool, new and interesting and that reflects on you. It is important to maintain a cool and interesting look.”

Shuster also highlighted the significant regional differences in the United States, and suggested that Heineken and companies like it would benefit from more localised marketing. Conversely, he said that smaller exporters should play up their difference and European credentials.

“Americans are always going to be torn between taste and story in their beer. Europeans need to communicate that ‘European cool’ story more effectively,” he said.

What are the poor Mexicans to do, when their brews are neither European or tasty? I have a strong feeling that Mr. Shuster’s grasp of consumer psychology is as weak as his knowledge of geography.

(If this was a more sophisticated multi-media blog, I would burst into song here:

Don’t know much about geography
Don’t know much trigonometry
Don’t know much about algebra
Don’t know what a slide rule is for

But I do know that one and one is two
And if this one could be with you
What a wonderful world this would be

You aren’t missing much, though!)

Sorry about that. The alternative approach is for the Europeans to do something completely different. As if Europeans, be it beers, nations or individuals can be lumped together. Mr. Shuster should do a marketing stint aimed at Europe, and we’ll see how far he gets.

No, the thing for European breweries, big or small, is to enter the market with craft brews themselves. Some of them are doing this very successfully already, witness the amazing range of beers imported to the US market by the Shelton Brothers.

As for the big players, they should pick the more tasty beers from their portfolio. Beers with flavour, heritage and  a story to tell. Replacing Heineken with Stella is not doing the trick, you’ll have to offer a decent Czech pilsener instead.

And the great thing for the small breweries from the more obscure corners of Europe is that they don’t have to spin tall tales about their beers. They, as their colleagues among the US craft brewers have true stories to tell. In the long run that will be decisive. Not in deciding who’s hauling the largest volume of crap lager, but in who’s doing a nice earning in the other end of the market.

Read Full Post »

I was getting worried. Sure, I could always set up a plan b, but I was not sure when I’m going to London next.
I asked when I checked into the high rise hotel on Edgware road if there was a package waiting for me, but there was nothing. I asked again during the lunch break the next day, but there was still nothing. I made a final effort when I came to pick up my luggage to leave for the airport. There it was, a rather anonymous little box, but the Fragilesticker gave it away. Sure there was my name in big letters – six bottles of BrewDog beer directly from the brewery, new beers from their series of imperial stouts aged in whisky barrels. The bubble wrap was ready in my suitcase, which was dangerously close to the weight limit already. I had even bought a bottle of Paradox batch 10 at an Oddbins the day before to make sure I had at least one good beer to bring home.
I have written about the good brewers at BrewDogbefore. Since they set up shop last year, they have gone on to conquer the world. Their beers are to be found just about everywhere, the last bottles I bought were in Copenhagen. A few bottles have even turned up in Prague, and the three beer bloggers there have shared their thoughts about both the packaging and the beer.

Well, then.

The lady at the SAS check-in counter grimaced as she put on the heavy tag on my suitcase. Amazingly I was through security at Heathrow Terminal 3 in 10 minutes, maybe the first real proof that the recession has set in.

Sensible procedure is to let artisan beers rest in the cellar for at least a week or two before opening them, but I could not wait. I roasted some chestnuts bought in Clerkenwell market and, when the kids were in bed, settled down with a Scottish crime episode and the bottle opener.

The Isle of Arran is a pitch black beer with a fastly disappearing milk chocolate head. Low carbonation. Prunes and tar aroma. Molasses, fruit, spices, lovely whisky aftertaste. A beer for small sips. Dry charcoal finish. The dram was not as pronounced as in some of the other beers in the Paradox series, it blends more into the whole. Vanilla and pepper. Magnificent.

The Smokehead was a dark ruby with a small head. It has smoky aroma and smoky flavour. (Not a big surprise, was it?) Dark fruit, some soot, dry finish. Seems deceivingly light and smooth. Some warming aftertaste, but you would hardly believe it has 10% ABV. Not as complex as the other beer, perhaps, but if smokiness is your thing, this is a great alternative to the Bamberg beers.

I could face a long recession winter if there are more beers like these! Not for novices, mind you, so make sure you give your freiends a small samplers before you give them a full glass..

Read Full Post »

Well, I’m back..

Anyone out there still?

Read Full Post »