Posts tagged ‘blogging’

March 1, 2014

My, how we changed

I’ve been quite anticipating Boak and Bailey’s “long read” for March 1st, but as it has got closer I’ve drafted and deleted more posts than I think I’ve actually published in the two and a bit years that I’ve been doing this for now. The problem is it keeps turning into a rant – there’s always an underlying point to it but in the effort to keep writing that little bit more it just gets all flabby and unnecessary – a sort of middle aged spread if you will. Or the self-indulgent waffle we’re urged to avoid!  This will be my last effort, boosted by the extra words this explanatory paragraph has added, but if I can’t get to the end of it and be happy with what is written, well you won’t be any the wiser as you won’t be reading this!  By the time (and if) the end is reached it may or may not actually meet the “long” target, but if it doesn’t, well let’s just keep that as our little secret, eh? And it is probably still waffle, and undoubtedly self-indulgent, but you can’t win them all.

Sometimes you really have to stop what you’re doing, lift your head up and look around to realise how much has changed while you’ve been lost in the detail.

Without knowing it at the time, about two years ago I set off on a journey. I met up with some strangers I’d only previously been in contact with through the internet (how many horror stories in tabloids and the coffee table magazine market share that theme!?!) and we had a drink. We had a few more. If I’m honest we got a teeny tiny bit tipsy. And then finished it off by getting drunk. On that day we never discussed doing anything more permanent then maybe doing it all again sometime. But the next time was different. From somewhere we had formed an idea. I don’t know any more where (or who) it came from, or how it got shared, but initially sensible discussions fuelled by beer became bolder. A vision was born. Only an outline at first, blurred but recognisable. We created the Birmingham Beer Bash.*

The lack of variety in Birmingham’s beer scene was a key driver. We’d recognised, and some of us had written about, the lack of some key pubs and bars (in terms of style and offering, rather than a specific chain), certain beery developments, that we saw as being indicative of the problem we bounced around amongst ourselves. We recognised the odd recent improvement, for sure, and there were always the exciting rumours of more to come. But we didn’t want to wait for change to come, especially if we’d end up getting it in a form we would all individually be just that little bit disappointed by.  We chose to bring about a bit of change ourselves.

Since then, the change has been happening. It’s steady, to be sure. The Scottish punks moved in, and made their mark from the start; weeks later a tired old pub was revitalised so effectively that in less than a year it had its traditional cask ale brewery owners installing keg lines and relaxing the tie, while the pub powered straight into third place for the local CAMRA branch’s pub of the year. And then the summer came.

Before that, although Leeds were strictly speaking first in line, it was Manchester that made everyone sit up and say “Wow!” with a new kind of beer festival. Paying it a visit I admit there were mixed feelings – a stunning beer selection, in a stunning venue, but a clear indication of how high the bar had been set. Suddenly the lack of a venue wasn’t a problem for us – the lack of a superlative one was.

London got in on the act in the spring, but Liverpool upped the game completely. The bar was adjusted upwards once more. London actually had two goes before Liverpool, and the second of those was when the bubble burst. Overnight, in a torrent of tweets, fallibility was detected. Not only did it show that success was not guaranteed just by wanting to put on the best beers around, but it was the penultimate such event before our own. By the time we got to late July the negatives were still fresh in everyone’s memory, despite Liverpool restoring the faith to some extent. But we weren’t a brewery or a bar, an established business or simply backed by wealth, we were just a bunch of seemingly crazy amateurs.  We earned the faith of some, to be sure, but others clearly thought “hmmm” and watched and waited.

More than that though, we were committed, in every sense. Thousands had been spent, and thousands more were owed. There was no backing out – there had been one point where we could have walked away, lost a chunk of money and licked some wounds, but once that moment passed we were on a treadmill that wasn’t going to stop again. Lessons were learnt from what we had seen happen to others, and fortunately many of the perceived mistakes were already being dealt with differently. This could be done.  There was no room for complacency though.

The first day of set-up was greeted with pouring rain. The outdoor space in particular looked and felt grey and miserable and our incumbent saboteur** was gleeful about our impending failure. He’d bought the cheapest ticket he could to get a ringside seat at the disaster.  All we had to do was do what he’d failed to do so far, and bring about our own failure.

The day came. So did the (relatively minor) disasters.*** So did the sunshine. And so did the people. They liked what they saw, and they loved what they drank.

Our saboteur liked it too. Enough to come back that evening for the second session. It was such a shame**** we’d sold out by then. By the final session even a downpour didn’t dampen the enthusiasm. We built it and they came. Maybe we’d count the cost later, but we had succeeded in creating an event that was more than any of us had dreamed it could be.

Once it was over, there was time to look up again, at what was going on around us. Change was still happening, one step at a time. It continues to happen. Anticipated developments, perhaps inevitably, run late, but one by one they finally happen, or soon will do. The landscape has changed, not unrecognisably perhaps, but significantly. Were we a part of that? Undoubtedly. Would it have happened without us? Of course, but possibly without quite such a shot in the arm. Are we proud to be in the middle of it? Oh yes.

The clock winds on. A festival that at times we felt was treated with caution is back, but this time the name is not unknown, the prospects are not unsure. The flicker of recognition in a respected brewer’s eyes when you introduce yourself is a reward in itself. The friendships, acquaintenances and professional relationships that have developed form proof of the successes achieved, as does the rapid take-up of tickets months away from the actual event. The oft-mentioned friendliness of the industry is witnessed at first hand again and again. And yet, greater awareness attracts greater interest. It seems not everyone remembers to be friendly, or even polite. Unreasonable expectations and demands from strangers grate when you’re putting your all into something for no more reward than the love of the job. They’re thankfully few and far between, the utter amazingness of most you deal with more than making up for it. Except for those brief moments when your button is pushed, and you’d snap if it wasn’t for those who have your back, acting as your safety valve. The lows are inevitable, and surprising regular, but manageable. The highs, well they just keep cropping up by surprise when you least expect it.

It’s a little ironic, given that blogging and tweeting is what got me into this to start with, that the effort of bringing about a repeat event has seen both of those activities diminish. The opportunities to write, and even to keep up to date in order to have something to write about, are lost to the myriad of other tasks that need to be fitted into the sparse time available. Not to mention the difficulty of not always being able to write about the one thing that is taking up all your attention. It was during a snatched few moments on the train that I wrote the past few paragraphs, when my ears tuned in late to the exceptionally loud Liverpool accent directed down a phone elsewhere in the carriage. I’d been blocking it out, focusing on my own small bubble for a moment, when my ears pricked up at snippets of conversation. I detected “Beer Bash”… “Birmingham”… “yeah, could stay with mates, get a hotel even”. A chance in thousands at least, but one of those amazing little highs that make the lows seem so small. And something more. Something meaningful. A little sign of how things have changed. How people are talking about coming to Birmingham for beer, because it has become more of a beer destination. Because we’ve become a destination event. Because things have changed.

And things are changing still.

*We didn’t know this at the time. If I recall correctly we started without a name, then came up with one that was thankfully shortlived. But whatever we called it then, it became the Birmingham Beer Bash.
**No, really. His amusement at our apparent poor luck with the weather was one of the lesser crimes.
***Quite a few actually. Not that anyone really noticed. Whatever was happening behind the scenes wasn’t allowed to filter through to the “front of house”. I’d be surprised if many people were aware of any of it.
****Of course it wasn’t. Surely you didn’t believe that!
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January 2, 2014

Looking backwards, looking forward.

I’ve just been scanning back through my blog posts over the last year, eventually ending up back at the start of January when I reviewed the previous year and set myself some aims for 2013. So, if I had good intentions then what became of them?

Well, I failed on the first count – to write more regularly. Arguably I wrote more frequently, but that was heavily weighted towards a flurry of writing around Birmingham Beer Bash in July. Verdict: must try harder in 2014.

Second up was the plan to read more of what other people out there are writing. Oh dear, definitely not achieved that – just haven’t had the time. Verdict: a downward trend that needs reversing.

Finishing off those little jobs that need doing around the brewery at home? Well, some progress here but it feels like two small steps forward and one big step back each time, so the results haven’t really borne fruit yet.  Verdict: maintain progress and hopefully 2014 will see the improvements start to show.

The final two aims I’ll wrap up as one item – to get some hands-on experience in a commercial brewery, and to get a recipe brewed commercially. Well, I think I can put a big tick against that one. Despite a false start earlier in the year, I’ve ended up with two collaboration brews with real breweries under my belt – firstly with Blackjack and more recently with Offbeat (due out this month, including an appearance at the Manchester Beer Festival). There’s even something already in the pipeline for 2014 with yet another brewery. Verdict: a success to continue building on.

So, not all good, but not all bad either. And against the backdrop of Birmingham Beer Bash, which took up an unbelievable amount of time, I’m reasonably happy overall. The plan for the next year is to try and improve on those things I didn’t really achieve in 2013, and build on the brewing success. Add to that another (hopefully) successful Bash, and throw in some other ideas that aren’t ready for sharing yet, and I reckon there’s a fait challenge for the year ahead.  Lots to do, and we’ll see where we are in another 12 months!

Happy new year…

January 3, 2013

So long, 2012

Well here we are, at the start of a new year, and for me that also (roughly) marks the start of my second year of this blog. A perfect opportunity perhaps, to take a look back on the past year, and forward to the next.

I actually started this blog on Dec 23rd 2011 with a little pre-Christmas warm up, but blogging proper began in January first with a look at local pubs, and then I asked the question that led to my most popular post (based on number of views, anyway) of the whole year – where is the Birmingham Tap? So, almost a year later, do we have the answer? Well, things have certainly started to change. December saw the long-awaited opening of the new Brewdog bar in Birmingham, which was quite ironic timing for me – two weeks before it opened a change of job caused me to be London-based almost every day and travelling a route that avoids Birmingham, rather then being in London for just part of the week and travelling through New St to get home even on those days. Of course, one of the inspirations for that post was what is perhaps my truest “local” – the Euston Tap, so there’s still a silver lining…

But is Brewdog Birmingham the answer? Well, no, and I don’t mean to sound ungrateful by that. Brewdog bars are great, and when I have the chance I’ll be a regular visitor, but they still lack for me the full breadth that places like Euston and Sheffield Taps or the Craft chain provide. So Brewdog is a start, but only that. Fortunately there is more to come! Further new bars are expected to open in the area later this year that should be the perfect compliment to the Brewdog offering and finally bring the breadth of choice that Birmingham hopefully deserves. It has even been hinted at that the operators of the Euston and Sheffield (and other) Taps have been looking for premises. Whether or not there is a “Birmingham Tap”, there should soon be a great range of beer on offer that finally puts Birmingham on a par with other cities.

As I’ve gone through this first year of writing, I’ve perhaps inevitably been trying my hand, and searching our both a style and a purpose in what I write about. Subject matter has included observations on drinking and the bar scene in Birmingham especially, my own brewing endeavours, beer festivals, and various other subjects as they came up. Naturally I hoped that I could look back at the popularity of various posts and determine what worked best for me in order to focus in the future. Well, that didn’t work. My second most popular post was of a completely different subject to the Birmingham Tap – the Saison brewday that recently took place – while in third place was a review of the inaugural Twissup in Birmingham. Three completely different posts on completely different subjects. I guess I’ll have to find other ways of deciding what to focus on in my blogging for the coming year, or just keep up the random approach I’ve had so far…

Going back to that Twissup post, this was a big event in the past year. It brought together a number of bloggers and tweeters in the region, and as a result I’ve got a number of new friends, more than just acquaintances. Saison a’Trois wouldn’t have happened without that initial meeting, and hopefully 2013 will see further developments that can be traced back to that first meeting. Since then, over the Christmas break, the second Birmingham Twissup attracted an even bigger crowd and I’m sure the next one won’t be far away. Twissup wasn’t the only event I attended in the year, and the European Beer Bloggers Convention was another great opportunity to meet more fellow bloggers, drink some great beers, and learn a bit more about this blogging lark.

The autumn saw one of the real highlights of the year drinking-wise with IndyManBeerCon somewhat redefining the beer festival. Is it too soon to be eagerly anticipating this year’s event which will no doubt be bigger and better? Something to aspire to in the Midlands perhaps? We’ll have to see what can be done…

On the home front, brewing progress has finally picked up following a slightly difficult time as new and larger equipment was put together (a task that is far from complete although now advanced enough to be reaping benefits). An exciting possibility of a commercial opportunity arose part way through the year, although all is quiet on that at the moment. It is still potentially on the cards though, and in the meantime I’m focusing on getting the beers I make right, and keeping an eye out for the right opportunities if they should come up.

So that’s the highlights for me. But what of the year to come? Well I have a few plans and ideas. Firstly on the blogging side of things I know I have to get writing more regularly. It has been tricky this year – work often eats up all the available time and the new job gives no respite from that. Although I’ve averaged about two posts every three weeks there have been some big gaps, and even if I don’t write a greater number of posts I’d like to keep more of a steady momentum. I’ve got to keep up with reading other people’s blogs too – there’s been so much good stuff lately and I know I’m missing more than I’m getting to see.

This year the brewing is going to step up a gear too. I think I’m starting to hit my stride now – I just need to get all those irritating little jobs around the place done to make each brewday go that much easier, and now I’ve made the dual steps to fully temperature-controlled fermentation and liquid yeasts I’ll be expanded the beer repertoire accordingly. I’d like to take the opportunity, if opportunities can be found, to get some hands on experience of a commercial brewday (all offers gratefully considered!), but the real challenge I’ve set myself is to get a recipe made commercially, somehow (again all offers considered!) – both of those should give some fantastic experience as well as valuable blogging material!

It’ll be tough to deliver on the challenges I’ve set myself, but it should be fun trying. Hopefully at least some of you will drop by to keep an eye on progress, and thanks for reading during this past year. Here’s to a fabulous 2013!

July 2, 2012

Seeing past the Rhetoric

It is probably inevitable that a beer release heralded with a little bit of hype, controversy and showmanship is ultimately going to result in some disappointment, and last Saturday night I found exactly that.  This might sound strange to anyone involved in, or following, the OpenTheRhetoric hashtag on Twitter, and even more so if you read my own tweets on the subject that night.

The thing is, I really wanted not to like this beer.  And if that wasn’t going to happen then I could at least be a bit unimpressed.  The hype and controversy I referred to harks back to a little competition where a number of people, myself included, were selected to receive a bottle before its official release, to hold onto until it was deemed ready.  This was all wrapped up in a discussion on integrity, in particular of bloggers, and provided further fuel for discussions at the European Beer Bloggers Conference.  There were spin-off debates about sending bottled beer out before it is deemed ready, and the risks that involved and of course it was also a canny little bit of marketing, making sure Rhetoric got plenty of attention!

So, on opening my bottle I was disappointed that I couldn’t leap up with a loud cry, proclaiming my integrity intact and picking fault after fault.  To say, there you go, sorry, it was free but I don’t like it and I don’t mind saying so.

Instead I was welcomed by a captivating aroma, full of rich dark fruits and dominant but not overwhelming alcohol.  At the time I mentioned rum and raisin – that rich alcohol-steeped fruit scent – and there was something else too.  Something citrussy, but dark, rather than lemony-light.  The flavours lived up to the aroma with a fruity richness and warm alcohol burn.  That citrus was there again, tangerine came to mind, but one having been roasted to darken the skin and bring out a slightly bitter caramel edge.

For a beer of 10.2% the body was much lighter than expected, giving the overall effect of a Christmas pudding with all the heavy stodginess taken away and just leaving the light but rich flavours behind in a very drinkable form.  Condition-wise, it was fine, bearing in mind that a fair amount of the bottle-conditioning was while it was in my custody.  It would be interesting to compare (and would have been even more interesting as a direct comparison) to see how my bottle compares with one that has spent longer at the brewery in better controlled conditionsk, but there was certainly nothing wrong with this one.

Overall I think the Hardknott team have done a great job with this experimental beer.  I wouldn’t say it was perfect, and I’m sure there would be things that would be changed if it was brewed again.  I can’t really say either that it was a leading example of a Belgian Quad style because I don’t have enough of a baseline to compare that too.  Was it the best beer Hardknott do?  Tricky that, because I haven’t tried them all, and is it a fair comparison? I don’t think so – there’s too much of a time and place thing with different beer styles.  However, I enjoyed Rhetoric enough to order a couple more bottles.  Ideally one to leave for 18 months or so to see how it ages.  The other one I could have now, to compare how the brewery conditioned bottle compares to my own, or alternatively hang on until this Christmas when the flavours will suit the occasion just perfectly.

In the meantime, Dave, damn you for disappointing me in such a delicious way and I look forward to seeing what Rhetoric Edition II is like!

For the record, yes I received this beer for free, for which I am very grateful, and have tried to remain objective.  I’ve ordered (and paid for) two further bottles, because I felt it was worth it.

May 24, 2012

EBBC12 – the aftermath (part 4) – something to open at home

Whether you were there or not, you will no doubt be aware that the European Beer Bloggers Conference was a great opportunity not only to taste a wide range of beers (plus a couple of meals and some delicious cheese) but also to bring things away to enjoy later.  This is of course a great way of extending the pleasure of the event out for days, weeks or even months!  So, I thought, maybe I should open something and see what I think.

So I did.  It was an offering from one of the larger corporate sponsors, but was something I’d been looking forward to from the moment I found out it was going to be available at the event.  Once opened I was presented with a pale straw colour, seemingly in very good condition.  I was disappointed by a lack of hop aroma, but to be fair I expected none given its large brewery origins.  Certainly this was designed to appeal to the eye, and also to the pocket representing excellent value.  After a perfectly reasonable visual inspection I moved onto the flavour which is where this really let itself down.  It tasted papery and thin, clearly having too much content with oxygen in the packaging, and actually despite appearances was completely flat.

So, would I have another.  Yes, in fact if I was offered another I’d snap it up.  Despite the flavour problems I was completely won over and was very grateful for the opportunity to have this.  It is a fine cheque – now all I have to do is take it to the bank and pay it into my account…

Attending EBBC12 was a great opportunity for me, and the event was made more accessible through the generosity of the many sponsors, including the refund of registration fees that I and many other bloggers received through the Molson Coors scholarships for Citizen Beer Bloggers.  So a big personal thanks from me to all involved in supporting this event – sadly too many to list without risking inadvertently omitting someone – and all those who attended and made it such a fabulous few days.  See you all next year!

May 22, 2012

EBBC12 – the aftermath (part 3) – Live(ish) Beer Blogging

You’ve no doubt by now read a fair few accounts of the live beer blogging event that took place at EBBC12 last Saturday.  If not, why on earth not!  This was a fascinating opportunity for all of us attending to see if we could taste, and blog about, 10 different beers in the course of just 50 minutes – the brewers had 5 minutes each to tell us what they could while we tasted and typed like maniacs, before the time was up and they all rotated round to the next table of wild-eyed, beer bloggers rapidly developing RSI.

It was of course obvious that I needed to get the laptop set up in advance, make sure I could connect to the wireless internet, and if that failed get successfully tethered to a mobile connection despite never having done that with that particular laptop and phone combination.  Obvious.  So naturally I found myself with five minutes to go, booting up in just enough time to discover that none of the available network connection options were going to work for me.  Poor reception was the final straw, so even though I got online I couldn’t get my blog loaded up to type anything meaningful.

All was not lost however, and I decided to type away offline and worry about posting it later.  As someone not accustomed to writing reviews of beers, certainly not in such short timescales or rapid succession, it was a challenge, and clearly the teams of brewers circulating amongst us were up against it too, so all credit to them for an excellent showing.

I could regale you now with my florid descriptions of the fine ales that appeared in my glass at five minute intervals, but you’d quickly realise that others can do that far better than me.  By way of a summary though there was only one beer that failed to impress me (and reading other posts on the subject the opinions are divided), and there were three or four outstanding offerings amongst the rest.  I don’t think I can do justice to the descriptions and therefore won’t elaborate, it wouldn’t be fair.  What was great to see was the representatives from ten breweries all talking with passion and enthusiasm about their beers, all offering something different – different styles, different treatment of the style, different methods of serving and even different presentation tactics.

I’m in danger of getting repetitive in these posts now but as a celebration of the variety of beer this was a fantastic hour’s “work”.  Maybe by next year I can get up to pace on the actual blogging too…

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May 22, 2012

EBBC12 – the aftermath (part 2) – Post Futures

Over the course of the weekend just gone, someone made a comment about selling “beer futures” – pay now for a beer that hasn’t even been brewed, in the hope of profit later.  I can’t quite recollect who it was so apologies for not crediting it properly.  The comment came back to me just now as I was mulling over the events of EBBC12, when I thought about the Saturday morning sessions and in particular the one on how to make best use of Social Media. 

The slightly aggressive commercial approach to using social media wasn’t to everyone’s taste, and grated slightly against the ethos of blogging being a very personal thing, with everyone making it to be what they wanted it to be.  On the other hand, the reality is that if youdowant to develop your following as a blogger in a more disciplined way, you have to change your mindset to one of marketing yourself rather than just being yourself. 

That was when I was struck by the thought that in many ways blogging can be like developing a “post futures” market.  Followers are gained on the basis of past performance and reputation, maybe the odd tip-off in another blog.  What they get in return is the value of your future posts.  Fail to deliver and the market will turn away from you, but get it right and the demand only grows.

It still all depends on what your motivation actually is though – I’ve met lots of people this weekend who write simply because they are passionate about their subject, and while we all get a kick out of knowing that people read, and enjoy, what we write it isn’t necessarily important to them just how many people read it.  Others are far more interested in developing their writing and their popularity as a writer.  Whichever category you might be in, it seems to me that “post futures” are looking rosy at the moment.  I just wish I had enough time to read as many of the great blogs that are out there as I would really like, especially after discovering a whole host of great new writers this weekend!

May 22, 2012

EBBC12 – the aftermath (part 1)

If you don’t know by now that the European Beer Bloggers Conference was held in Leeds last weekend then you’ve probably either been asleep for a month, or have been comatose through enjoying your beer a bit more than is perhaps advisable! Put 100 or so bloggers into a room for a couple of days, let the beer flow freely and sit back as the words flow even more freely. There are countless blog posts that were generated over the course of the weekend, and still now (like this one) as part of the aftermath. A range of views, opinions, and writing styles all telling their own stories of the event.  Personally, I’m still trying to catch up with all that’s been written, collate my own thoughts, and get my own posts out there into the mix.

One of the first two panel sessions, on Friday afternoon, saw Adrian Tierney-Jones and Simon Jenkins debating some of the finer points of beer blogging. Length of posts was a big theme, and while there is no conclusive answer to what is right or wrong, I can appreciate the arguments in support of keeping posts short. It will be something I consider as I write up my thoughts on EBBC12, aiming for a few short summaries rather than one long one – hopefully they’ll be easier to read as a result, but also I’m hoping to find lots of short posts are easier to write than a few long ones.

That could be taken as my cue to wrap this one up, but I’ll go on just a little longer if I may.

For me, this session demonstrated right from the outset what diversity there is in beer blogging. Plenty of contrasting views at every turn, and good healthy debate. Different motivations for writing a blog, and so different approaches that need to be taken. The same goes for views on specific beers, and there’ll be more later on how that came out through the various tastings. Rarely was there a unanimous view around the room on anything, and if there had been then I think the discussions would have suffered as a result. However I think if there was to be a consensus on anything, it would be that EBBC12 was a great event, Leeds was a great city to hold it in, and EBBC13 should be well worth looking forward to!