Posts tagged ‘EBBC12’

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!

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!

May 16, 2012

Integrity, beer reviews and a bit of tongue in cheek

Oooh I thought.  Free beer.  I like the sound of that.  Well, who wouldn’t?  And all I have to do is write something?  I can write something, I’m sure I can.  Obviously it will have to be good, this is a sort of a competition, and there’s a prize to be won.  Can I write something good?  I can try.

Dave Bailey, of HardKnott fame, put an interesting post out yesterday inviting bloggers to respond with the chance of getting their hands on a rather special-sounding beer they’re just bottling.  This wasn’t obvious from the title, or even the opening paragraphs, but the post drew me in, as I sure it will have done lots of other readers, for a couple of reasons.  Firstly (get the flattery over with) I always enjoy reading Dave’s posts.  Secondly, the title was “Blogging Integrity” and it followed an excellent recent post (sorry, more flattery – hopefully that is the last) on integrity of awards ceremonies.  With the European Beer Bloggers Conference just two days away now, I was expecting stark views on the perils of sponsorship, advertising, and free stuff from breweries swaying the independence of the blogger.  After all, it is an obvious risk, and was nicely picked up by Boak and Bailey in this post here where the emphasis is on being upfront about freebies when writing, which I think is only fair to the reader who can make their own judgement on how much faith to put in the review as a result. 

But Dave’s post wasn’t really about that at all.  It was about HardKnott proposing to give away free beer so that the lucky bloggers to receive it can all tweet and blog about it together when the official “opening day” comes.  Sounds fun.  And all you have to do is write something that convinces Dave of your worthiness to receive a bottle.  Now, I don’t generally review beer in any sort of detail.  Not publicly anyway.  I’ve given appraisals of beers I’ve received from fellow amateur brewers and I’ve been lucky in that I haven’t had to make serious negative criticism of more than one of those.  I do tweet occasionally about a particularly fine beer I may be enjoying, and sometimes pass comment about ones I’m not so impressed by, but that is all.  As a result I’ve never been in a position where I’ve had to consider how I’d deal with the review of a free beer as opposed to one I’d paid for.  I’d like to think I would be able to set to one side any possible bias and give just as fair and honest a review as if I’d paid my own money for it.  But whether it is free or paid for, there is a bigger issue for me anyway – I don’t think it is necessarily fair to write a review of a beer based on a single sample. 

Sure, if it is good and you like it, then one sample is probably sufficient – how often will a rogue “good” beer get out?  But what about if you aren’t happy with it.  Have you had a representative sample?  Did you happen to have a bottle that picked up a defect or infection?  Was it an isolated case or has a whole batch been affected?  Is the beer as the brewer intended and you just don’t like something about it?  If your sample is from a cask the parameters are even greater – taste the same beer from the same cask a couple of days apart and you may well notice quite a difference.  And from the moment a cask leaves the brewery there is potential for the beer to end up not as the brewer intended, if it isn’t handled right at some stage.  So is one negative experience enough to condemn a particular beer or even the whole brewery?  I really don’t think so.

I can give a practical example – I had two bottles of the same bottle-conditioned beer this week.  Both were slightly past their printed best before date, but only by a couple of weeks.  They both appeared to be from the same batch, and certainly came in the same order from the same supplier.  The first one was a “drain pour”.  I could best describe it as a lambic best bitter.  Not a flavour combination I expected, and certainly not one I liked (I am quite happy to drink lambics from time to time, but this was far from right!).  Two days later I opened the second bottle, expecting little from it.  This one was fine.  I didn’t think all that much of the beer, but there was certainly nothing technically wrong with it.  So if I had reviewed it on the basis of the first bottle, would I have been showing the required integrity?  I really don’t think so – I think we owe the brewer the benefit of the doubt, and should always cross-check a bad beer with another sample, preferably from another batch / supplier if that is practical.  And that doesn’t matter whether you received it for free or not.

There’s some more interesting and related discussion from Boak and Bailey here.

Hang on a minute though, I said to myself.  This integrity thing, well, that’s all well and good, not being swayed into giving good reviews to bad beers just because you received them for free.  But what about writing a blog post that is driven by a desire to win a free beer.  Isn’t that just the same?  How on earth can I possibly write a post aimed at convincing someone to give me something for free, while giving my readers (for I know there are at least two or three of you out there, unless one person is making comments under several different names!) the reassurance that what I write isn’t being swayed by the potential prize.  Well, I can’t.  If I’m to have any integrity at all I can’t possibly sacrifice my independent thought in order to get free stuff, now can I?  So to maintain any sort of integrity surely I won’t be able to write anything in response to Dave’s invitation, and therefore can’t make my pitch to win a bottle.  Morally* that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

Clearly, though, I’ll have to publish this post now in order to explain why I can’t possibly write it… 
* No morals were harmed during the making of this post.  In fact, very few were even found!  Should it somehow manage to attract free beer then obviously I will have to just live with the guilt.

May 14, 2012

EBBC12 – a personal perspective

As the European Beer Bloggers Conference (EBBC12) in Leeds draws near, I thought I’d do just as quite a few other attendees have, and write a bit of a personal prelude to the event. To be honest, it is all a bit unexpected – three weeks ago I hadn’t even considered going, and yet here I am, now just three days away with conference and hotels booked, and just a train ticket to get (and with no suitable advance purchase tickets available, I can buy that on the day). I’ll make an apology in advance – this post isn’t really much about beer, but there is a link, on a personal note. This post is much more personal than that so feel free to look away now.  And maybe once I’ve got this all off my chest I can go back to writing something far more meaningful that is actually about beer.

While writing my previous post I found my mind drifting slightly off-topic, which to be fair you can tell as you read it! I’d already planned to write something pre-EBBC, and the train of thought I was following kept diverting me from the last post to this one. That, I think, was because I kept touching on the topics that were forming at the back of my mind into a whole different post. I was considering my relationship with beer, and how that has changed over recent months. How much it has changed over the past couple of years. I was trying to show how being a home brewer went hand in hand with drinking more in pubs, rather than less. But I couldn’t stop thinking about how much my relationship with beer has changed, and still is. And I thought about what it meant to have a mid-life crisis.

Now, on the face of it that may sound like to completely separate thoughts. But they kept coming crashing together. Am I saying that I’m having a mid-life crisis, and I’ve turned to drink to help me get through it? Absolutely not. But I think there is a somewhat different connection for me between the two things. And I do wonder if I really am actually having some sort of mid-life crisis. Mention a mid-life crisis and most people, myself included, would instantly think of 40-something men running off with girls half their age, buying sports cars, taking up motorcycling while wearing completely inappropriate leatherwear, that sort of thing. Think a bit more about it and you might also imagine 40-something men leaving their jobs and maybe even families behind and setting off to explore the world. It’ll almost certainly be 40-something men though (do women even have mid-life crises, or are they just better at hiding it? Or is it because men don’t notice because they’re usually too busy having their own?!).

This may be some rather flawed psychology, but to me it seems to be all about the dawning realisation that life is carrying on regardless, taking you along with it, and that if you don’t stop the ride and get off now you quite possibly never will. That job that may have seemed like such a great career choice when you started out is now just the routine you put yourself through every day. Or maybe it wasn’t so much a career decision as a way to make ends meet at the time and it has just carried on that way since. Either way, there seems to be a point where you start to wonder why you’re not doing something else, and sometimes that turns into an effort to make a change. Putting aside the specific details of sports cars and other inappropriateness, that then makes a lot of sense, both in a general, cliched sense but also to me on a personal level. And the cliches of mid-life crisis are surely about making changes where you can, which isn’t necessarily the same as making the changes you really need. I’m not 40-something, but I am approaching it, and while I don’t feel a sense of dread as such at the milestone being less than 3 years away I do feel a sense of frustration at things I want to change but feel unable to.  Frustration at continuing to do things based on a decision made 15 years ago,  because of doing it so long there doesn’t seem to be a way to do anything else. 

This, I think, is where (for me) beer comes in. Not in the sense of turning to drink as a support mechanism, but as a way to make a real change. And not just a superficial one. It’s more than a sports car, because it isn’t a replacement for the changes I’d really like to make, it seems like an opportunity to actually make those changes. To step away from doing something just because it is what you’ve been doing for as long as you can remember.  More than a hobby to escape to, more like a life change to aspire to. An opportunity to be grasped. There’s a long way to go and I have to keep myself firmly rooted in reality by doing “beer things” on the side of family and work life, which isn’t easy, but I don’t actually want a full-blown crisis on my hands, I want a sustainable change. It doesn’t pay to do anything drastic or rash (so the sports car can wait!), but as a result it takes up time on top of all the hours spent doing the other things that still have to be done. That can create its own pressures, especially when you’re relying on the understanding of those who are important to you.

So that is how, I feel, I’ve come to be going to EBBC12. It is part of the gradual immersion in the world of beer and brewing that I’ve been undertaking. I’ve developed a passion for brewing, and another for enjoying the efforts of both myself and others in that field. Through Twitter, and then through this Blog, I’ve found an interest in sharing what I’m experiencing with others, and receiving the benefits of their wisdom and experience. I’ve learnt so much about beer, its ingredients, the process of producing it. I’ve ended up organising a beer festival, with the possibility of more to come, and managing all the publicity around that. I’ve got heavily involved in my local brewing group, taking part in and even running meetings. I’ve even been the after-dinner speaker at the local Rotary. I’ve starting writing regularly, even if not frequently, and am finding more enjoyment in that than I ever thought. And I’ve met some great people – brewers, drinkers, writers and more. All through a shared passion for beer, and for brewing. So with this coming weekend looming close, when I go to Leeds and meet a load more great people who share my interests, I can’t help but be just a little bit excited. If this really is a mid-life crisis, I think I’m going to enjoy it! Anyone want to join with me in drinking to that?