Wednesday, 18 April 2012

An Open Letter to UK Brewers - Social Media


I'm new(ish) to the blog/vlogosphere, and I've got some observations for you based upon my short active time as a blogger and a long-standing fan of beer.  They relate particularly to how social media can open up doors for you and conversely how it can backfire.

To give you some background as to my expertise in this area, I work in education.  I've been lucky enough to work on some interesting social media related developments and had some exposure to consultants in the area.  The university sector is starting to catch up with Social Media as a concept, but for most people it's kind of a blind area and although I don't blame you for not being up to speed (after all, for most of you, social media is not your main field of expertise, brewing beer is), I think some of you could do with some help.

So, below are some propositions and ripostes for you to consider:

1)  Social Media is where it's at - I must do whatever I can to gain exposure via it or I will fall behind the competition

In part this is true.  Social media does look to be the dominant area for exposure in the future and finding a way to get yourself exposed through it probably is quite important.  However, it is up to you to do your research.  If you are contacted by a blogger or a vlogger tapping you up for some free beer, work out what the value of their goods and services are to you.  It's the same as paying for an advert.  Do your research.

Would you pay anything for an advert that was full of poor grammar, ill informed or that came from a less than reputable company (possibly with a history of stealing underwear from washing lines)?

Check out the person on the internet, read their work, watch their videos.  Check out their viewing figures.  Look at what other people in the beer community make of them, either by studying Twitter, Facebook or Youtube (or get someone conversant with social media to do it for you if you aren't).  You can tell a lot from what is available in the public domain and very easily and quickly too.

2) If I send this guy some beer, it'll get me a good review on the internet

All publicity is not good publicity.  The men (and women) of beer world know their stuff, they are very often geeks.  This is not a crowd that will be impressed by a disingenuous reviewer, particularly one that is talking complete nonsense.  If they suddenly see a beer that they know is not great being proclaimed as the greatest thing in the world since, err, the last beer that person did, the penny is very quickly going to drop.

You are better off with a genuine reviewer who will, if your beer is not awful, (and why do you make it if it is?), do their best to pull out the style, flavours etc that will mean that their rating, whilst personal to them, may be irrelevant to the person watching who may still go out and buy it because of what has been described.

3)  Wow, this guy is writing a book (probably the oldest form of social media), I've got to be in that

Seriously, are you really going to fall for this one?  Do you have any idea how difficult it is to get a book deal?  See also my comments about literacy above.  If someone says this to you, ask to see confirmation from their publisher that this is true.  Ask to see some of their writing.  If they can't produce both of these...tell them to cock off.

Here endeth the rant.  I just don't want to see you guys taken advantage of.

Now, I'm not going to pretend that I haven't been slipped the odd free beer (5 at the last count).  I am grateful for each one and do my best to do them justice.  For me though, I'm new.  I wouldn't ever expect to receive anything for free unless I had something genuine to exchange.  If someone checks me out and decides I'm worth a punt, well, that's pleasing.

Thanks for reading


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

That tricky word beginning with S...

In my last post I touched on how long a session might be.  Ignoring (on purpose) the tricky question of what is the ideal ABV for a session beer.  Forgetting briefly (and conveniently) that I haven't yet defined for you what I take to be the meaning of the word, I'll carry on typing.

Given the recent 'Session Beer Day' in America (which Chad from Chad'z beer reviews tipped me off about), I thought I'd tackle the subject here and pass on my lack of received wisdom.

I'm going to be controversial and say, there is no ideal ABV for a session beer.  I'm going to continue down the road of controversy briefly stopping at the realms of surprising town and say that the ideal ABV for a session beer for me is absolutely not any lower than 4% and I would consider something up to 10% to be 'sessionable'.  Does this make me mental?  Maybe.

I am not an enormous fatster, coming in under the 9 stone mark (and never have been over).  I don't have the capacity these days to continue for half a day, so a session for me is locked around the the 4-ish hour mark.

Does this mean I drink a 10% beer at the same rate as I do a 4% beer?  No, that would make me a complete moron and probably dead (if for no other reason than my wife would give me a good hiding for drinking like that).  However, I might sup 2 10% beers for 4 hours when I might have 5 4% beers in the same time period the next day.

As well as the ABV consideration, I have to take into account the body of the beer, I simply couldn't stomach  drinking beer that was heavily carbonated for too long without ending up like that scene in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory where Charlie and Grandpa Joe fly up to the ceiling and have to burp to make their way back down.  Similarly a big heavy stout (which would end up the next day with a scene similar to the demise of Augustus Gloop  - actually I'll stop the Wonka comparisons now, it's getting disgustingly clinical), would sit too much on my stomach and stop me having fun.

So - as well as the complex equation I drew your attention to last time, there are more factors to introduce.  namely, abv, body and carbonation.  Or if you like A, B, C.  It's as easy as that.

So, what have I learned from writing these companion pieces?

1.  A 'session' is a period of time when you can have a drink, no more, no less.
2.  I definitely don't think that ABV should be considered the defining quality of a 'session beer'
3.  The term 'session beer' should only apply to those beers that you think you could have more than one of (dependent on ABV) in a given amount of time

Let me know what you think


Monday, 9 April 2012

What does a 'session' really mean?

I've been thinking about this recently and had a couple of conversations with some of our revolutionary friends over the pond about drinking culture in the UK, and I've come to a few conclusions.  Bear with me whilst I blurt my thoughts out onto the page, then you can have your wicked way with them.

There are a number of questions I think that need answering to get to a decent definition, but as with so much about beer, I think essentially, it is a moveable feast.

For the purposes of writing here though, a session is time spent in the pub.  I do not count fancy wine-bars, nightclubs or the local disco as being a place where a session can occur.  A session should involve, friends, bar-snacks (I'm thinking frazzles, scampi fries, dry roasted nuts), lots of great conversation, a bit of piss-taking and either a light snooze, an Open University programme or a repeat of See Hear as a finale (depending on time of end of session).  You will likely be a bit tipsy by the end of a session and may encounter mild double vision, slight staggering, spoonerisms and mild declarations of people being your best mate.

Now, that's out of the way, so, how long is a session?

Right - well, this is where it gets tricky (right at the start), but I think I can draw some conclusions here, the length of your session is defined by some kind of tricky equation involving the following factors:

Being a student/amount of children/time spent married/age/weight/ability to drink/gravity of beer being partaken

If each of these factors is low, the odds are that your 'session' time is going to be longer, so for example, the session for the 18 year old student with no children (unmarried) that weighs 12 stone and can handle his booze is more likely to be able to undertake a long session than the man who is holding down a job (and therefore has limited time for a session), has several children (and therefore has to consider how responsibly he might have to be acting), has a wife (and therefore is statistically more likely to be in IKEA than the pub), weighs 12 stone and can handle his booze.  It's a bit like The Seven Ages of Man really, but with beer.

So, to briefly sum up the nonsense above, let's try and put a label on what a session is for a couple of sectors of society - this is not by any means an exhaustive list and is for illustrative purposes only.

1)  Student
A session is an amount of time defined only by how long the pub is open, what time they managed to get out of bed, and how big their overdraft is.  Potential for 12 hours.

2) Young working professional (20-30)
A session is defined by the fact that they will likely be confined to weekends because they will be too busy being together, being professional and searching for a wife/husband.  A session may still be a decent length of time but is likely to be tempered.  Likely session 8-10 hours (including time for the gym, getting fancy haircuts and going to Habitat).

3) Married professional (30-40)
A session is defined by how much time they can either get away from their other half (or if they are lucky if their other half drinks - how old their children are), whether or not they have made the journey into quality beer products and how high their cholesterol count is at the moment.   The session is likely to be no more than 5-6 hours unless they get lucky.  

Warning, sessions that last longer than this may get you into trouble with your wife (if they weren't present) for such acts as 'weeing in the garden', 'repeating yourself endlessly' and 'falling asleep in front of MOTD'.  You may also end up in IKEA the next day as punishment.

I haven't gotten any further than the third category yet, but I'll be sure to update you all when I do get there.  My kids will be in their teenage years by then, will it go full circle and I'll enter a world where an overdraft is no longer a necessity for a 12 hour session - or will a long session no longer be an attractive idea to me?  If you are older and wiser, feel free to let me know what you think.  I have to go now to mentally prepare myself for IKEA in the morning.


Friday, 6 April 2012

Does beer have medicinal qualities or what?

Right, just to give you the background to this, I've been poorly.  I don't mean man-flu or whatever the derogatory term for a man's illness the female of the species choose to be dismissive about.  I mean I've had a sore throat...for ages, and now it's turned into a full blown head cold so bad that I have been forced to consult a 'neti-pot' for some simple relief (actually they are quite good, I recommend them).  

Rest assured (in case you are worried), I've seen the doctor and it is apparently nothing sinister and doesn't even require antibiotics - and no, I didn't take any time off work and yes, I did still get up and do the early shifts with the kids.

Ah, I hear you say, but if you have been ill, I bet you haven't been drinking have you?  Well, you'd be wrong in surmising that.  Very wrong indeed, and you'll have lost your bet.

The life I have chosen as someone who reviews beer has meant that my actual reviewing has been somewhat stymied as I would want to get the best out of any beer that I reviewed.  So instead I chose, nay welcomed this ongoing throaty nemesis to be part of a grander experiment, one that spoke to all man.  The answer to the question that is as old as life itself...what beer should I drink when I am unwell?  Where do I find the answers I hear you ask?  Reader, I wrote them underneath here.

The first question to resolve for me was, should I waste decent booze on me whilst my ability to enjoy it is curtailed?

The simple answer to this is, YES, of course you idiot.  Beer is one of my few vices, so even to glean some enjoyment after a hard day at the office (other than that my wife, children, dog and Xbox obviously bring me), makes it worthwhile.

The second question to tackle involved me identifying the symptoms quite precisely in order that I came up with the right 'treatment'.  In the early stages (bearing in mind I started feeling grotty at the end of February) I was suffering from a sore throat and an ongoing sniff (some of you may have spotted it on my videos, apologies for that).  So I experimented with several kinds of beer.  So, what then, is the best medicine for this stage of illness?

In 3rd place, a chocolate porter was quite good, and I went for the Meantime one several nights running, not a big bottle and a high-ish ABV, so no bloating involved.  Quite smooth as well and the flavours were not subtle.  

In 2nd place, I experimented with a few different stouts, in my weakened state, they were all much of a muchness in terms of taste but I picked up the basic and obvious tastes, but the generally lower ABV meant I could lubricate my throat for a longer while.

In 1st place though and by an absolute country mile, it was the DunkelWeiss Beer from the Arcobrau (which is sold by Waitrose).  I am surprised that this stuff is not available on presciption via the NHS.  The smell, the taste and most importantly how it felt caressing my mouth and throat before winding its merry way down to my belly was absolutely spot on.  Two of these and I would feel a temporary release from the chains of man-pain.  Maybe there is something medicinal about the cloves?  Maybe the water quality is the thing?   Maybe the carbonation is just right to make it all better?  Maybe Germany was right the whole time (no, wait, not that one).

You can clearly see the winner, well done Arcobrau.  The only difficulty is that Waitrose have run out (mostly because I bought it all).  Luckily for me though, I am no longer in need because as mentioned above, this bug has now matured and turned into a massive headcold, so I think I am going to have to alter my medication.  My head tells me that the way to go might be quite spicy, mega hoppy beer, my heart says go with the Arcobrau, my hands say, stop typing and just go and get yourself a beer.  Ok I will.  

If you've got any recommendations for beer as medicine, please feel free to detail them in the comments below.