I receive a deluge of press releases, newsletters and forwarded beer stories.  Today, I share the best three stories.

The first was sent in by Martin Bosley who apparently owns a passable restaurant on Oriental Parade.  It is a thought-provoking piece from the Word of Mouth blog on The Guardian website which argues that some real ale brewers might be shooting themselves in the foot with their naff branding and pumpclips. [1] Here are the edited highlights:

“It’s my round.  What do you fancy?  A Parson’s Pledge, a Hanky Panky or a Sheepshaggers Gold?  Maybe a Dog’s Bollocks, a Bumble Hole Bitter, Bashful Beaver or a Wafty Cranker?

You wouldn’t be alone if you felt some reluctance to partake.  There’s sometimes a problem with real ale.  It glares at us when we go for a pint – so many of the beer names and pumpclips are hideous.

We have identified the common characteristics of bad pumpclip design and beer naming: puns, wordplays and spoonerisms,  visual puns, objectification of women, wizards, dragons and goblins, [2] alliteration, seaside-postcardism and smut, allusions to intoxication and hangovers, xenophobia, bad graphic design, ugly cartoon artwork and squeezing the word “ale” into places it doesn’t belong.

With the exception of the sexism, used judiciously some of these characteristics may be just about acceptable.  The trouble is the guilty brewers can’t resist heaping them on top of each other.  And some pumpclips are just scarily strange and some are just straightforwardly hideous.

It’s a curious phenomenon.  Why do a minority of brewers inflict awful images on their beer?  Aren’t they concerned that potential customers will equate dodgy presentation with dodgy brewing?”

I certainly don’t think this is a problem limited to real ale – despite the seemingly never-ending English fascination for Benny Hill and his one joke.  A tiny but growing number of craft beers seem to be heading this way – particularly at festivals and for one-off brews. 

Now, I am not a high-brow fellow.  I own and regularly enjoy the entire DVD set of “Filthy, Rich and Catflap”, a comedy series starring Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer, which makes “The Young Ones” look like a lecture on Keynesian macro economics. [3] However, I never want to order a beer which makes me feel embarrassed or ashamed.

Perhaps the closest I have come recently is a woman glaring at me when I ordered a ParrotDog BitterBitch IPA.  After interviewing the ParrotDog brewers recently, it seems I have received twice as many complaints about that particular name as they have.  Still, I believe dodgy and/or alienating branding is something the industry will need to be very careful of as we look to promote craft beer as a serious and enjoyable product.

Story number two is from regular correspondent Dean Carroll.  This is from the White House food blog:

“In a special turn of events in the history of White House food creations, one of the White House chefs has brewed White House Honey Ale…  It uses one pound of honey from this year’s 160-pound harvest of honey from the White House Bee Hive, which sits beside Mrs Obama’s South Lawn Kitchen Garden.

The President, First Lady and their guests will be sampling the special suds for the first time this evening.  And the Obama’s paid for the micro-brewing equipment, the aide noted, so there’s no impact on the national debt.” [4]

Granted, I am naturally suspicion of honey ales (and Democrats) but a high-profile episode of Iron Chef made me particularly sceptical about anything purporting to come out of that particular Kitchen Garden.  Basically, the Iron Chefs were extensively filmed picking fresh vegetables with the First Lady.  When the chefs cooked their five dishes on-air, there were constant references to “White House Garden vegetables” even though it was weeks later and they were all using ‘stunt’ vegetables from a local New York market.

The final submission is also from Mr Carroll and concerns one of my favourite topics – the quest for the perfect pub.  Starting with George Orwell’s famous description of his fictitious perfect pub in “The Moon Under Water”, The Guardian asks a series of alleged celebrities about their favoured watering holes. 

First up is one of my least favourite politicians – renowned newt breeder, former London Mayor and former Labour MP, Ken Livingstone.  Despite professing to be a man of the people, he admits to missing the fact that up to 20 pubs a week have been closing in Britain for some years.  Here is his perfect pub:

“I hadn’t picked up on pub closures because the pub that I use most often, the Queensbury in north London, is absolutely thriving.  It’s near home and near the train station, it has a nice garden and it does nice food, but above that, the significance for me is that it used to be the offices of the Brent Conservative Club.  Each drink I consume in there is viewed as a triumph over vanquished opponents.

Conversations with the GMB Union alerted me to the sheer number of pubs that had closed in recent years.  I became mayor; two years afterwards I became a dad again.  Suddenly any social life went out the window, I almost never went out, I just couldn’t.  Subsequently, I missed so many of the pub losses that were happening in the capital.  Saving pubs is now a policy in my 2012 mayoral campaign.

What I’d really like to see in an ideal world is lots of locally owned community pubs rather than chains.  I think local authorities [5] should have the power to determine the composition of their high streets.  If you buy a bakers or a fishmongers or a former pub, for the good of the area it should be sold with that usage attached.  Unless, that is, it used to be the local Conservative Club.”

Even a quick analysis of that short excerpt shows that Ken Livingstone talks far more about Ken Livingstone than the pub he professes to love (but does not really go to). 

So, for the record, my criteria for a perfect pub would include a range of quality beers, plenty of taps, hearty food, knowledgeable staff, lots of chairs and tables, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing playing as every second song, table service (when possible), not too crowded and no dodgy punters.  Malthouse has all of these with the possible exception of the Journey clause.  I’m sure the staff are all working on this as I type. [6]

In fact, one of the main criteria for my perfect pub is that it would not let Ken Livingstone in.

[1] This would translate as tap badges in New Zealand.
[2] For some reason, Imps seem to get a free pass.
[3] There is a memorable exchange where the three main protagonists – Messers Filthy, Rich and Catflap – who describe Benny Hill as “the governor” because of his “150 years in the biz and still telling the same joke.”  Ralph Filthy (Planer) even claims to have “seen the original seaside postcard he got the joke from.”
[4] Never believe any politician who says this.
[5] By which he means “Ken Livingstone”.
[6] With the honourable exception of Halena who is possibly the only person who loves that song more than I do.


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine


Martin Bosley’s Yacht Club – http://www.martin-bosley.com/
Worst Beer Pumpclips – http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/aug/01/worst-beer-pumpclips
White House Honey Ale – http://beerpulse.com/2011/02/white-house-honey-ale-homebrewing-is-back-in-style/
What’s your perfect pub? – http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/dec/08/whats-your-perfect-pub
Malthouse Facebook – www.facebook.com/pages/Malthouse/7084276173
Malthouse Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/malthouse
Malthouse Taps on Twitter – www.twitter.com/#!/MalthouseTaps
Neil Miller on Twitter – www.twitter.com/#beerlytweeting
Real Beer – www.realbeer.co.nz 
Beer and Brewer Magazine – www.beerandbrewer.com/