[1] I am, by inclination and previous profession, a political tragic having studied political science at Victoria University of Wellington and spent much of my working life in the employ of the New Zealand National Party. In many ways, I am the rarest of political beasts – a Scottish Tory. Little wonder that I like beer so much…

Today, Britain goes to the polls in what has been dubbed the most important election in a generation. There is a small issue in that nobody really seems to know what pressing issues this election is actually about, and it has been further hindered by the inconvenient truth that none of the party leaders are particularly popular. For example, Labour leader Ed Milliband is being lauded for a strong campaign which has seen the percentage of people who have a negative view of him drop from 52% to just 18%. [2]

The growing consensus is that this might well be the most confusing British election in a generation. The two party (or more accurately two and half party) hegemony which has dominated UK politics for so long is disappearing faster than Wayne Rooney’s real hair. In 1951, 97% of Brits voted for Labour or Conservative. In 2015, the two big parties seemed mired on around one-third each. A hung Parliament or coalition Government seems virtually inevitable.

For New Zealand voters, coalition Governments are pretty much the norm these days. However, coalition seems to be a difficult concept for the British to grasp which seems quite incredible in a nation that understands and has strong (often violent) opinions on the offside rule in football/soccer. The election results promise to be interesting and more than a little unpredictable.

Now, this political polemic may appear to be a random rebellion against last week’s Extremely Rare All Beer Blog but there is are several connections to beer. First, Malthouse will be hosting an Election Party in the Lounge Area [3] from 2pm today. There will be an impressive collection of New Zealand political figures, commentators and trolls each trying to outdo one other with bold predictions, obscure trivia and personal attacks.

I will not be there but that is not because I have better things to do than watch this event. My day’s schedule appears to be “write about beer, watch UK elections while drinking beer, then attend local professional wrestling event.” [4] I will be watching the election at the British High Commission in Wellington and even that has a powerful personal beer connection.

Back in 1997, I watched Tony Blair sweep to power at the same venue. At the time, I was a young researcher and, while saddened by the utter collapse of the Tory vote, the concept of a Blair premiership seemed exciting, they served mini fish and chips wrapped in the Sun newspaper, and I had my first taste of Skol Super Strength Lager. The beer selection was surprisingly un-British, consisting mainly of Corona and Steinlager and DB Export. The one beer from Albion was Skol Super, a 9% “bus stop” beer in a 500ml can. [5] It was tacky and awful, immediately becoming my first Guilty Beer Pleasure.

It was also the beer that I wrote my first ever beer review about. Yes, some time later, in protest at the beer heresy that was the (thankfully short lived) DB Hopper fruit infused lager range I wrote a review of Skol on the grounds it was the manliest beer I had tried. After all, it sponsored the world’s darts championship. This review appeared on luke.co.nz – an early influential Kiwi beer site run by Luke Nicholas from Epic. In yet another Byzantine twist, my later scorching review of DB Hopper “beers” became one of the most popular pieces I have ever written.

So, now that the link between beer, British Elections and Malthouse have been established, it is time to move onto the core of this week’s article where I attempt to match each of the political party leaders to a UK beer or cider currently available at Malthouse. My university lecturers are going to be so proud of this blog. 

The current Prime Minister is Conservative leader David Cameron who went to Oxford University. He is a little bit dorky but is actually one of the few political leaders in Britain to have overall positive ratings with the public, probably for getting them through the Global Financial Crisis comparatively well. [6] That (relative) popularity took a serious blow when he accidentally seemed to forget key details about the soccer/football team he has claimed to passionately support his entire life. The final Tory party election event took place in a stock yard with lots of cows being loaded and unloaded into trucks. As a trained political scientist, I’m not convinced that is an auspicious sign.

Beer match: Fullers London Pride because like David it is English, spends lots of time in London and is pretty proud. London Pride is rightly a world famous beer known for a firm malt base and a dancing trio of English hops over the top.

Leading the Opposition is Ed Milliband who should not be mistaken for his brother David Milliband or his brother from another mother Ed Balls. Ed also went to Oxford University before becoming a researcher and confidant of Gordon Brown. I’ve been a researcher but I’ve never been a friend of Gordon. There has been a wave of autobiographies from noteworthy participants in the Blair/Brown era of politics in Britain. The quality of writing and scholarship varies wildly but virtually across the political spectrum Gordon Brown is portrayed as a manipulative, paranoid and unpleasant character. Only one biographer appears to like him – a Mr Gordon Brown of Scotland who likens him to an infallible political saint who looks dead sexy in a kilt
Beer Match: Wild Beer Modus Operendi which is described as “rich, smooth and full bodied” – that’s a perfect description of Eddy baby. It is an old ale which blends complexity from barrel aging (almost as complex as Labour’s tax policy) while the use of wild yeast brings in unpredictable elements. Hey, commissioning an eight and half foot stone slab and carving some vague policy promises on them is anything but predictable.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is Deputy Prime Minister and bucks the trend having attended Cambridge University. [7] I had always thought of him as a rather earnestly dull fellow but my research (ironically on Wikipedia – the bane of the academic but the gift that goes on giving for time pressed bloggers) unearthed this great story which deserves a far wider audience – as a 16-year-old exchange student in Munich, he and a friend drunkenly set fire to what he called “the leading collection of cacti in Germany”. [8]

Beer Match: Young’s Double Chocolate Stout because when not setting fire to German flora he still looks like a little boy who has had his chocolates nicked by the dastardly Conservatives.

One of the most high profile candidates is the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage. The First Past the Post electoral means they may poll around 10% but get 2 out of more than 600 seats. UKIP voters are disillusioned with pretty much everything. The party was born out of anti-European Union sentiments but that has now morphed into largely anti-immigration hysteria. It has, in one memorable line, become the “I’m annoyed party”

Beer match: BrewDog Cocoa Psycho which is “infused with coffee beans during the boil and after fermentation and aged on cacao nibs, vanilla pods and toasted oak chips. This opulent whirl of chocolate, coffee, dark malts and hops even rivals the most colourful of imperial Faberge eggs. Originally created to celebrate the Russian Royal Family, this is a fitting tribute with which to toast your own empire.” Farage is a big fan of the British Empire and, like him, this beer is a bit odd but some people apparently like it.

There is another beer connection here. One of the candidates against Farage is comedian Al Murray who is best known for playing The Pub Landlord (“and a glass of white wine for the lady”). He set up the not so subtle Free United Kingdom Party (FUKP) for the general election with the sole intention of standing against Farage, a man who is photographed enjoying a pint far more than all the other leaders combined. Because he does not live in the Kent seat of Thanet South, UKIP accused him of “parachuting in” just to ridicule them. [9] Murray basically confirmed this when the opening event of his challenge saw him jumping out of an aeroplane and literally parachuting into the electorate.

The UK Greens are led by Natalie Bennett who is Australian born but no big fan of the Land Down Under, saying “I can’t imagine going there by choice”. She was previously a journalist and blogger, and is standing in Holborn and St Pancras, an electorate which sounds worryingly like a disease. 

Drinks match: Gwynt y Ddraig Farmhouse Cloudy Scrumpy. This cider reminds me of the Green’s economic policies – not clear, harks back to a simple age, and is really hard to pronounce.

Finally, there is the resurgent Scottish National Party which is likely to sweep Scotland. Certainly, bits like Glasgow need a good clean. Despite clichéd reports in some foreign media, the party is not led by William Wallace, Sean Connery or even Alex Salmond. The leader is Nicola Sturgeon who is also First Minister of Scotland. She was the sole candidate for SNP leader after Alex Salmond stood down after the failed YES Independence campaign which many activists still believe was rigged.

The SNP is now third biggest party in Britain by membership after the Lib Dems suffered the traditional curse of the minor coalition partner (just ask New Zealand First, United, the Maori Party, Act, the Alliance and the Progressives…) The irony of the SNP holding the balance of power in a nation that they wanted to leave has been commented on by far better pundits and writers than I. Beer match: Orkney Dark Island Old Ale because lots of devastating raids were launched from Orkney to attack the mainland and the beer is dark, unexpected, strong and just a little bit cold.

There are more British beers and ciders (even cyders) from BrewDog, Innes & Gunn, Kernel, Hawkshead, Fullers, Aspall, Young’s and Guinness. I’m pretty sure Colin the Handsome yet Softly Spoken Scottish Malthouse Proprietor also has a supply of big cans of Tennent’s Lager but that may be for his “personal consumption.”

Next time, we drink to PJ O’Rourke, legendary American satirist and personal literary idol. PJ has been posting his thoughts on the British election on the BBC World Service website where he promises to “shine the cold clear light of complete ignorance on the issues.” Trust me, you are not a true political tragic until you have laughed at PJ O’Rourke and Boris Johnson discussing the low quality of dog turds in 1971 England (at around 20:00 in the first show below).

[1] My skin is so pale that redheads laugh at me. This backs up my father’s genealogical research which shows generations of Scottish ancestors apart from one English great-grandmother who we do not talk about at parties.

[2] Somewhere, David Shearer cries.

[3] Known affectionately as the “Porno Lounge.” Just ask the hard-working staff for a full explanation why.

[4] Even by my own high standards, this totally counts as “A Good Day.” The phrase “A Good Day” is (c) Amy Shand, author, and Clarence, inspirational role model.

[5] The designation “bus stop” is because that is where the beer is usually drunk in its native land. Here, it is an imported beer at $5 a can.

[6] Well, compared to Greece. Honestly, I’m surprised the Tories did not run a campaign based on an “at least we are doing better than Greece” platform.

[7] I’m Cambridge educated meself – but that was a couple of terms at Cottenham primary school aged 5 before moving to New Zealand.

[8] Sounds like an exaggeration for insurance purposes.

[9] Probably as easy as it sounds.


Neil Miller
Beer Writer
Beer and Brewer Magazine
Cuisine Magazine
TheShout Magazine
New Zealand Liquor News Magazine


PJ O’Rourke “Your Ridiculous Election” Part 1 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02p4651
PJ O’Rourke “Your Ridiculous Election” Part 2 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02pn9cc
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Neil Miller on Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/#!/beerlytweeting