ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Who kept the Dogs out?

I'm still counting the days to the GBBF, and there aren't too many of them remaining now, though judging by the overblown reaction from some to the news that Brewdog won't be there, I'm starting to wonder if I'll have Earl's Court all to myself!

It goes like this: Brewdog, provocatively book bar space at the festival, then get involved in an argument whether the beer they'll be supplying is real or keg, and whether their keg beer can actually technically qualify as real ale anyway. They withhold payment and continue arguing right up until the deadline for getting the floorplan printed, then suddenly stop arguing and pay up - just after the final deadline passes. Possibly deliberately so they can whinge about CAMRA.

There has been some thoughtful analysis and calls for common sense in the beery blogosphere this week, not to mention a tranche of ridiculous 'outrage' from the Brewdog fanboys who can't see beyond the hype.

Will they be missed?
'I was only going to go to the GBBF because of Brewdog. I shan't go now, and I'll tear up my CAMRA membership card for good measure!!!' 

Hmm, right.

If those expressing these views are actual people, as opposed to Brewdog's PR stooges, I don't think they'll be any great loss to either the festival or CAMRA anyway. I mean, who goes to the biggest beer festival in the world just to drink the products of one brewery?!?

Maybe they're afraid of the truth - after all, the ridiculous inference that only Brewdog make good beer and all the real ale in the country is bland and boring would be immediately disproven after about five minutes at the GBBF. 

Storm in a pint glass

With hundreds of beers available, in all manner of styles, including over 100 American real ales with some uncompromising hop monsters amongst them, Brewdog would struggle to really stand out on the merits of their beer alone. Yes, there are a ton of other folks making good beer, and doing so without making a fuss about it too. Good beer was good for years before Mssrs Watt and Dickie came along.
The big hoo-hah over how their beers are dispensed is of their making. We all know they're capable of brewing excellent cask beers, so to book space at the biggest real ale festival in the world, and then boast proudly on their website that they'll be selling their keg beers there (whilst, at the same time, telling the organisers that the beers will actually meet the definition of 'real ale') is an act purely designed to draw attention to themselves and ridicule CAMRA - much like most things that Brewdog do, really.

Brewdog keg beers are among the best beers to be kegged, and indeed blur the boundary between real ale and old-style filtered, pasteurised keg, but they have a very duplicitous strategy of promoting this kind of dispense as two different things, depending on who they're attempting to win over. 

Any kind of association with CAMRA seems to be anathaema to their marketing strategy, but the London scene is clearly important to them - if they're going to use a beer festival to draw attention to themselves, they might as well do so in the capital, I guess. 

But there is a risk that this simply drives them further down the path of wrongheadedness and eventually they might stop brewing real ale altogether. Which would be a loss.

Brewdog Camden is set to open this Summer and Meantime (like Brewdog, a small brewery that focus generally on keg) are to begin contract-brewing Brewdog beers in Greenwich for their London outlets. The Camden bar will be their first tied house outside Scotland, not that they use terms like ‘tied house’ – and unless they depart radically from the formula of their bars in Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, it will be keg-only. Worrying.

The alliance with Meantime is unsurprising, and as well as opening up most profitable distribution channels in the capital, it begins to make a case for ‘craft keg’ being a legitimate movement in this country rather than simply the maverick actions of one brewery. Add in Zero Degrees who have always been 99% keg and Thornbridge, who are doing more and more keg, and they’ve got a bit of momentum.

But it won't carry 'craft keg' into Earls Court, at least not this year. They didn't pay up, and they're not going to be there. As publicity stunts go, this is pretty unimaginative thus far, although we have yet to see if they'll do anything while the actual festival is running.

It’s not inconceivable that once they've milked the publicity from 'getting cancelled', they'll host a competing ‘alternative’ festival somewhere nearby - as they’ve recently done when boycotting Scottish CAMRA festivals.

I wondered if maybe they'd set up their bar, serving only keg beer and use the event to get involved in a fracas with the organisers, or they could have set up but served no beer at all ‘because CAMRA won’t let us serve it they way we want to’, then given out fliers with vouchers for free beer at the Brewdog Camden bar on condition that customers left the festival immediately.

One truly outrageous option would have been for them to get back to doing what they do best and use their GBBF bar to showcase their beers in cask form so everybody can enjoy them... clearly that's way too much to have hoped for though.

Publicity stunts aside, there is a clear division of opinion between those who see the emergence of the likes of Brewdog and Meantime – decent brewers but with a notable dispassion for real ale as we know it – as a threat to be campaigned against or as a wake-up call for CAMRA to redefine itself.

James Watt never did take me up on my invitation, and I'm sure he has bigger fish to fry. And, frankly, I have bigger beer to drink.

Brewdog are good, but they're not Gods, and they are reliant on publicity stunts and arguments based around logically fallacious juxtapositions.

If there was a cask Brewdog beer that I hadn't tried before at the GBBF I'd probably have had a pint. As it is, I'll have an extra pint from a fantastic American brewery instead.

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