The art of beer or never judge a drink by its cover

A friend of mine, who likes the odd pint from time to time, and I were discussing the relative merits of beer bottle labels  and pump clips and the effect they have, if any, upon the potential buyer. He is a design and marketing bod so was looking at the subject from that angle. I was looking at it through the bottom of a glass.

Nun Small Web viewThe internet, being what it is, very quickly threw up a few articles on the subject and we looked at a  piece from the guardian that, not surprisingly concentrated on the ridiculous and sexist and held them up for ridicule and in turn this received some of the usual comments one expects from the below the line’ I don’t watch Mrs Brown’s Boys because it doesn’t have subtitles’ brigade; ‘typical beer drinkers’ ‘lowest common denominator’ etc and while it easy to dismiss such self-aggrandising sanctimonious tossers it has to be admitted that some of the labels presented were a bit ‘heavy-metal cliché porn masquerading as 6th Form Art project’ with buxom wenches held captive by snakes and chains or to be more precise knickerless nuns (not to be confused with Nicholas Parsons) who have lost a contact lens.

Drawings of buxom lasses whose lascivious smile seems to indicate that if you drink enough of the product then you will get to have sex with someone like that. Been drinking beer or over 30 years – let me tell you friend, not going to happen.

From a spot of ad hoc research among my friends who like a nice bottle of ale but would never consider themselves connoisseurs they are quite happy to admit that, to them, by and large most beers of a genre taste much of a muchness. As a result of this lack of fine distinction they will select from the supermarket shelf on the basis of how a bottle looks. I am sure that my friends are not the singularity and that this must happen all over the country every day so why do so many breweries insist on decorating and promoting their hand crafted ales with such bloody awful labels and pump clips?

What is the main problem with these labels? the issues range from being dull, puerile or just plain offensive but worse than that; some of them are just plain naff.

The general public’s perception of beer drinkers hasn’t moved as fast as the quality of the output of micro-brewers and, to most, the image of a real ale drinker that springs to their mind is the beardy-weirdy CAMRA fanatic slavering over hops and a pint of flat yellow witches widdle that was brewed in a shed in Tadcaster. The use of appalling, badly conceptualised and designed labels does not help.

The modern consumer is constantly bombared with images and vast sums of money are spent on perfecting the brand, look and image of all products. It doesnt matter whether we are taking lasagne, ferrari or ale, it has to be appealling to all the senses and that includes sight.

Top Totty - Sexist and Naff

Top Totty – Sexist and Naff

We all know of the ‘Top Totty’ that was removed from the bar in the House of Commons for being sexist but apart from that it just looks so uninspired and you have to think ‘well, that must have taken them minutes to come up with that; how much effort was put into the beer ?’ this may not be fair but people buy by instinct if it makes then feel good about themselves and then rationalise it later, equally they DON’T buy on instinct if their natural instinct is going be that they feel a knob ordering a pint of ‘Top Totty’, result; they are not going to buy it. Oh and I can imagine you can kiss goodbye to the majority of potential female purchasers.

Yeah right - that's not going to happen.

Yeah right – that’s not going to happen.

Another issue I have is the awful puns that sound like chants from the back of a rugby bus.

Not wishing to name names but Skinners who make a smashing drink, particularly enjoy the Heligan Honey, have some labels that while not the kind to bring on the end of the world, do themselves no favours with bottles labelled up with such cringe-inducing titles as ‘Ginger Tosser’ with suitably unappealing labels. I know this is only me talking but I can’t be the only one who, as both ginger and a tosser, is put off by the slightly puerile nature of the name and label.

Why, just why?

Why, just why?

People are going to be put off by a label that looks like this but people would not be put buying something with a stylish, eye-catching design with the same product inside. It is some kind of ‘outsider-art’ perversity that makes brewers want to alienate potential customers.

Now I not advocating that all small brewers just set their sights on design award-winning labels at the expense of the quality of their beers but would it hurt to try and produce a bottle that you don’t feel like Sid the Sexist or Finnbar Saunders as you hold it in your hand ?

There are some really nice well designed bottle labels out there. The York Brewery range have a singular theme that is understated yet stylish.

Terrier_SmallGhost_SmallThis is not provincial snobbery because I happen to live in Yorkshire I just feel that the labels set out clearly what you are getting and look good when doing it.  This is what a label is meant to do.

So what do you think? am I missing the point and are labels irrelevant compared to the contents or should the bottle and it’s contents be viewed as an overall package that is sought out by the end consumer not only on the quality of the product but the ‘feel-good’ factor engendered by the look of the product? Please, let me know.


A fine selection

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Those we have loved and to those we are indifferent.

Been too long my friends, it has been too long. The everyday life of a working solicitor, loving husband and doting father to two cats has, while not kept me from drinking (quite the opposite) it has stopped me from putting thoughts to screen.

For those of you who may be interested in life beyond Ale, I played at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds last Saturday night with a few other bands and a fine night had by all.

Come to The Tavern

Come to The Tavern

If you are ever in the area check the Chemic; a nice old proper pub that has good guest ales from time to time with live music of some form on most nights. There is something perfect about the combination of live music and beer. In fact watching or playing music is one of the few past-times that you can actually have that is not adversely affected by drinking. You can’t have a few pints while playing 5-a-side or performing ‘ The Mousetrap’ with the Wortley players.

Old Hooky

Old Hooky, great with NY underground (music not mass transportation system)

Speaking of music and beer; in preparation of the blubfest that is comic relief (wasn’t Mrs Brown feckin’ awful?) I made one of my chillis while listening to the best of the Velvet Underground and supping on a really nice Hook Norton Old Hooky; the HN website advises that it is great with Steak and Ale Pie and Lamb dishes; I would add chillis and Lou Reed to that mix.

It had a really good round flavour to it that suited the rich chilli, I know some prefer a lighter crisper beer with chilli but I want to taste what I am drinking as well as eating and a light IPA I found gets swamped by the full-on flavours in the dish. Also it was throwing down hailstones and it all felt a bit too wintery for anything too light.

Followed it up with a York Brewery Centurion’s Ghost which is becoming a firm favourite; it smells incredible and has a real satisfying aftertaste that is not too bitter. More of a winter beverage but hey; see above weather report.

Heligan Honey - tastes a lot better than it looks

Heligan Honey – tastes a lot better than it looks

And last but not entirely least, just prior to the cringe-fest that was David Walliams and Alan Carr I finished off with a Heligan Honey from Skinners. Nice honey smell as you would hope but didn’t sit too well on top of previous beers and big bowl of chilli. Probably best to again try when the swallows have returned and the mayfly is on the air.  Have to say and I know we should not judge a book by its cover but the label is a bit old hat and what confused me more was that it seems to have been imported from a Canadian company ???

That’s all for now folks. Would welcome any feedback on anything written.



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Our day out

Alas and alack drinking ale is no more than a hobby of mine and so, like so many of us I must labour to earn my crust. When not beerfairying I am a solicitor running his own practice and, again like so many self-employed, days off are few and far between. It was, therefore with much anticipation that me and my good mate Steve set off on our bikes along the Leeds Liverpool canal towpath for a jolly boys day in the saddle. Pausing only for a coffee and mars bar at the conveniently located Toby’s Tearoom we headed onto Saltaire and the Boathouse inn.

Saltaire Blonde - goes great with cycling

Saltaire Blonde – goes great with cycling

Nicely renovated with great views over the river and the park it serves a fin pint of Saltaire Blonde; being sensible cyclists it was just the one pint before heading home with  only several impromptu toilet stops to slow us in – what goes in must come out.

Having showered and eaten it was off to the Liberty Bell, a Leeds Brewery pub for a pint of Yorkshire Gold however it being a Friday night it was a little bit too full of people talking too loudly while throwing back their heads and laughing too much. Sorry, that sounds terrible doesnt it but hey my Friday night too.

Moorhouse's Pride of Pendle

Moorhouse’s Pride of Pendle

So a short walk later we found ourselves in The Grove; I always feel like an extra in Life on Mars in the pub. That is a compliment, a pub so untouched by the hand of time that it is only the lack of a fug of cigarette smoke that reminds you that it 2013.

Against our better judgment though it may have been the overall feeling of bonhomie brought about by a couple of pints of Moorhouses Pride of Pendle that we risked a quid and went into the back room for folk night. Best £1 I have ever spend; not a huge fan of folk music but something pleasant about being sat in a room lit by candles listening to people sing songs that were old when my grandparents grandparents were born has a very soothing quality possibly best summed up by Steve, not usually the most philanthropic of folk, when he said ‘ I want to hug everyone’.

And I won a harmonica on a chain in the raffle …. which was nice.

So thanks to the Grove, Moorhouses and the folk singers of olde Leeds towne.

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Saturday nights alright for pinting.

A trip to the Leeds Brewery pub, the Brewery Tap, on the road up to Leeds Station is always going to be exciting for a newbie beerhead like myself. I have had a couple of pints in the Midnight Bell, another of the Leeds Brewery pubs, in the past but only when I had the car so limited chance to sample what was on offer.

Saturday there was no car and a pocketful of notes, always a recipe for a good time.

Yorkshire Gold from Leeds Brewery

Yorkshire Gold from Leeds Brewery

Started off with a couple of pints of Yorkshire Gold which went down very well and, with a little bit of cunning and overtly rude hovering we managed to secure a table and seats; quite an achievement as the place was filling up nicely. On the technical side it is made with chinook hops that according to the beer advocate, has:

A high alpha acid hop with a wonderful herbal, almost smoky character when used as an aromatic during the last few minutes of the boil when dry hoping. Excellent for hopping American-style Pale Ales, especially those brewed to higher gravities. (alpha acid: 12.0-14.0% / beta acid: 3.0-4.0%)

I am not really up to speed with alpha acid but it does make for a damm fine pint.

By way of variance and purely for research purposes I tried a Leodis Wheat beer and, must say, not really my cup of tea or pint of beer.  This is, it seems, the stuff they brew on site and it didn’t seem to sit well. The Leeds Brewery website describes it as ‘very drinkable’ maybe, but not by me. So it was back onto the Gold.

As far as city centre pubs go it was pleasant enough, a bit noisy and there was a group of lads who had all just finished the ale trail who seemed to come dressed as Mumford and Sons posher brother for some reason known only to themselves. Maybe I am getting old but I prefer to talk rather than shout when I go out for the night.

That said it was a lot better than a lot of the Leeds City Centre pubs; there was no-one you had to avoid eye contact with or tattoos that had been done by a dyslexic monkey and there was a noticeable lack of women weeing in the grid outside which is always a plus.

Fishfinger butty - great with beer

Fishfinger butty – great with beer

Overall you could do a lot worse. Then home for fish-finger sandwiches which has recently become my post session supper of choice.


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When a man is tired of London …..

Persuaded by my younger brother to accompany him and his wife and youngest son to join them on a trip to our great capital I thought ‘ ah a chance to sample the cockney ales’.

Never has it been harder for a man to get a pint !

Some kind followers on Twitter (@mybeerfairy) made recommendations for places to get a decent pint or two but didn’t bargain on the over-bearing dominance of a fussy eating 14 year old who, for some reason, didn’t relish the thought of an afternoon beer tasting so it was a riverboat and bus tour for me; if I saw the Houses of Parliament once I must have seen them a dozen times – I am assuming there is only the one H of P ?.

Holden's Temple of Love - not a session beer.

Holden’s Temple of Love – not a session beer.

Managed to squeeze in a couple of pints of Holden’s Temple of Love at the St Bride’s Tavern in Blackfriars (a very short walk from the hotel) in between shifts and grew quite partial to the impact it had upon my mood. A good solid pint that lingered on the palate.

Not sure about the dodgy sisters of mercy reference and rock-style clip but as was with my Brother from the Mersey and now living in Leeds it seemed churlish not to give it a bash.

I believe that, being under 5% ABV, it is technically a session beer  however I would recommend that you don’t have 4 pints after you have only had a 6″ subway and the pickings of your wife’s plate to eat all day. Especially true if you have an early checkout the next day although the all-you-cram-down-your-throat-without-being-sick-or-thrown-out breakfast did help my overall equilibrium.

Other than that there was a fine pint of Leeds Brewery Monsoon IPA at the Blackfriars, I know from experience that this is a good session ale, unfortunately this was not that experience and a mere one pint later I was back on the treadmill that is a short break in dat der London. 

Wychwood's hobgoblin

Wychwood’s hobgoblin

Other than that there was what seemed like the most expensive pint ever in the Punch and Judy in Covent Garden; one limb and my first born for a so-so pint of Hobgoblin but the barman was a jolly fellow which took the sting of things (a little) and the bit of Yorkshire pub I pinched from Mrs BF’s plate was very nice.

Finally, a recommendation for the Tipperary on Fleet street that seemed to have been dropped in from the late 1870’s. A decent pint of Wainwright’s (you can take the boy out of Yorskhire etc) but more importantly they were playing back to back classic Who songs – a long time since I have heard Pictures of Lily and Happy Jack in a pub and refused to leave until the last chords of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ or that song from CSI Miami as it is known to some of us rang out. A fitting end to a long, long day in London.

When a man is tired of London it is time to stand up all the way home on the train due to a power out.

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In praise of Saltaire Cascade Pale Ale

ImageRapidly rising to the top of my list of favourites and the bottom of my glass is the above named  bottled ale. A few bottles on Friday night added to it’s rising status although it did impact on my ability to answer most of the questions on Ian Dury on Mastermind. Fortunately I was sat on my sofa and not in the black chair.

In the warm sunlight of Sunday afternoon as I type this closer inspection of the bottle states that it was awarded the SIBA National Winner in 2010. A worthy choice and one that will no doubt be echoed by many an enthusiast. 

A quick look at the Saltaire Brewery website states that it goes well with: Curry, spicy Asian cuisine, stir fry, and fish and chips. I would add that it goes well with other bottles of the same and a bag of Seabrooks Ready Salted and fish finger sandwiches – not a great night for cooking in the BeerFairy household but hey it was a Friday night.

On a tasting basis I would say it was light and a good session ale with minimal hangover which, lets face it, is all I was really looking for.

Off to London on the morrow for a few day’s r ‘n’ r with wife and brother and family so will have a sample of crafty cockney ales but my heart remains in Yorkshire.

Watch this space for further ramblings


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My Beer Fairy – the blogs

In the coming weeks and months and god willing years I will be setting out my thoughts on the beers I drink; a relative newbie to this area of drinking I am hoping to increase my knowledge of brewing and tasting as I go so if I seem a little naive or gauche at any time please forgive me.

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