As with anything in life when a pleasure turns into an obsession, or even an addiction, then it surely is no longer a pleasure. Most open-minded beer drinkers like to sample something new now and again, and this particularly applies when visiting a different part of the country or somewhere overseas. Part of the joy of visiting beer festivals is to do just that; pick out a few beers which catch your interest or you may have read about before and see what they are really like.
However, there are groups of individuals who go along to festivals with the sole aim of only sampling beers they have never tried before. How do they know they haven’t drank these beers before, I hear you ask? Well they keep lists; often incredibly long and detailed lists, the like of which would not be out of place in a catalogue of museum artefacts.
If you don’t believe me, read what one ticking, or “scooping" website has to say on the matter "What is scooping/ticking/beer bashing? Basically, it is the drinking - and more importantly the writing down - of all "new" beers drunk; all beers thus "scooped" are put onto a master list (either paper based or, more commonly in these technological days, onto a PDF or suchlike) which can be well over 10,000 different beers in total, and the scooper carries this around with him to ascertain if any beers he encounters on his travels are "required" by him.”
As I said at the beginning, I’m sure we have all encountered such people over the years, but a couple of years ago I was reminded of "ticking" when I bumped into a character I know at the White Cliffs Winter Ale Festival, down in Dover. I won't reveal his real name, in case he's reading this blog, so let's call him Norman. Now ever since I first knew him I realised Norman was an inveterate ticker of beers, but it wasn't until my conversation with him, at the festival, that I realised just how serious he was over his "hobby".
Norman informed me of exactly how many beers at the festival he hadn’t tried and thus needed to tick or "scoop". I wasn’t really interested and even though my glazed over expression might have conveyed this to a normal person; Norman carried on, oblivious to my increasing boredom and was soon in full swing. It was almost as though I wasn’t there as he continued giving me chapter and verse about his hobby/obsession. Apparently the Holy Grail of beer ticking is the Egham Beer Festival, held at the town’s United Services Club. The club runs three festivals each year and prides itself on sourcing beers which are either new, or which are or limited in their availability.
Proof of this can be found on the festival website, where the following comment sums it all up. “We cannot think where one would find so many tickers to meet at one time as at Egham. We have just spent three very enjoyable days at Egham and have met so many Scoopgen scoopers from all over the country each day.”
Now you or I could probably turn up at any beer festival up and down the country and find plenty of beers we hadn’t sampled before, and with the massive increase in brewery numbers over the last four to five years, no doubt there would be breweries which we would not have heard of either. We would be pleased with this and would enjoy sampling a few of these new beers, along with renewing our acquaintance with a few old favourites. Not so your ticker. Armed with his notebook and master list he, and it is invariably the male of the species, will approach the event with military precision.
This brings us nicely back to Norman and his obsession with “ticking” new beers. I had known him through his involvement with my local CAMRA branch, and back in the days when I had my own off-licence, I remember him popping in from time to time to see if I had any unusual bottled beers in stock (BCA's naturally).
On more than one occasion I was able to assist him with his quest, and as a show of gratitude on his part, he presented me a weighty hand-bound tome produced by an organisation calling itself the Guild of British Beer Samplers or GOBBS* for short. This was a real anorak's bible, as not only did it purport to list every cask ale available in the country, but it included many that were no longer available. It even went as far to include special "one-off" brews, and listed separately many beers where there had been tweaks to the recipe or a slight change in gravity. In short whilst it was incredibly anal, someone, at some stage, must have sat down and compiled all this (useless?) information
I thanked Norman for this gift, even though it turned out to be an edition which had just been superseded, whilst at the same time wondering what use such a publication would ever be to me. Now don't get me wrong I am as interested in new breweries and new beers as the next beer enthusiast, but not to the in-depth analysis afforded by this publication.
Compared to some in the “ticking” community, local man “Norman” is a mere amateur. An article on “beer ticking”, published in the Publican Magazine in 2008, featured an interview with Birmingham based “Mick the Tick” who, back then claimed to have tasted 33,000 different beers. His friend, Brian ‘The Whippet’ Moore, beat this score, with a phenomenal 40,000 ticks.
For Mick, what started out in 1975 as a quest to visit every pub in a local guide, whilst on holiday in the Isle of Wight, turned into a full-blown obsession when his long-suffering wife bought him a copy of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide. “I saw the list of beers in the back and thought I’d try to drink as many as I could,” says Mick, who had dabbled in train spotting and plane spotting as a teenager “before women came along.”
As ticking grew with the growth of micro brewing and the increasing numbers of beers., some tickers started “bottling” beers so they could scoop many more than they could drink on the spot; taking them away to consume later. The kit required for this is some empty 250ml plastic pop bottles, a funnel – for transferring the beer from the glass to the bottle, and some labels.
Some tickers think bottling is "cheating" as it means an end to "capacity" limits at beer festivals, but others take things a stage further by forming “bottling cartels”. This involves a group of tickers getting together and deciding to bottle for each other. Each member of the cartel would then go to a different festival, or city, and bottle beers on behalf of other members. They would then arrange to meet up, as soon as possible, for a “bottle swap”.
Final word (for now), on the subject.
How to spot a ticker in your local pub
Appears during the day
Arrives on a bus
Arrives with a rucksack/trolley
Brings Panda Pops bottles (or similar) plus funnel
Studies full range of cask beers before ordering
*GOBBS stands for Guild of British Beer Samplers, a tickers’ organisation formed in the late 1980s. It exists mainly to produce the GOBBS Guide, which aims to list every cask beer in the country.