Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Beer Ticking

I am certain that most beer lovers will have come across so-called “tickers” at some stage in their drinking careers, but for the un-initiated, “Beer ticking” is the practice of keeping your own recorded history of every different beer that passes your lips. It’s a simple pursuit, rather like train spotting or stamp collecting, but infinitely more pleasurable." Or is it?

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 DoverI 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.”

Now I don’t know whether either of these characters are still with us, as given the amount of beer they must have shifted over the years (even if it is all half pints), one could be forgiven for thinking their livers, and other vital organs, might not  be in the best of states. But for a further insight into this strangely obsessive fraternity, look out for a film made in 2010, entitled “BEERTICKERS: beyond the ale.” You can see a trailer from the film on this Youtube link.
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

Drinks halves

Makes notes

 *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.


Curmudgeon said...

I always think these people completely miss the point of both drinking beer and visiting pubs.

Charlie said...

In a semi-related way I feel the same way about beer and blogging. Now whenever I drink *anything* someone will say to me 'aren't you going to take a photo?' or 'aren't you going to make notes?' Talk about sucking the fun out of it! No, I'm not tempted by the ticks.

oldgeezer said...

A rather purile attack on scoopers.I would think we are more open minded about beer and other drinkers choices than you seem to be.We also get to drink the beers you can only read about.cheers

Paul Bailey said...

Not an attack on Scoopers at all, oldgeezer; just a few observations. However, I do agree with Mudge’s comment about them missing the point of beer drinking and pub going.

Each to their own though, but the point is, do you drink a beer because it’s well-crafted, full of character, tasty and enjoyable, or do you drink it for the sole purpose of adding another, mediocre, and never to be sampled again beer to your list?

Charlie, you could make the same observation about all journalistic writings. Photos ARE sometimes useful, but if they are just of a glass of beer, they don’t convey much to the reader.

John Clarke said...

I have to say this comes across as rather ungenerous and mean minded.

Paul Bailey said...

Wait until you read my follow-up post on the subject, John. You might not be so quick to judge, or call me “mean-minded” then!

John Clarke said...

What may or may not be in your follow up post is neither here nor there to be honest. This post currently stands on its own and to me at any rate it does come across an ungenerous and mean minded.

Curmudgeon said...

I think you're being a bit po-faced here, John. I'm sure over the years you've poked a bit of gentle fun at tickers, just as with trainspotters or anyone else with narrow, obsessive interests.

Looking back through the archives, I see I noticed the phenomenon and made many of the same points back in 1994 ;-)

And just think of all the jokes that have been made about beer hipsters and craft wankers!

John Clarke said...

Sorry Mudgie I have to disagree - your post took issue with some of the more extreme behaviour I think but what we have here really is unnecessary - and certainly goes beyond poking gentle fun I think. Let's see what the supposedly redeeming follow up post is like.

Gillhalfpint said...

Mick the Tick and Brian Moore still with us, although I only see Brian around the beer scene these days. Enjoyed reading your article.

WestBromEL said...

Am i missing the point here, surely the main reason we attend beer festivals is to sample ales we've not tried before? I'm not a ticker/scooper but I see no point in going to a fest to drink local ales that I could happily sup just up the road at a cheaper price, probably in better condition and not have to pay an entrance fee for the privilege, unless you try a new beer how on earth would you know if it was an earth shattering brew or not? Some peoples goal in life is to own a £1m house or a Maserati, others have less loftier ambitions, like visiting every football ground, play a round of golf on all the major courses, writing blogs on beer & pubs (that's got the attention of at least three people on here!) following their county cricket team around all summer, ride on all the UK heritage steam railways and even attempt to taste as many different beers as possible, it would be a sad day if we all had to limit our interest in a subject to the narrow parameters designated by someone else, that said it was an interesting read, thanks Paul.

Sat In A Pub said...

Mick's a lovely guy who really did enjoy his beer: I think ticking just followed naturally. Sadly he's not been in the best of health in recent years, but I wouldn't rush to blame it on the ticking. There are plenty of heavier drinkers still going strong.

oldgeezer said...

We can only guess if a beer is tasty and will be enjoyable but the days of hovering up ever beer are long gone.Now with such a great choice of brewers and beers in London we can pick the best(guessing of course)from previous experience rather than drink the same old beers from your local brewer.

Paul Bailey said...

Just to reignite the debate, and this comment is particularly aimed at Mr Clarke, I can’t say there’s anything I disagree with in Mudge’s 20 year old article about “beer spotters”. “A narrow-minded fanatical pursuit of novelty for its own sake, ignoring any considerations of pub atmosphere, standards of service or beer quality,” just about sums the whole scene up, and this synopsis is no more or no less extreme than anything contained in my own post.

The decanting of beer into plastic bottles is the bit I really don’t get. Imagine going to a top-notch restaurant, ordering a gourmet meal, and then asking for a container so you could take the food home for consumption later! Yeah right! You wouldn’t dream of treating good food like this, so why do it to good beer?

The truth is these people aren’t really interested in the quality of the beer, or how it tastes; they wouldn’t mis-treat it in this fashion if they were. The whole thing is just a numbers game, which is fine if you’re into that sort of thing. However, if this really floats your boat, don’t go around pretending to be a beer connoisseur.

One other point worth picking up on, WestBromEL quite rightly states, “I see no point in going to a fest to drink local ales that I could happily sup just up the road at a cheaper price, probably in better condition and not have to pay an entrance fee for the privilege.”

Well it’ reported that there are people who regularly attend the Great British Beer Festival and do just that! There are reputedly groups who will quite happily spend all day propping up their favourite brewery bar; whether it’s Shep’s, Batemans or Charles Wells, and limit their consumption to just the products of their chosen brewery. The fact there is a choice of over 200 different beers at the festival is completely lost on them.

Horses for courses, of course, but it certainly is a strange old world!

oldgeezer said...

I have never bottled or even drank a beer that has been bottled from a cask but I would think that if you fill the bottle to the top and put it in your fridge that it would stay in better condition for a few days than cask beer that has been exposed to oxygen.Maybe these new off licences that allow you to fill a container with cask beer are actually getting it wrong and should be directing you to the nearest real ale pub.Maybe bottling scoopers were ahead of the times nay even trend setters. cheers