Saturday 30 January 2021

St Peter's acquired by new owners

I am sure that many beer lovers will be familiar with Suffolk-based St Peter’s Brewery, with its distinctive oval-shaped bottles and diverse range of interesting beers. Founded in 1996, the brewery is based in former agricultural buildings alongside the historic St Peter’s Hall, in the village of St Peter South Elmham, close to the town of Bungay.

St Peter’s could be described as one of the UK's pioneering craft brewers, long before the term became fashionable, and alongside a range of “traditional” beers, such as Best Bitter, Pale Ale and Golden Ale, produce a host of other interesting beers, including porters, stout, pilsner and the odd fruit beer.

Four of the beers are available in cask form, but I don’t recall ever seeing them in this part of the country. I have enjoyed them before though, at the company’s London pub, the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell.  Most St Peter’s beers are supplied in either keg or bottled form, and although due to lock-down, it’s a while since I last ventured into a supermarket to buy beer, I am reliably informed the bottles are readily available at Waitrose.

So far, so good, but the reason I am writing about St Peter’s is the news that the company has been bought by a group of private individuals, for an undisclosed sum. This follows the decision of brewery founder, John Murphy, to retire after 23 years, during which he developed and ran the business.

Although selling St Peter’s was a difficult decision for John, he is delighted to have found a team that will continue his legacy and continue to make high quality, traditional beers. This is especially important given the loyal following St Peter's attracts, in over 20 countries.

The new owners are friends who have worked together and share a passion for beer. The team will be led by Derek Jones; a seasoned beer man with more than 20 years of global beer experience, including at Molson Coors and SABMiller. Following the announcement of the takeover, Derek said, “This is an incredibly exciting new chapter for St Peter's Brewery. The company has strong roots and a very distinctive identity. It is a powerful platform from which to grow the business into the future.”

He went on to say that John Murphy had a clear vision for the brand, and we want to build on that.” He pledged to invest in the Suffolk brewery from the outset, and to maintain quality while meeting growing demand.

So, some a positive development, coming at a time when good news is in short supply. I was alerted to the takeover, by a press release forwarded by Nikki Whiteford, who also kindly supplied the high-resolution photos used to illustrate this post.

Most are self-explanatory, whilst the final shot shows  new CEO Derek Jones toasting the deal at the Jerusalem Tavern with former owner and founder John Murphy.

Thursday 28 January 2021

Pandemic blues

It seems I am not alone, and I don’t know whether that’s a good thing, or a bad thing. If the reports are to be believed, the majority of the nation is suffering  quite badly, mentally during this third national lock-down, and much more so than was the case during the first.

I’m not sure what happened during the second shut-down, sandwiched as it was between complicated, and often inconsistent periods of restrictions, known as Tiers – no pun intended. This current incarceration though is a real bummer, especially as it coincides with two of the coldest and most miserable months of the year.

January and February aren’t brilliant, at the best of times, but at least there are warmer days to look forward to, holidays to plan and, particularly missed at the moment, cosy evenings tucked away in the comforting warmth of a local pub, enjoying a pint or two in the company of friends. There are also occasional excursions or days out to help break up the gloom and lighten one’s load.

The beginning of 2021 sees none of these welcome pattern interrupts occurring, and instead we are confined to our own homes and only allowed out for a handful of specific reasons. Exercise – that essential pick-me-up and mood enhancer, is only allowed within a prescribed radius of one’s own home, preventing people like me with a National Trail to complete, from jumping on a train and walking in a different area.

We are not supposed to meet up with family or friends, even in an outdoor setting; a totally ludicrous and unnatural state of affairs. The population, on the whole, are behaving like compliant sheep, having been sacred witless by tales of impending doom, and whilst I don’t wish to play down the seriousness of the situation, it is surely time for a more balanced approach than this soul-destroying, involuntary, self-incarceration.

There’s no escape from it though, try and behave normally and you will feel the full weight of a police state come crashing down on you, and in case you had forgotten the message, adverts assail our eyes and ears with an Orwellian “Newspeak” message. “Protect the NHS,” say the ads, when surely the role of the health service should be the other way round, and protect us?

Now I know I will be castigated for that statement, and my heart goes out to all hard-pressed healthcare staff, working on the front-line. I also fully agree we should do our utmost to contain this insidious virus, but there are ways and means. Most of us are sufficiently grown up to know we should act responsibly, without it being drummed into us by the nanny state, so please give us a break from these utterly depressing ads!

Returning now to the issue of mental health, and further explanation as to why it should be so bad during this lock-down. We have already mentioned the weather and the complete contrast with those balmy days and mild dusky evenings of early summer, sat outside in the garden enjoying an alfresco meal and a few cool glasses of beer.

Now, after ten months of on and off restrictions of varying severity, pandemic fatigue is really setting in. The media are making it worse, with tales of new variants of the virus, capable of spreading faster, and possibly less susceptible to the vaccines that are hurriedly being rolled out. There are rumours that the lock-down may have to be extended into April, and possibly beyond that – cheer us all up, why don’t you?

No wonder many of us are depressed; six in ten men, if the reports are correct, and seven in ten women. This article in the New Statesman, sums up the situation far better than I can, but basically because it is difficult to see an end to the pandemic, despite the promise of release offered by the vaccines, people have little to look forward to beyond the dull monotony that goes with cutting all but essential contact with our fellow human beings.

I’ve written before that I’m fortunate in going to work five days a week, and I can honestly say that without the contact and interaction with my workmates, I would probably have cracked long ago, but work isn’t everything. Us humans need some variety in our lives, along with the odd spot of pleasure too. Those trips out, visiting new places or re-visiting old haunts, all help lighten the mood, as do times spent with friends and family, and yet we’re made to feel bad and accused of being selfish for wanting to experience these normally acceptable pastimes and high points in our daily lives.

So, is it just me, or are others feeling the same? I strongly suspect the latter, but what can be done about it, apart from remaining patient?  Pursuits that help take our mind off things certainly help -reading, writing, exercising outdoors, or a project to get stuck into, are all good examples, as is any pursuit that brings satisfaction and a sense of achievement.

One of the best ways to prevent the gloom from taking hold is to watch or listen to news reports sparingly. We all know that bad news sells copy, which is why the media fall over themselves to serve up as much of it, as they can.  Stories become tested and facts become exaggerated, tacitly encouraged by the government to perpetuate the state of fear and keep the nation compliant.

For the sake of your mental health, give all this gloom a wide birth. Look instead for the good news, the heart-warming and encouraging stories, and that way there won’t be room inside your mind for the bad stuff. I know there are some with a vested interest in prolonging this misery for a long as possible, but remember pandemics always end one way or another, and even if the end doesn’t work out quite as we might like, this current one will end, and things will gradually get better.

Ending on a positive note, just writing this piece has helped lift my mood considerably and given me fresh encouragement to keep going and look for the light that must surely be there at the end of the tunnel.



Monday 25 January 2021

Time to bury bad news, or just Matt Hancock?

Probably in keeping with most other beer writers, I’ve run out of things to write about. With the entire hospitality sector on hold, and all but essential travel on hold, there really isn’t much of merit to report on at the moment. The story below, which I saw on an Irish news site, did catch my eye though, so read on.

The news is that all major beer distributors in the Republic, are to cease supplying beer in kegs.  This is a move to counter the rise of “shebeens” – unlicensed premises where surprisingly large numbers of people were gathering for a drop of draught beer. As well as flaunting licensing regulations, such places were obviously in contravention of the country’s strict lock-down rules, although despite the increase in risk to public health, one can’t help a grudging admiration for Irish ingenuity. 

Kegs were on sale at cash & carries, something I have seen over here in the UK, so by cutting off the supply of draught, the authorities are clamping down on these illegal drinking dens. However, what’s to stop the people behind these places from stocking up with bottles and can from the supermarket (or even the local cash & carry), instead? 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Try and make people moral, and you lay the grounds for vice.” Even if these rules are promoted under the guise of public health, people will still find a way around them, regardless of the consequences. Take a look at the USA during the era of Prohibition if you don’t believe me.

Returning to not having much to write about, I’ve been busy raking through the annals of this blog in order to find material for inclusion on my new website – Paul’s Beer Travels, in case you missed the previous article! I came up with apiece about the Rhineland city of Cologne, Köln in German, and its famous beer style known as Kölsch.

There was plenty I’d written previously that I could revamp and recycle, and if you head over to the website you can read all about Kölsch – the taste of Cologne. One reason I’d produced so much material is the fact I’ve made seven visits to the city, with five of them being for business reasons. These trips were made as part of a team manning our company trade stand at the International Dental Show (IDS).

This event, which takes place during March,  every other year, is by far the world’s largest dental show. It occupies several halls of the Köln Messe (the Cologne city exhibitions halls), and just about every company involved in the field of dentistry is normally there. Sadly, due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, we won’t be exhibiting in 2021, having wisely taken the decision back in October, to cancel our space.

This year would have represented my final IDS, so the cancellation is particularly sad for me, but it is nothing compared to the impact the loss of tens of thousands of visitors will have on the local economy. The same can be said in respect of trade shows the world over, that have been forced to cancel in the wake of the pandemic. There are still doubts over the postponed Tokyo Olympics which, despite the bravado of the IOC, are looking increasingly in doubt.

From a personal viewpoint, it’s not the trade show itself that I will miss, it’s more the opportunities for socialisation in the evening, that it offers. Whilst these evenings might appear as nothing more than a “piss-up” to some people, they normally involve dining with customers and/or suppliers, and this is where relationships are strengthened, and the real deals often made. All the pundits expounding the virtues of “virtual“ Zoom meetings, forget the importance of face-to-face meetings in business negotiations, and if these get togethers are “lubricated” by more than a little alcohol, then so much the better!

A small ray of light is the news that the show has been rescheduled for the third week in September, but whether my company will bite the bullet and book a stand, remains to be seen, but one trip that is presumably off, is the already postponed visit to the Czech Republic in March. I haven’t heard from the organisers yet, but with much of northern and central Europe facing similar restrictions to us, the chances of this trip to Pilsen taking place, must be minimal.

This brings me on to the email I received yesterday, from Easy Jet, informing me that the voucher I received for last year’s cancelled flights can now be used. The voucher is only valid until the end of June, but the good news is that it can be used to book any future flights that are available at that point in time. A visit to either Germany or Czechia for early autumn, would therefore be good bet, always assuming that the government release us from our current misery!

Those words aren’t written completely in jest, as I remain deeply suspicious of the Department of Health’s motives on this. Today, that pimply, shifty-eyed excuse of a Health Minister Matt Hancock, threw into the ring, the ultimate caveat for extending lockdown indefinitely, by stating that his biggest concern was “yet to be discovered variants of the virus.”

Well hold on a minute matey – yes you with that awful pink tie! Viruses mutate all the time, with most new variants becoming less lethal. If Hancock is prepared to keep us locked down because he is afraid of something that MIGHT possibly happen in the future then, to quote Private Frazer, “We’re all doomed, doomed!”

Unfortunately, Mr Hancock is so far up his own backside, and so engrossed in believing his own rhetoric, that unless there’s a concerted opposition to this lunacy, we might just end up confined in our own houses for eternity. Don’t these clowns realise how absurd their pronouncements are?

Ignoring this overgrown public schoolboy, and returning, for a moment, to the subject of cancelled holidays, Mrs PBT’s and I have credit with Cunard, in respect of last spring’s canceled cruise. Cruising hasn’t re-started yet, so we will probably carry the credit over for a further year.

Cruise ships are notorious for the spread of things such as norovirus, and at the beginning of the current pandemic, several ended up as floating “plague hotels.” I’m not totally risk averse, but I think I’d rather wait until Coronavirus is well and truly under control, and preferably on its way out, before booking a cabin on a liner with a couple of thousand other potential plague carriers. You never know our friend at the DoH might just be right about that mutant variant!

Thursday 21 January 2021

A new venture

For the past six months, or possibly even longer – one loses all sense of time during a pandemic, I’ve been working on a project which has slowly come to fruition. It’s a project that involves writing, just like me blog, and in many ways is an extension of the blog. It’s been quite a sharp learning curve and I’ve had to discover many things for myself to see how they work out in practice, but now I feel ready to tell the world, in order for people to find out what I’ve been up to and decide for themselves.

The sharp eyed amongst you, may have already noticed a link to a new site, appearing in the left hand side bar of the blog, under the heading of My Blog List,. In case you haven't I’ve set up my own website, called Paul’s Beer Travels,  and it's the project I've been working on since the start of the pandemic. 

If the title of the website sounds a little too similar to my current blog, then that’s a bonus, because in many ways there are a number of parallels between the two, but the site is far more than just a blog, as I will explain. Paul’s Beer & Travel Blog is exactly that; a blog where I get to post articles about beer and beer-related topics, especially where there’s an element of travel involved.

The website, on the other hand, whilst continuing in this vein (hence the similar sounding name), gives me the opportunity of publishing far lengthier posts, and to group these pieces under a number of different headings.These headings are: Home, About, The Beers, Beer Destinations, Walking & Beer, plus Blog.

 If you click on the site, you will notice drop down menu choices under the middle four of those six headings. I am still working on adding longer articles to the site – “populating it” I believe is the correct technical term, and have already added several posts under the "Beer Destinations" and "Walking & Beer" headings: the latter being something of a labour of love, given my liking of rambling and long country walks.  

There is nothing currently under the "Blog" heading, but this may change, depending how the site develops and whether or not I wish to maintain the Blogger site, hosted by Google alongside the self-hosted WordPress one (see below.) That’s a decision for another day, as the current site is doing reasonably well in terms of Pageviews, and even pulls in a tiny amount of revenue, but I would need to grow the number of visitors to the new site quite considerably, before considering such a move.

I chose WordPress to host my new site, but opted for the version, rather than the more common form of WordPress., is a self-hosted site, whereas is a hosted blogging platform, run by a company called Automattic.

So, with, the owner of the site is free to download and install the WordPress software on any web-hosting site of his or her choosing, and then use that software without restriction, in any way they see fit. Whereas with, users are restricted to one hosting platform and also to the number of themes to choose from, when it comes to customizing their site.

Going with though, was quite tough to begin with, as whilst there’s plenty of online advice, in some ways there’s too much. I opted for a company called Bluehost to host the site, and I also purchased my domain name through them.  URL now belongs to me, and will remain my property as long as I pay the Domain Registration fee of £9.68 each year.

Bluehost will provide software support, as well as sorting out any problems I may have. They have already assisted in upgrading my site to the latest version of WordPress. Because I am self-hosting the site, I can monetise it in the future – should I so desire. This means I can offer affiliate links, sell items etc, as quite a few other beer and travel websites do at the moment.

I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, that there’s been a lot to learn, but it’s been enjoyable, in a strange sort of way, not just adding content, but playing around with the layout of the site, as well as its overall look.

Although it’s still something of a work in progress, the website is fully functional, so why not take a look and let me know what you think? Feedback, whether positive or negative, will be much appreciated, as will suggestions for improvement or enhancement. You can also sign up to receive regular email updates,  regarding new posts.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

A lockdown Sunday in Tonbridge

I mentioned in my last post that following an improvement in the weekend weather, I’d taken a walk down into Tonbridge last Sunday. Overall, the walk was just under four miles in length, and I clocked up slightly over 11,000 steps  although that total included some I’d accumulated earlier in the day, helping with the housework, .

The main thing is the walk lifted my mood, which is why I recommend taking some steps outside in the fresh air, to anyone who is felling down, or just wanting  to clear their head. Apart from having to call in at Waitrose for a couple of items – the place was thankfully quiet, I avoided anywhere likely to be crowded. That included Tonbridge Sportsground and the towpath along the River Medway.

I mentioned previously that a new brewery has opened in Tonbridge, even though I’m unsure why anyone would want to undertake such a venture with a full-blown pandemic ranging and the hospitality trade in total shutdown. But after a friend had posted a few photos, plus details of the brewery’s beer on our Beer Socials WhatsApp group, I thought I’d at least take a look.

Constellation Brewery have set up home in one of the many small units, that make up Tonbridge’s sprawling industrial estate. This area only became available for industrial use back in the early 1970’s, following completion of the Leigh Flood Barrier scheme, built to protect the town from the regular floods that afflicted the River Medway, and which sometimes inundated the local area.

Prior to this, the map of Tonbridge showed a “dumbbell- shaped” development of houses and commercial premises confined to higher ground to both the north and south of the Medway. The disastrous flooding that occurred in 1968, acted as a spur for the construction of the defences, opening up a substantial area of flat land, just off the town centre.

Originally this land was assigned for industrial use only, but gradually a number of large retail developments began to creep in, followed a decade or so ago by housing.  Now an increasing number of town houses and apartments line both banks of the river, although the developers have had the foresight to construct the actual dwellings at first floor level and above, leaving the ground floor for car-parking.

Despite these precautions, there have still been instances where the Leigh Barrier has been unable to cope with the volume of water, and whilst shops and houses have remained largely unaffected, a lot of expensive vehicles have been written of due to water damage.

I’m digressing, so returning to the new brewery for a moment, the premises are on a small development, reached by a lane squeezed in behind the town’s sewage works. There is a very helpful and reasonably-priced tyre fitters, that I have made use of, on this small estate, so I knew where I was heading, but Constellation don’t appear to have got their sign affixed yet, so there wasn’t really that much to see.

You can read more about this new concern here, including the brewery’s plans for a Taproom, once this wretched pandemic is finally over. Reports from friends, who have sampled their beers, in 5 litre mini-kegs, are favourable but there are the inevitable fears that will there be sufficient market share, or will Constellation end up taking sales from established small breweries, who are undoubtedly finding things difficult in the current situation?

We shall have to see how things pan out, but after quick peek at the outside of their smart looking premises, I made my way back towards the town centre, cutting through the rear of the industrial premises on the other side of the road. This took me past some of the towering new residential developments – starting prices far too high for our boy to afford, but this detour at least meant avoiding the river, with its narrow towpath and people out on bikes or with pushchairs.

Waitrose was thankfully quiet, as mentioned above, but there were still two mothers allowing their kids to run around, as if the store was a playground! There weren’t that many people around either, as I made my way along the High Street. I was keen to get home as there was some outdoor work I wanted to finish off.

Once indoors, Mrs PBT’s was keen to open the pack of jam tarts I’d bought from the supermarket, but  with that many steps under my belt, and a substantial number of  calories burnt, I helped her devour a couple. They went slipped down well with a cup of tea, and then it was back outside.

My garden work consisted of some rather drastic pruning of some shrubs that had got out of control. The job’s not properly finished, but after I’d

completely filled our garden waste wheelie-bin, it was time to head indoors, particularly as the light was now starting to fade.

There was a nice roast pork dinner to look forward to, once son Matthew arrived home from work, and I cracked open a bottle of Fuller’s 1845 to go with the meal. That was the sum of another exciting lockdown Sunday, but a day I managed to make the most of, and enjoy some fresh air.

Monday would be different – even if it was just going to work!!


Sunday 17 January 2021

The only certainty in life - apart from taxes!

In my second post of the year, I mentioned I had news of an exciting new development. I then went on to say that I was going to keep readers in suspense that little bit longer, more as a tease than anything else.

Unfortunately, just as I was about to reveal all, something bad happened. As John Lennon famously said, Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” So, just the same as three years ago, when Mrs PBT’s ended up in intensive care, I’ve started another new year with some unwelcome news and a rather painful situation to deal with.

Just before midnight on the evening of my first day back at work, I was wakened by a phone call. It was dad’s care home, and they were phoning to let me know that my father had tested positive for Covid-19. The home had remained virus free since the start of the pandemic, only to succumbed to Corona over the Christmas period - following an outbreak amongst the staff.

Apart from a slightly raised temperature the following day, dad seemed to be doing alright, until Wednesday afternoon, when my sister rang, informing me that he had passed away. I imagine that, given his Alzheimer's and heart condition, Covid-19 pushed him over the top. We'll never know for sure, and there's no real need to know either, because he slipped away gently, without pain, suffering or distress - and that's all you could reasonably ask for.

The news was still a shock though, even though it wasn’t totally unexpected.  Dad was just five months short of his 90th birthday, but If I’m honest, we “lost” him a couple of years ago, when the Alzheimer’s he was suffering from had progressed to a state where I don’t think he recognised any of us. This was evident on what was my last proper visit, in the late autumn of 2019.

A few months later, the pandemic intervened, and we were unable to see him, but Matthew and I did manage a visit back in early September, when the virus situation appeared under control. We weren’t able to enter the care home, but the staff allowed us to talk to him through a partially opened window in his room, whilst perched out side on a stepladder!

He never properly opened his eyes, and his conversation was rambling and incoherent, although I’m sure it meant something to him. He looked frail, and I had a feeling that this would probably be the last time I saw him, but I take great comfort that I managed to make that final visit.

As you can probably imagine there’s a funeral to arrange, registrars, solicitors and banks to talk to do, along with relatives; some of whom are an ocean and a continent away. And all this in the middle of yet another lockdown. Fortunately, virtually all the arrangements can be dealt with remotely, by phone or email, but at the beginning of next month, we will be making what will probably be our final visit to Norfolk, for the funeral.

I'll be posting a fitting and appropriate tribute to dad nearer the time, but I don’t mind admitting to feeling somewhat lost at the moment. The atrocious weather and the pandemic, both of which seem never ending, aren’t helping matters, and like the rest of the population, I’ve had my fill of being locked up inside my own house.

We are permitted (how ridiculous that sounds), to make the journey to Norfolk to pay our last respects, and whilst I’m sure there are a small number of hotels still open (for essential workers), Mrs PBT’s isn’t keen on an overnight stay – something about there being no restaurants open, so It will be a return day trip. The sad thing is, especially under the circumstances, that whilst it will be a change of scenery and the longest journey we will have made in a year, I can think of far better and certainly more enjoyable reasons to be travelling more than five miles from our place of residence.

Our last, long-distant trip, was to South Wales, at the beginning of February last year, and ironically was for a funeral. Given the travel restrictions and the distances involved, it is unlikely that the Welsh side of the family will be making the journey.

Sadly, the eldest of my two sisters is also unable to attend, living as she does on the other side of the Atlantic. I also had a heartfelt email from my cousin in Vancouver. She is the eldest daughter of dad’s twin brother. He passed away six years ago – also from Alzheimer's. It’s not uncommon for a death in the family to bring people closer together, but it was good to hear from her and interesting to discover how Canada is coping with Coronavirus.

I wrote the bulk of this post on Saturday evening, when I was feeling really down, but I’m pleased to report that after a good night’s sleep and being wakened by the sun streaming through the bedroom window, I felt much better and a lot more positive, on Sunday morning.

I took a wander down into the town, after breakfast, and it was good just to be out in the fresh air and feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair. 

There’s a new brewery just opened in Tonbridge – not exactly the best time to be starting a venture of that sort! I made my way to the group of industrial units where the new venture is situated, so I could bring you the news, and a photo, but they haven’t affixed the brewery sign on the outside of the building yet.

I’m not sure the town, or indeed West Kent, needs another brewery – particularly at the moment, but we will see. In the meantime, it’s over and out!

Friday 15 January 2021

Why I don't do "virtual."

Right, lets’ get one thing straight, I don’t do virtual. I realise that for much of the past nine months the world has functioned with the use of Apps such as Facetime and Zoom, on both the commercial and the domestic front, but on the whole I’ve deliberately avoided having to look into a camera whilst at the same time being confronted with a screen showing uncomfortable close-ups of multiple faces.

For many people, keeping in touch with friends, family and business colleagues by use of such Apps, has been essential, but despite what the developers behind such software want us to believe, there is NO substitute for face-to-face contact. Under the present circumstances, the companies promoting these Apps are, of course, right, but when normality slowly begins to return, I predict there will be a rush to ditch the likes of Zoom, Facetime etc, and literally embrace the real thing.

I accept that for straight forward business meetings, virtual can have some advantages, especially when long distance travel is involved, but despite this there is still no substitute for being in the same room as the people with whom you are in discussion with or negotiating complex deals. The last-minute Trade Deal between Britain and the European Union was finally negotiated by a series of person-to-person meetings, rather than remotely, as it had been earlier in the process, when discussions were taken place via Zoom.

Back in October, the company I work for underwent a remote surveillance audit by our Notified Body. Whilst our regulatory team preferred an on-site audit, our production department weren’t happy with the thought of visitors accessing the manufacturing areas where we had only just reinstated our workforce.

I agreed with my production colleagues, but more from a practical point of view than a health and safety one and, as things turned out, I was right. The audit wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, but neither was it a rip-roaring success. We were beset by IT problems, including a limited Wi-Fi range, intermittent links and inadequate hardware, but these weren’t the main issues.

The thing which really dragged us down, and at times was in danger of descending into farce, was the sheer amount of running around we had to do. It’s part and parcel of a normal audit for the assessors to want to see a wide range of documents, ranging from the top-level manual setting out the Quality Management System, to working documents relating to a more detailed and quite specific area of the process.

In between there are a whole range of procedures, work instructions, manufacturing and quality records, training manuals, all intimately associated with each stage of the manufacturing process. Usually, these documents are retrieved, as requested and as the audit progresses, before being presented to the auditors. They are then free to examine, and query, the items placed in front of them.

It’s not uncommon for the meeting room to look like it’s been hit by the proverbial bomb, but by and large the process works, as the information requested is in one place and the auditors are free to request copies of whichever items they wish to examine further. They will often keep these copies as proof that the company is in compliance with its own procedures, or the requirements of the appropriate ISO standards. 

 I have been involved in numerous quality audits, over the years, and this is how they normally progress and unfold. Imagine then, having to do all this remotely. The auditors may well have requested copies of various documents in advance, but as the audit progresses there will invariably be additional paperwork they will want to examine.

We ended up scanning and emailing umpteen documents, resulting in the same scattered pile of folders and binders, but with only those sections requested by the auditors, available for them to view. You could argue this is a good thing, but more often than not it isn’t. It doesn’t present an overall view of how the system works, and it prevents a proper explanation and understanding of individual process and procedures contained therein.

I’ve laboured the point, but I’m sure you get the picture about the difficulties of remote audits, and I haven’t even touched on how to cover factory tours and physical inspection of the manufacturing and filling areas. (Filming and attempting to stream it via a mobile phone, is less than satisfactory, and that’s an understatement!)

Moving on to an area much closer to the heart of a beer blog, are the various attempts we have witnessed, these past nine months, to hold virtual beer festivals and other related online events, such as beer tastings. To me, the very idea of a “virtual festival” is complete nonsense, and like all the other ridiculous “virtual” events that have sprung up over the course of the pandemic, is an absurdity.

I wrote disparagingly about CAMRA’s "Virtual Great British Beer Festival 2020," which took place last September; an event described as a weekend of live beer tastings, led by an “expert panel” of CAMRA luvvies (my words.) Tickets, costing £46 per head, included a souvenir festival glass, plus 11 beers, delivered to the purchaser’s door. These would enable buyers to participate in two of the live tasting sessions.

To me, sitting there in your pants, in front of a computer screen, sipping at a beer whilst some “expert” sniffs, swirls and waffles on about how great it is, represents the very antitheses of a beer festival. Where is the atmosphere, the vibes or the feel normally associated with a beer festival, let alone the Great British Beer Festival? What pleasure, and what thrill is there in an event that was nothing more than an occasion where individual subscribers, can be talked through the tastings of a variety of different beers.

Somewhat surprisingly, tickets for all sessions of the “virtual GBBF" sold out, so perhaps CAMRA  judged the mood of the market much better than I have. Buoyed by this success, CAMRA are going ahead with the Great British Beer Festival Winter at Home – an “interactive, immersive and on-demand virtual festival that you can enjoy where you want, when you want.”

Ironically, the event takes place almost exactly a year since the UK’s first National Lockdown was hurriedly introduced. Needless to say, I shan’t be going, because if I cannot have the real thing, then I’d rather go without.

I intend to wait until some resemblance of normality returns, because despite the nannying and the control freakery of the behavioural psychologists and mathematical modellers who are dictating government policy, this pandemic will eventually end – as have all previous ones that have plagued (no pun intended) human history.

Sunday 10 January 2021

A few thoughts and some beer-related stories

We’re back in strange and rather uncertain times again, something that seemed unlikely back in late summer, but as a work colleague of mine delights in saying, “We are, where we are.” I agree and there’s no point, especially at the moment, in trying to explain or to apportion blame for the situation we find ourselves in.

I’ve been away from the blog for a week now, due to a rather pressing family matter that I’ve had to deal with. I won’t elaborate further, at present, but it wasn’t an event that was totally unexpected. All will be revealed in due course, but for the time being I just want to take a step back and reflect on some of the things that have been going on during my absence, especially those affecting the world of beer and brewing.                                                 

The obvious place to start, is the petty and spiteful ban on pubs selling alcohol to takeaway. For many establishments this represented something of a lifeline, and the loss of this trade now, must seem as yet another kick in the teeth. The reason being is that groups might congregate outdoors, in order to consume this takeaway beer, thereby mixing with others and breaking the ultra-strict lockdown rules.

How utterly absurd! Has no-one in government given a thought to how cold it is outside? It’s certainly not relaxing in a beer garden type of weather. Have they also not thought that if people really wished to meet up and consume alcohol in this fashion, they could pick up a few tinnies or the odd bottle or two from their local supermarket?

This kind of muddle-headed thinking and inconsistency is not helping the fight against the virus, and neither is it encouraging people to adhere to the guidelines. We’ve witnessed exactly the same sudden changes in policy when it comes to schools – the main source, in my view, of the increased number of infections.

Let’s move on to another story, and one that is a particularly sad one. It concerns Cardiff based brewer, SA Brain, who are/were the largest independent brewer in Wales. The company has been particularly hard hit by Covid-19, and had already leased its 156, mainly wet-led pubs, to national brewer, Marston’s. Now it looks like Marston’s will be supplying beer to the Brain’s tied estate once pubs are eventually allowed to reopen. This has raised a large question mark over the future of Brain’s own brewery; a state-of-the-art facility that only commenced production in 2019. 

Veteran blogger and CAMRA activist Tandleman, has written an extensive and informative article about the problems that Brain’s are facing, and you can read it in full by clicking the link above. I posted my own comments on TM’s post and apart from the obvious condolences over what is happening in Welsh brewing, I picked up on a point made by the author, that I want to elaborate on further.

TM highlighted the hypocrisy of a significant number of so-called “beer lovers” who bleat on about struggling railway arch and man in a shed brewers, whilst ignoring the plight of the remaining family-owned brewers. Many of the latter have a long an impressive history, along with an equally fine reputation, but such firms are being squeezed from both sides.

They find it increasingly hard to compete in a market dominated by large national and multi-national brewing concerns but are also coming under pressure from many of the much more recently established brewers – the proverbial “man in a shed brewers” mentioned above.

In a bid to even things up, the government are looking at scaling back the rules governing Progressive Beer Duty; a sliding scale of duty rated based on barrelage. These regulations were originally brought in to assist the small breweries survive in a market where the “big boys” held most of the cards.

As is often the case with well-intended legislation (some might call it interference), it was some of the long-established family-owned brewers who started feeling the pinch. Unable to compete with the discounts offered by the national and multi-national chains and finding themselves undercut by many of the micros (due to lower duty costs), many family-owned concerns found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Talk about the law of unintended consequences!

The government’s response has been to order a review into the whole system regarding beer duty, with a view to levelling things up. This has unleashed a sh*t storm of epic proportions, particularly amongst supporters and lovers of micro-breweries.

I’ve come across this myself, and have fallen foul of some of the younger, and more radical members of the local CAMRA branch. A small, but significant number of these more fanatical members have been calling for a boycott of established family brewers such as Adnams, Badger, Harvey’s and Timothy Taylor's, because of their support for a levelling up of beer duty.

A couple have even described Sussex’s oldest and finest brewery as “Evil Harveys,” making snide and childish remarks every time the brewery name crops up on the WhatsApp Beer Socials group.  Although I’m no longer a CAMRA member, I have pointed out that CAMRA exists to promote and encourage ALL brewers of Real Ale, regardless of size, quality or provenance, so such behaviour is counterproductive.

I’ve also reminded the individuals concerned that, back in 2019, they were willing enough to participate in a tour of Harvey’s, drink the copious amounts of free beer provided, and partake of the excellent buffet that the brewery laid on for us. Now they describe the brewery as “evil,” talk about hypocrisy.

This type of behaviour really annoys me and deserves calling out, but I know I am not alone in noticing an increasing snobbery creeping into CAMRA circles. Well respected brewers who kept the flag flying for cask ale during the dark days of the 1970’s, are now being shunned and even disparaged in favour of the newer concerns, with their hop-led and heavily citrus-infused “more exciting” ranges of beers.

Pulling these two thread together, I want to end with a story concerning another family-owned brewery, that was once held in the highest regard by CAMRA. The brewery concerned is Yorkshire firm, Timothy Taylor’s, and the news is that due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, which have resulted in all UK pubs being forced to close, the company has ceased producing cask beer until further notice.

This news is hardly surprising as cask ale and pubs are inexorably intertwined, but it’s not all bad as the Keighley-based brewery will continue to brew bottled beer to support the retail side of the business, which includes their own online shop. The majority of the brewery’s workforce will be furloughed during this period, with only key members of the team working part-time to keep the business active.

So, here we have a medium sized brewery that’s doing what it takes to keep itself afloat during these unprecedented times. Would you describe them as “evil?” I know I wouldn’t.