Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Weird Beer or Weird Beards?

I love a pint of beer but there are certain people in Britain for whom beer is more than just a refreshing way to wind down after a long hard week.

Last week I went to a “Winter Ale Festival” in Manchester, a celebration of fabulously strange brews with a winter theme, consisting of many different and varied types of ale from all over England. The majority of people who frequent such gatherings are normal everyday men and women who like to savour their beer and enjoy it for the taste and texture, in a similar way to tasting a good wine. I fall into this category. Others like to simply consume large quantities and get drunk. However there are others there for whom beer is a religion and whose views are so intense that they regard the normal everyday beer-drinking punter to be a clueless imbecile with the mental capacity of demented badger. And it is these people I want to talk about in this post.

Beer festivals are organised by CAMRA, a group of beer drinkers who, irritated the increasing amount of tasteless and bland beers invading our great British pubs, decided to make a stand to try to kick start the promotion of real ale. CAMRA stands for “CAMpaign for Real Ale”. They have had a lot of success and now have a staggering 95,000 members, the vast majority of whom are perfectly normal people. In fact, I know a couple of members and to be honest they are good to know because they are very knowledgeable about their ales and through them I have discovered some fine brews. However, there are a tiny minority who regard normal ale drinkers with contempt. I have been a victim of these beer bullies.

Normally when I attend a real ale gathering, I meet my mates there; this normally means paying the entrance fee, buying my souvenir pint glass and walking to the nearest dispensary to purchase a pint of a fine brew. On one of my first visits, to the Stockport Beer Festival, I walked up to one of the CAMRA volunteers and selected a beer with a strange name (they ALL have strange names as you will see later). I asked for a pint. This man refused to sell me a pint. I was astonished.

“I’ll sell you a half” he said. Before I could complain, he then launched into a lecture about people like me who come to CAMRA festivals and order pints of this and pints of that and therefore don’t get to try all of the other beers. He basically ordered me to wander around and have a half of as many beers as I could so that I could sample the variety of the ales on offer. “People who drink pints should be banned,” he went on. “If it were up to me I would only sell halves. People like you don’t appreciate good beer.”

Now if I had had two pints of beer I would have launched into a verbal war with him but, since I was supposed to be meeting friends I yielded to his argument and bought a half. Besides, his beard scared me!

I don’t want to generalise, but there are a number of CAMRA members who (and let’s be kind to them here) took more than their fair share of facial hair when it was being handed out. The TV presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, is always talking about “weird beards” and I reckon he got his inspiration from a CAMRA beer festival. Some of these guys have beards that a colony of squirrels could live in; huge bushy beards that erupt from their faces in an explosion of hair. If you attempt to stand closer than three feet in front of them, their beards will tickle your face – that’s if you don’t collide with their beer bellies first.

And that’s the second thing about these guys; their consumption of Britain’s finest ales has a very noticeable side effect. I have seen pictures of guys with beer bellies so vast that they can perch a pint or two on top of it – I am not joking. And the funny thing is that they are supremely proud of both their beards and their bellies. I’ve heard one say, pointing to his gut: “That cost a lot of money so I’m not going to get rid of it in a hurry!”

I may be poking fun at an elite group of CAMRA members but I do like most of the beers that they campaign for. But there are some that leave a lot to be desired. One of the first beer festivals I attended was particularly embarrassing. I bought a pint of beer that was absolutely horrific; the taste of it reminded me of an ashtray and it stank like the waste product of a sick bat. I couldn’t hand it back and demand my cash back as I was a young man and the CAMRA volunteer who had sold it to me was watching me with morbid interest. I had no option but to dispose of it in the toilet.

However, when I arrived there, I was surrounded by beer connoisseurs who glared at me because I had walked into the loo with a full pint of ale. Thankfully, I noticed that one or two cubicles were free, so I decided that was the best place to chuck it was the toilet itself, behind closed doors. I locked the cubicle and hesitated. I couldn’t just pour it into the water because the other ale lovers would hear me – so I waited for five minutes (hoping that they had finished their business and left). Then I flushed and threw the whole lot into the foaming water – at least that what I intended to do.
I missed - almost completely!!!

In my desperate haste I threw 90% of the beer onto the floor and of course it slopped out into the main area like a tsunami of ale in full view of a new set of ale lovers. And as I’ve said, it stank of bat pee.

I didn’t hesitate; I ran out of the toilet as fast as I could, colliding with some massive wobbling beer bellies and weird beards on the way. I didn’t want to look as if I had a very dodgy medical problem but I’m sure there are people who still talk about the blond nutter who zoomed past accompanied by the strange smell of bat urine.

That episode, thankfully was a one off and I have sampled many hugely enjoyable and tasty brews, thanks to CAMRA. And as I said above, some of the beers have marvellous names. To finish off, here are a few of my favourites. I can’t say that I have tried them all, but if you do encounter them, don’t be put off by the name – they really are lovely:

Windie Goat
Dog’s Bollocks
Roaring Meg
The Hanged Monk
Old Stoatwobbler
Piston Bitter (think about that one …)
Lion Slayer
Nelson’s Blood
Nelson’s Revenge
Liquor Mortis

I look forward to my next beer festival in Stockport in May. I wonder whether there will be a beer called “Weird Beard’s Revenge”? And I wonder whether I will be forced to drink it having written this post? To any CAMRA members reading this, I have to say – keep up the good work! This Plastic Mancunian beer lover really appreciates it.


Anonymous said...

Haha, I'm over here in Connecticut, USA snickering at the image of you trying to flush your beer discretely. Great post!

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Lauren,

The intention was to be discrete but, I tell you what - a full pint of beer thrown against a toilet really does make a noise louder than trying to flush it.




Anonymous said...

LOLOL!!! The imagery here is off the charts. My head is now full of 3 foot hairy growths with squirrels in them and mondo wobbling jelly like bellies....Eeeewwww!!!

Head for hills!!!! :O

So I take it that this would not be an ideal place to go looking for a husband. LOL!!! Thank god, I already have one. I was worried for minute.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Ah Robin - we're talking about a small percentage of weird beards (with a slightly larger percentage of wobbling bellies).

The vast majority of people who go to these events are perfectly normal people who like to try fine ales - like myself of course.

Incredibly, though, a lot of the "weird beards" do have wives - and they bring them along as well.

It takes all sorts I suppose.




Anonymous said...

Hi PM.

Bellies and beards aside, it sounds like a lot of fun. I question though whether you really missed the toilet out of "desperate haste" or something else, say too many pints? :o)

Okay, I've thought about this one, so who Piston Bitter and what did they have against him? (heh, heh) And I bet Liquor Mortis is a good drink, or at least a stiff one. Can you tell I'm on a silly roll? :o)

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Holly,

LOL - No - I hadn't had too many pints!

As for Liquor Mortis - actually a few beers kind of imply that you there is great risk drinking them. For example, in Belgium, there is a beer called "Mort Subite" which is Latin for "Sudden Death" (I think).

A very nice beer it is though ...