‘Aces High’ – Beer Magazine – January 2019

I interviewed head brewer at Wild Card Brewery, Jaega Wise, for a profile in the Spring 2019 edition of CAMRA‘s Beer Magazine.

Jaega is a well-known figure in the British beer scene. Not only is she a talented brewer, she is also a chemical engineering graduate, singer, TV presenter, campaigner for diversity in the brewing industry and an elected director of SIBA.

“I’ve always said I’m a brewer before I’m a female brewer, before I’m a mixed-race brewer. But I will always do my part to support women, ethnic diversity, lots of different types of people getting into the brewing industry. The goal isn’t reached at all. We’re not even close. Equality is 50 per cent. Why should we be satisfied with anything less?” (Jaega Wise)

Jaega Wise (left) and me at Wild Card Brewery, Walthamstow, London

Beer Magazine is free to CAMRA members.

Club Soda – Mindful Drinking Festival

I was really pleased to be invited to be a part of Club Soda‘s Mindful Drinking Festival which took place at the Old Truman Brewery on Saturday 12 & Sunday 13 January 2019.

Me at the Club Soda Mindful Drinking Festival (January 2019)

There were thirteen breweries represented at the festival, and some great beers. Low and no alcohol beers have moved on significantly in terms of both quality and range and I enjoyed showcasing a number of great examples in my festival beer tours and talk. Some of the standouts for me were Adnam’s Alcohol-Free Ghost Ship, which I’m really pleased to see is available on draft; Braxzz porter – apparently the world’s first alcohol-free porter; and the tasty low-alcohol alternatives from Small Beer Brew Co.

Like all Club Soda events, the Mindful Drinking Festival was friendly and welcoming, and full of a diverse, enthusiastic crowd, ready to explore some great alternatives to alcohol. I look forward to heading along to future festivals – after all, this scene can only get better!

And, if you want to hear more about Club Soda – and about some great alcohol-free beers – check out the Alcohol-Free Special episode of Fermentation Beer & Brewing Radio right here.

The PUBcast!

Together with PUB19 – the only dedicated show for the UK pub industry – I have produced a series of short podcasts exploring the challenges and opportunities facing publicans today.

The podcasts take a look behind the headlines at the trends shaping today’s market and explore issues such as food, drinks, design, technology and more. With guest including Geetie Singh-Watson MBE  (founder of the UK’s first and only organic pub), Laura Willoughby MBE (co-founder of Club Soda), Lee Cash (founder of Peach Pubs), Joycelyn Neve (founder of the Seafood Pub Company), Jane Peyton (drinks writer and educator) and Pete Brown (Chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers), the conversation is sure to be lively and informative.

You can listen right here.

Do You Pass the Test? Or: what can 1980s lesbians teach us about beer?

‘Beer people are lovely people!’ and ‘The beer industry is a wonderful, friendly place!’ are things I’ve been told on a number of occasions since jumping boots-first into the scene a couple of years ago. And, for me, there’s a lot of truth in these celebratory statements. I spent the first two decades of my working life in an environment where I didn’t always see the best of how things could be. As a frontline social worker – and more latterly, a social work academic – I bore witness to desperation, deprivation, and sometimes degradation on a scale most would find hard to contemplate. I met many, many good people on both sides of the intervention divide – some of the bravest, warmest, creative, most intelligent people there are – and I have a lasting respect for them all. I also derived a great deal of satisfaction from my work, and felt immensely privileged to work alongside people in some of the darkest times of their lives. But, in terms of a joyful working environment, I can’t honestly say that it comes close to chatting over a mash tun in a breath-cloud cold brewery just as the sun is rising, or being handed the fullest, maltiest, fattest barley wine by a proud brewer with a grin so wide it must sting, or discovering a taste that will pin you forever to location, a time, an emotion, a memory that  will leave you changed.

But I’m lucky. First up, I’m an old-school butch dyke. I have a quiff and a comb, a pocket watch and a pocket knife. I don’t understand make-up and I sometimes get challenged when using women’s toilets. Men are occasionally scared of me, often confused around me, and regularly amused by me, but I’m absolutely not the kind of woman they want to sleep with. Secondly, I host a beer and brewing radio show, I write about beer for publications in which people want their brews featured, I won a British Guild of Beer Writers Award for Best Online Beer Communicator (I know – I’m shocked too), and I have a website, a podcast, a blog, and so – to my face at least – both women and men in the beer industry are lovely, and the environment in which I work is a wonderful and friendly place.

But I’m aware that’s not everyone’s truth. I don’t need to experience harassment in order to believe the women who tell me they are regularly harassed. I don’t need to feel the creeping nastiness of the belittling, objectifying, ridiculing, rejecting, grabbing, groping, saliva-spraying face of sexism, to know that it exists within the beer industry. I just need to see the dodgy pumpclips, engage with social media, and note the absence of women from many respected platforms within the industry.

But, as someone with a voice that occasionally grabs attention, if I see injustice, I also need to do something more.

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I first came across Alison Bechdel and her wonderful ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ comic strip in the early-1990s when, as a newly ‘out’ lesbian I would scour literature to find any representation of queer culture. In those pre-Internet days, Bechdel’s funny, inspiring and moving series, populated by a cast of lesbians and their friends, was one of the few places where a sympathetic portrayal of ‘women like me’ could be found. Complete with their interests, intricacies and insecurities, Mo, Sydney, Clarice and Toni, held a mirror up to the lives of lesbians all over the Western world, fighting injustice and celebrating personal victories, and all the time providing a community to those of us who were struggling to find a place in our own.

But it wasn’t until some years later that I realised that a 1985 ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’ strip called ‘The Rule’ had spawned a way of looking at the world that could be useful across many parts of life. The Bechdel Test – clearly explained in this short video here – is a benchmark or litmus test used to assess the presence of women in movies. For a movie to pass the Bechdel Test it needs to contain three things:

1. Two or more female characters with names…
2. …who talk to each other…
3. …about something other than a man.

This sounds fairly straightforward but, shockingly, around half of mainstream movies – some of our most well-loved films – actually fail this test, including the original Star Wars Trilogy, Slumdog Millionaire, Avatar, The Avengers, Finding Nemo, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the complete Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and many, many more.

Of course, just because a film passes does not mean it necessarily advances women’s rights. The Bechdel Test doesn’t assess whether something is progressive or challenging: it simply assesses whether women are present in any meaningful way. And, in a world in which women’s voices are regularly silenced, the mere presence of women is extremely important.

Over the years, the Bechdel Test has been applied or modified to assess other areas of culture including literature, journalism and even software development. And from there I believe it’s only a short hop to applying it to the contemporary beer scene. It is vital for the future of the industry that women are present on discussion panels, leading or chairing conferences, part of magazine editorial teams, present in beer education, at the centre of judging panels, represented at the highest level in brewing or consumer organisations, and called on as the experts they are to be listened to and heard. Importantly, I’m not suggesting that women are invited into male-dominated spaces solely to talk about incidents of sexism, or what it’s like being a woman in the beer industry. Making time to hear those testimonies is important but they are not the whole story – remember in order to pass the Bechdel Test, women must be talking about something other than men or their experiences at the hands of them. Inviting women into otherwise male enclaves in order to give a ‘woman’s perspective’ is also patronising, reductive and ignores the intersectional nature of all our identities in which we are defined not only by our gender – be that male, female or otherwise – but also our race, age, religion, sexuality, abilities, and so much more. It also causes us to miss out on the vast experiences and knowledge that women have amassed in their chosen fields.

The contemporary beer scene is not alone in sometimes struggling with the representation of women, and there are many examples of great work in this area. But every time women are invisible in areas of influence, every time a beer is marketed solely at men, every time a ‘beer for women’ is produced, every time we have to remind people that women were the first brewers, every time a disagreement on Twitter degenerates into macho posturing, every time craft beer lovers are portrayed as people with beards, every time a woman has to justify why she likes beer, or why offensive beer names are unacceptable, every time sexist ‘banter’ is excused, every time beer fans are greeted on social media as ‘lads’, every time the ‘women don’t drink beer’ myth is perpetuated, every time the consumption of alcohol is accepted as an excuse for sexist, racist or homophobic behaviour, we all lose out.

Having trodden the career path I have, I’m not naïve enough to propose that we should all just be kind to one another. But, at the very least, we need to hear each other’s voices. And, as such, I will continue to ensure that each edition of Fermentation Beer & Brewing Radio is Bechdel Test compliant. And I promise to loudly celebrate anyone else who, within their own field of work, commits to doing the same.

‘Brighton Rocks’ – Original Gravity Magazine – Issue 15 – November 2017

Harvey’s Brewery and Brighton and Hove Albion FC are two of my most favourite things. And, a few weeks ago, I was given the chance to enjoy both on behalf of Original Gravity magazine.

Brighton rocks

Brighton and Hove Albion FC are one of the few football clubs in the top flight of English football that serve cask ale at every match. With the number of pints served sometimes topping 9000 a game, that makes them a contender for the title of one of the biggest real ale outlets in the world.

In this edition of Original Gravity Magazine, I reflect on what makes Harvey’s Best and The Seagulls such a wonderful combination.

You can read and download the article (as part of Original Gravity – Issue 15) by clicking here.

 

‘London Calling’ – Brew Your Own (BYO) Magazine – October 2017

The October 2017 issue of the US homebrew publication, Brew Your Own Magazine, featured my story and photographs about the contemporary London beer scene on the front cover. I explored the diversity of the London scene and highlighted how the beer and brewing environment has grown and developed over the past ten years.

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I also discussed the burgeoning London homebrew scene and its symbiotic relationship with commercial brewing, and supplied four homebrew-scaled recipes from some of the most exciting breweries in the capital.

You can read my article in full by purchasing this issues of Brew Your Own Magazine via this link.

‘Make Mine a Pint’ – Diva Magazine – August 2017

The August edition of Diva – Europe’s biggest selling lifestyle magazine for lesbians and bi women – contained a feature by me about the contemporary beer scene and the women at the heart of it; women like Robyn Bell, tank manager at Manchester’s Cloudwater, Sarah Hughes, head brewer at Newport’s Tiny Rebel, and Sophie de Ronde, brewer at Burnt Mill Brewery in Suffolk, and the driving force behind International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day.

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In addition to featuring some of the lesbian and bi women involved in the brewing industry, I also highlighted some of the best places for lesbians and bi women to drink great beer across the UK.

You can read my article in full by purchasing back issues or subscribing to Diva Magazine via this link.

 

World Beer Awards – July/August 2017

In July and August 2017 I was very pleased to be selected as a Taste Judge for the prestigious World Beer Awards. I spent three days in Norwich, living alongside my fellow judges – a mix of national and international brewers and beer experts including Adrian Tierney-Jones, Jess Mason, Josh Rubin, Katrien BruylandTim Hampson, and Will Hawkes.

The World Beer Awards began 5 years ago with around 300 entries. This year there were more than 2000 entries from all across the globe. As World Chair of Judges, Adrian Tierney-Jones, says, “it holds a mirror up to the growth of beer culture today.” And, at the final judging session – held at the Hilton Olympia in central London – it was apparent that global beer scene is a thriving, challenging and exciting environment.

There were some very worthy winners from breweries of all sizes, some very familiar to me, others somewhat less familiar. The full list of winners can be found on the results page of the World Beer Awards website, but here are some of the highlights:

World’s Best Dark Beer: Novo Brazil Brewing (USA) – Cookie Monster (12%)

World’s Best Flavoured Beer: Olgerdin Egill Skallagrimsson (Iceland) – Surtur 8.2 (14.5%)

World’s Best Lager: Familienbrauerei Bauhöfer (Germany) – Bauhöfer Ulmer Pilsener (5%)

World’s Best Pale Beer:  Cameron’s Brewing Company (Canada) – Cameron’s Where the Buffalo Roam Barleywine (11.2%)

World’s Best Sour Beer: Rügener Insel-Brauerei GmbH (Germany) – Rügener Insel-Brauerei Seepferd (5.6%)

World’s Best Speciality Beer: Hook Norton Brewery (UK) – Hook Norton Red Rye (4.7%)

World’s Best Stout & Porter: Hideji-Beer Brewery (Japan) – Kurikuro (9%)

World’s Best Wheat Beer: Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu Glauner GmbH & Co. KG (Germany) – Alpirsbacher Weizen Hefe Hell (5.5%)

IMG_2542Although my body might quietly complain when being presented with yet another flight of strong beers half-way through the third day of judging, being able to taste this quality of beer is a real privilege, one overshadowed only by the honour of meeting some of the wonderful people who created it. And you can hear me talking to some of those people (Johnny Clayton from the UK’s Big Drop Brewery; Crystalla Huang from Singapore’s Red Dot Brewery; Salo Maldonado from Brazil’s O Motim Brewery; and Monty & Tyler from Canada’s White Sails Brewery) on the August 2017 edition of Fermentation Beer & Brewing Radio. Catch up here on Podomatic or via iTunes.

Final Logo (WEB RES)

Lucky Beer

I often feel lucky when I’ve sampled great beer. But tonight I feel particularly fortunate because I’ve tasted beer that I may never taste in the UK again. And this wasn’t just a bottle of grog brought back wrapped in dirty laundry  at bottom of a fellow-beer geek’s suitcase: this was international award-winning beer brewed by two of Japan’s very best craft breweries.

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Following changes to Japanese law in 1994 which paved the way for microbreweries, a large number opened up around the country and began introducing novel flavours to a nation of beer drinkers more accustomed to the blandness of Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo. Not all these enterprises survived, but Minoh and Ise Kadoya did, and both breweries celebrate their twentieth anniversaries this year. And what better way to celebrate than flying 6000 miles across the world to pick up a haul of prizes at the International Brewing Awards?

Minoh brewery was founded by Ohshita Masaji and is now managed by his three daughters. Minoh, based in Osaka, is a pretty happening brewery in its home country and has won numerous awards for its innovative beer. Amongst its previous offerings are Minoh Cabernet – made with a large helping of cabernet grapes – and, of course, Mino Bier – last year’s collaboration brew with Brighton Bier brewed with Mugicha (Japanese roasted barley tea). Tomorrow, they collect a gold award for their W-IPA (one of Japan’s very first double IPAs) and a bronze for their stout (which has been declared the world’s best stout on more than one occasion in the past). Samples of each of these were on offer tonight at Brighton Bierhaus as part of this special event. The W-IPA was satisfyingly viscous and bitter, whilst the rich, slight smokiness of the stout showcased the malt in a way that briefly caramel-coated the tongue in a coffee sweetness.

The other brewery showcased at tonight’s event, Ise Kadoya, represents the latest incarnation of a 450 year old family business, and CEO, Narihiro Suzuki, is the charismatic 21st generation, the man who boldly steered the company away from the production of soy sauce and miso paste, into the world of modern brewing. A renowned beer judge in his own right, Suzuki is thrilled to be collecting awards – a gold for their pale ale and a bronze for the brown ale. Again, both beers were available for sampling tonight. Both had a surprising sweetness. The brown ale was, perhaps, a little truer to type, but the pale was my favourite: an ice cream float with a dancing sparkle of tight carbonation of a kind it’s always exciting to find in bottle-conditioned beer.

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I was very honoured to get an interview with Narihiro Suzuki, and you’ll be able to hear it very soon on the Fermentation Beer & Brewing Show.

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And if you missed out on this Tuesday night treat from the Brighton Bierhaus, never fear: I have a feeling that this new addition to Brighton’s burgeoning beer scene has many more surprises in store for us.

Sunday Roasting

The continued existence of sexism in beer is something I hope is familiar to all self-aware drinkers nowadays, and has been the topic of many recent articles and blog posts. From sexist beer names and pump clips, to the way female drinkers and those working in the industry are often overlooked, ridiculed and mansplained to about beer, the torch is being shone on those daily microaggressions that continue to make the world of beer less welcoming to women than it is to men. Melissa Cole’s recent column for Ferment Magazine tackled the need to also challenge racism, transphobia and homophobia in the beer industry, and so highlighted the intersectional nature of discrimination and oppression.

We all occupy a number of different identities at the same time – some of which are privileged (in my case my whiteness and my physical ability), and some of which are not (for me, my gender and my sexuality). It’s at the complex intersections of these identities that we experience our world. And it is at these intersections that I experienced the dual impact of sexism and ageism this week via a Facebook advert for a Mother’s Day event at a well-known beer venue.

The advert claimed that Mother’s Day need no longer be a ‘chore’ if ‘you’ bring ‘Mumma’ for a meal in this establishment because,

‘First of all, you get to enjoy some thirst-quenchingly awesome beer from our gargantuan selection. Win. Second, your dearest old lady gets to enjoy one of the best Sunday roasts in town for free. Double win.’

No: double lose.

Admittedly, within the Venn diagram of identity, the ellipse in which I stand – a butch lesbian mother with a penchant for fine beer – isn’t all that crowded. However, whether intentional or not (and I’m optimistically assuming the latter) this promotion effectively excluded me – and many others in neighbouring identity ellipses – from engagement. Strongly implicit here is the assumption that mothers don’t drink beer. In fact, only ‘young’ (male?) people, who usually find Mother’s Day a ‘chore’, drink beer. Mothers are ‘dearest’ and ‘old’ and like a nice roast dinner. (I imagine they might sometimes have a small glass of white wine – as long as it’s not too dry).

There’s been a push in recent years, from venues, marketeers, writers and drinkers alike, to distance themselves from the traditional image of beer – whether it be cask, keg or homebrew – as something ‘old’, ‘boring’ or ‘dated’. But this promotion actually reminded me of all those times I’ve seen mainstream beer television advertising aimed squarely at men to the neglect of women, or of noticeboards outside town centre pubs that advertise themselves as ‘male creches’ – a place to drop off ‘husbands and boyfriends’ whilst ‘wives and girlfriends’ go shopping. It was the self-same message in a slightly different font.

But it was also more worrying because it shows that in our rush to reclaim beer as something ‘modern’, ‘young’, and ‘cool’, we are in danger of reinforcing the exclusion and invisibility of certain groups. And this is particularly concerning when we know that those groups are already subject to layers of discrimination within the industry.

I’m not going to name the particular venue here because, to their credit, less than 12 hours after I called them out on this, the event was removed. I don’t know if this was as a result of my  comment on the event page or not; I just hope that some reflection and learning has now taken place.

And, just to clarify, if anyone would like to buy me a beer on Mother’s Day next Sunday, that’s absolutely fine by me. Just don’t ever mistake me for anyone’s ‘dearest old lady’.