Twit Off: A Thing That Didn’t Happen

Below is the saga of an internal struggle that has been building up in my poor head for the last month or so. Climaxing in nearly deleting my Twitter account, the thought process mapped out in Part 1. Then nearly culminating in actually deleting my Twitter account, the mental consolidation mapped out in Part 2. But ultimately ending in indecision – the fire of my frustration sputtering out.

I value the personal network I have on Twitter. I just wish the junk would bugger off. ‘Plan B’ has been enacted. With no intent of insult I have unfollowed all non-personal accounts that seem all business and no human personality. Possibly inaccurately. (And nothing against them, with difficulty I’ve unfollowed some breweries I really love in the expectation anything fantastic they tweet will be RTed by someone I know.) I’ve muted accounts that I like in principle & person but that are spammy. Turned off RTs judiciously for breweries I interact with. I’ve filtered through 758 connections and eliminated 227. The fact that I recognised & remember the vast majority of the remaining 758 accounts is an interesting reflection on the complexity of the human memory…

This will not solve the problems, but it may soothe them a little?

Part 1 – #RageQuit

20k tweets? That’s just in the current incarnation of my beery Twitter self (the third Twitter-self I deleted my original self about 2 years ago). Let’s be generous to my slow wit and say I’ve cogitated for 15 seconds per tweet on average. That’s 300000 seconds. That’s over 80 hours tweeting. Two weeks full-time work. I could write a fairly functional CMS in that time. Or more personally pertinent perhaps make it to some of those gym visits I miss. And the reality is probably closer to 30 seconds per tweet. Four weeks? Ouch.

For what? Some fun & social networking, for sure. Participation in a big beery community, definitely. These are positives.

But the whole thing is more than a touch egotistical at times. A bit guiltily self-centred. Ejaculating 140 character snippets of thought into the æther hoping to fertilize a thread of interaction. I’ve deleted my last three attempts belabouring that metaphor so let’s leave the thought there. Firing blanks.

In my case angst, rage, beer & food predominate I suppose. Spurted into people’s timelines, squeezed enraged gourmet boils. Just more ants in the static detuned noise of the channel.

And that’s just what I think of my own drivel.

Rhetoric, religion, rage – keg kerfuffle, sparkler debates, multinational hate. Streams of it, with the vileness of a slaughterhouse drain.

Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam – RTs of advertising ‘competitions’, mad campaigning floods, high frequency promoted tweets, other’s favourites in my timeline (WTF is a RT for?), shit in my timeline just because someone I follow follows that shit. A mix of Twitter hitting  a certain critical mass that is fertile ground for spammers of various sorts and Twitter itself grappling to monetise in order to secure its future. The result: dire.

The thread is lost. In the cacophony of an entire zoo shitting into the fan my small mind cannot find the plot in order to lose it. Confused & frightened I snarl & snap.

Snap. I’ve snapped. Twitter and my brain have become incompatible. The cognitive overhead is unbearable. The same as when I’m in a loud room… I just zone out. I think Twitter is doing the same to me. I can’t go picking & choosing folk to unfollow… and with the huge background spam increase I doubt it’d help a great deal.

So, once again, I am deleting a Twitter account.

I will miss it. I will miss out on things. It will be hard to stay away. Such is addiction. If I persist I am sure anything “important” will make to my ears and eyes regardless. My business presence will remain on Twitter as I see it as a necessity – but I don’t monitor its timeline as it is even more full of garbage than my own.

For tracking the very few blogs I follow with interest I shall return to a good old RSS aggregator. Ah, them was the days…

Part 2 – #Adios

The above was written semi-lucidly at 4AM. Unable to sleep fretting about far too many things… I slept on it. For very small values of “slept”. Be nice to say I found the answer in a dream, but I rarely dream these days. I pondered it over coffee. Pondered it some more whilst mopping the kitchen. This is not a “ragequit” – it is a considered stepping-back. I have deleted the @ale_is_good Twitter account and then recreated it, following nobody, followed by nobody, it will sit dormant. I’ve tried just deleting Twitter from the phone before now, but it doesn’t do enough. There’s some sort of psychological addiction effect in place and the drastic slash and burn approach seems to be necessary. I am a procrastinator… and Twitter is an all-too-easy procrastination engine.

I will continue to put my inane musings here in blog form. Have an entry coming up about doing my CaskMarque/BII cellar certificate (which I presume I passed, just waiting to find out).

Of course @JollyGoodBeer will remain – primarily to promote the beer I deliver, pubs I deliver to, and beery antics I get up to in the JGB guise. So a bit dull really, unless you live in my patch perhaps. It will inescapably reflect my deranged personality to some degree, but with the angst and fury filtered out I’d hope. I’ll use it to communicate directly as and when appropriate. I won’t monitor the mess that is its “timeline” as it follows all kinds of bollocks in a UK-beery-followback sort of way.

This little business needs to be my focus, and I mustn’t let my problematic self get in the way.

Folk can contact me via Jolly Good Beer – phone number & email there. Those who I deal with in a business sense who sometimes use @ale_is_good to get in touch, just redirect to @JollyGoodBeer please.

So, anyone want to set up an IRC channel away from all the spam? #oldskool #badidea

All of the above happened in my head. Got written down here with intent. But did not map out to eventual reality. I post it anyway as the best I can do to vent my frustration at what Twitter has become and what I have become on Twitter. Let the existential angst continue…

My name is Yvan, and I am an addict.

My finger will be hovering over that self-annihilation button for some time to come.


A further attack…

This is a short attack on this post: Should CAMRA embrace craft beer on keg?

I got angry about the word “natural” and wrote this earlier today: What is this “natural” you speak of? A long-winded rant about “natural” when used in the cask-v-keg debate.

But there is more in the “Editor’s comment” I feel compelled to comment on.

[Cask] “is a natural drink that tastes full flavoured as the brewer intended.”

Oh, c’mon. You’re saying that brewers putting beer into anything other than cask are creating beer in some way _not_ as the brewer intended? That they’re somehow compromising perhaps?

Brewers I know putting beer into keg do it for exactly the OPPOSITE reason. To better ensure the beer reaches the consumer with the form/flavour the brewer intends the beer to be drunk in. Without some dodgy cellar work making their beer flat, stale, warm, etc.

“gas is added on dispense to create artificial carbonation.”

a) Fundamental misunderstanding of keg! CO2 is used to *maintain* carbonation, not add to it. The purpose isn’t to add “fizz” to the beer but to maintain the carbonation at the level the brewer intends it to be at.

b) Total ignorance of the currently very common “KeyKeg” – which contains container and/or brewery conditioned beer that CANNOT be carbonated by the CO2 used to push it out of container. At the keg bar I was helping out on at IMBC last weekend nearly all the kegs were of this sort.

Yes, CO2 used to provide top-pressure to push beer out of keg can carbonate that beer above the level it came at. But this would imply that the pub is using too much pressure or an inappropriate gas mix. This is not using keg as intended. (There is a case where an _under_ carbonated keg can be carbed up using the CO2 pressure though. Correcting an error at the brewing end. If only it was possible to do this with casks sometimes!)


In general the Editor’s comment isn’t that bad… there’s a failure to understand “keg” and it is propaganda-tastic in using the word “natural“.

It does show progress is being made! There is no mention of filtration or pasteurisation at least – the word “dead” does not come up. All in all the comment is clearly well-ahead of some CAMRA-folk standpoints and well ahead of where we were at only a couple of years ago. Hurrah!

OK, that’s enough frustrated angry blogging from me today… I’ve gotta go and try selling more keg beer ;) [I do sell a significant amount more cask than keg and love good beers regardless of the container the brewer may have chosen to use.]

What is this “natural” you speak of?

I’ve long been meaning to do a detailed write-up about beer packaging, so I have one place to point people to who’re somehow confused and have odd ideas about about “keg”. A poor and quite misunderstood three-letter-word is “keg”, and to be honest “cask” is pretty misunderstood too. I don’t have time to write that post… but I can address one aspect of the the pro-cask FUD that comes up frequently. The use of the word “natural” with respect to beer. To cut a long story short: it is pure propaganda.

What is “natural beer”? I think I can pick off a few obvious items that may make some people think beer has lost its “naturalness”:

  • Pasteurised – a process of heating the beer to ensure it is sterile – i.e. the yeast, and any other organisms that may change the beer are killed. Heating will of course change the beer in other ways as well, some volatiles (hop flavours for example) will break down. Pasteurisation is great for stability but perhaps less great for flavour. Stability? Well, perhaps not… live yeast has a known protective quality. It will sit in your beer and “mop up” some excess O2 thus reducing oxidation. (And no seal is perfect, so as well as helping with any O2 left in the beer after filling this helps with the small O2 leakage through capped bottles and probably even cans.)
  • Sterile Filtered – a different approach to achieve the same end. Rather than killing yeasts/etc it filters them out of the solution. But such a fine filter will also remove some large molecules that contribute to flavour. As for the beer now being “dead” – this has the same impact as described above. (If one of these two have to be used then I’ll prefer filtration… there is another approach: centrifuge. Thornbridge and BrewDog use this… and their bottled products are pretty fantastic.)
  • Contains “chemicals” – contentious. The obvious truth is that all beer is made from chemicals! What I guess we have to read into this in context is the addition of extra substances not normally used for brewing. What are these though? Near all breweries add chemicals to treat their water, malts come with the required enzymes for starch conversion, adjuncts like sugars/wheat/etc are perfectly acceptable for certain styles. So “chemicals” is really a pretty confused area and probably best considered bunkum. Some breweries may use added enzymes to speed up mash/fermentation processes I believe. I know a couple of good breweries adding an extra enzyme to de-glutenise beers without altering their flavour (a great thing for coeliacs!) I think that, like the word “natural”, the word “chemicals” is an all-too-easy-to-reach-for emotive word thrown around blindly in the whole cask/keg debate. (Were sulphites perhaps once used to stabilise beer?) (Where do finings in cask ale fit in here – isinglass and the various adjuncts used alongside it?)
  • “Extraneous CO2″ – what’s this then? In CAMRA terms it is use, in any way, of CO2 not created by the action of yeast in the beer. This is also a contentious issue. As there is argument even within CAMRA about the appropriateness of CO2 in the cellar. The big question is around aspirators (aka “cask breathers”) which let just enough CO2 into cask to protect the beer from air contact. And air, really, is the worst thing for beer. No good brewer wants you to be drinking oxidised, stale, beer. I go further and wonder what is so bad about CO2 full-stop. But I guess we hit a personal preference issue regarding fizziness here and I’ll leave it at that.

I think those four items are key to what is behind ideas about “unnatural” beer. The first two are ones I personally think are not really in the interests of good beer… and in fact in my book use of either of them is a line crossed. From what I’d consider a “craft” product to one that quite simply isn’t. Does it make beer “unnatural” … sure, I’ll buy into that a bit. It certainly makes it less than it was and, sure, one could say it makes the beer “dead”.

The whole chemicals thing is just puzzling to me. I’d like to know what these evil chemicals are… but I’ve yet to come across them in the brewing world. And as I said – without chemicals you cannot have beer. (Nor life, nor anything really…)

Now, CO2… the point of this post is to show that your ideas of “natural beer” wade into a big grey area in the world of modern brewing. We do have another point often brought up about what makes “cask ale” natural… that is cask conditioning. “Naturally conditioned beer”… i.e. carbonated by the action of yeast in the beer, not force-carbonated by addition of external CO2. So a natural beer is one that is conditioned in the container it is served from and that involves none of the items in the above list (assuming by “chemicals” we’re talking some odd crazy substances used to somehow adulterate the brewing process).

I bring to your attention the humble KeyKeg. An interesting little keg-type device in which beer is contained within a bladder from which it is extracted using pressure (air will do, but often CO2 is used). The important thing to know about KeyKegs is that many breweries who use them put exactly the same beer into them as they put into casks. Live, good, natural, beer. It conditions in the container it is served from. It does not come into contact with extraneous CO2. The only difference between this beer from keg versus cask is that the keg version will probably be served at a cooler temperature and with more (natural) CO2 remaining in solution.

This beer, from KeyKeg, is a fully “natural” product by any wild definition I can think of.

Moving on from KeyKegs… breweries filling conventional kegs usually do so from a conditioning tank where the beer has been “naturally” carbonated. Again. Live, good, natural, beer. Some even let the beer condition in these kegs (Moor, for example). The only point where the “naturalness” may come into question is when CO2 top-pressure is used to expel beer from keg. And frankly… that’s just a bit of an odd viewpoint to have, in my purely personal opinion. CO2 is CO2. The “extraneous CO2″ does not necessarily add “fizz” to the beer – if used appropriately it just maintains the CO2 level the beer is designed to have. That carbonation level has been chosen by by the brewer – it is as the brewer intends it to be. They’ve, naturally, brewed a beer to be served fizzier. You may not like that… but it is still live, natural, beer.

Next step is to swing across to the grey area of “cask conditioning”. Those “conditioning tanks” I mentioned before are used by many breweries to pre-condition beer prior to filling both cask and keg. So again – in all of the above keg scenarios identical beer is being put into cask. The difference is that the keg version has its natural CO2 level preserved by using CO2 top-pressure, and the cask has its CO2 level reduced via venting.

So sure – there are differences… but unless letting “naturally” created CO2 escape from beer to make it flatter is an essential part of being “natural” (really? really!?) then I think you can drop the silly cask-is-natural keg-is-unnatural approach.

(And I’m really really not saying you have to like cooler fizzier beer… I’m just staying stop claiming it isn’t “natural”. This is needlessly emotive FUD that does nothing for good beer except add confusion. If you want to play at politics (aka lying) then go join a political party… what the beer world needs is facts, not bullshit.)

Chemicals, sub-note: is there a finings Elephant in the room anyone? There’s the (emotive) “fish guts” isinglass finings, and alongside these many breweries use various finings adjuncts like silica-gel. There is an argument that these “drop out” of the beer and you don’t drink them. But there’s always going to be some trace of these “chemicals” left in suspension. Justin of Moor Beer also likes to use the word “natural” – in his case to refer to beer that has not been mucked with by adding finings (regardless of what container type the beer happens to be in). I have somewhat more respect for this usage of “natural”, but do prefer simply “unfined”… isinglass is, after-all, simply made from fish and fish are pretty natural.

[I’ve put up an additional post regarding some other iffy statements in the CAMRA article.]

The “Local” Factor

This started as a comment to this post: And the Wheel Turns – but I can’t post my comment there due to BlotSpot/Google annoyances. So I  brought it here and expanded it. It is about the idea of “local” and picks at just this – it is not a general comment on the post in question.

West Oz vs England

West Oz vs England – England basically fits in what we’d think of as the South West _region_

The whole “local” thing in the UK intrigues me. Given that England is such a tiny place everything seems pretty local to me. Then again I grew up in Western Australia… driving from home to Perth was my idea of a pretty normal drive to get somewhere. Driving from home to Exmouth was a jolly good drive, a proper trip. Driving from home to Sydney was really serious driving – 2600 miles of road, which was talked about much the same as folk in England talk about driving to Scotland – “epic”… really? (I did the drive to Sydney once, on my own, when I was 18. Would love to do it again some day.)

So, take my opinion of local with an appropriate grain of salt… us foreigners are weird, I know.

Pondering this got me thinking about ways in which extreme localness may affect the quality of cask ale. An important factor is that cask ale has that added difficulty of actually requiring a bit of skill and care to serve well.

Our example is Adnams. On their home turf, that is pubs within a few miles of the brewery, they have a lot of people on the ground. The brewery has more frequent contact with their customers (pubs). And those pubs probably have some pride in being able to serve a product made on their doorstep by people they know. The whole chain of responsibility is tight and everyone cares about representing not just themselves but their whole locality. An Adnams cask ale chosen at random from a pub chosen at random is likely to be be of high quality when you’re on the brewery’s home turf.

As Adnams beer spreads out from home it is perceived to get less good. It is said “it does not travel well”. But this is untrue. I’ve had great Adnams cask in a pub 200 miles from the brewery. However perhaps in the general case a grain of truth does come in… Adnams no longer served under the watchful eye of locals, in pubs that see Adnams as just another regional commodity beer, pubs that often don’t give their beer the love and care necessary to serve truly great pints all the time. And in the same areas the really good pubs don’t stock Adnams so much because of this “just another bigger brewery” viewpoint – they save their guest lines for things more exotic and “interesting” to the sorts of folk guest lines attract. (But when they do get Adnams in they serve a damn fine pint of it.) When you’re in these areas further from Adnams an Adnams cask ale chosen at random from a pub chosen at random is less likely to be of the high quality you desire. Through no fault of the brewery.

Even with something as sensitive as cask ale I don’t buy the “it does not travel well” statement. If it travels quickly, is stored well, and is served by pubs who care about beer quality any cask ale should travel perfectly well from one extreme of the UK to the other. But if the beer is not respected in the supply chain or by the pub then issues creep in and the likelihood of this increases as you get further from the brewery.

I put it forward that local beers are more likely to be served well in a pub chosen at random, but good pubs will serve beers from anywhere in the UK just as well.

OK, I obviously have a vested interest in this particular message. There is even an element of the defensive – as I argue I bring in “non local” beers because their quality and diversity adds to the overall beer scene in East Anglia.


Supremacy of the beer engine…

Sparkler in Action

Sparkler – being used incorrectly I believe, but it does nicely show how they function – from Flickr

There has been some discussion of sparklers recently. Yet again. The near-religious divide they create in the cask beer world is amusing. Personally I am usually happy to put it down as a matter of personal preference & taste and leave it like that. (Although it can be fun to carry on purely for the sake of a good argument.) Really it is another thing that goes in the same bag as preferences over temperature, carbonation, and actual styles of beer… I’d not profess that stout is the one true way to drink and enjoy beer, so why would I profess that some given fixed method of dispense is a “one true way”?

I, personally, prefer that my pint is not put through a sparkler. What they do is force carbonation out of beer. For the sake of appearances… that nice tight head.[1] There is also an impact on the flavour and aroma of the beer. What they cannot do is add condition that isn’t there in the first place. Neither can using a beer engine without a sparkler. Neither can gravity dispense.

Gravity dispense… is where I found my thoughts wandering. It is common knowledge, widely believed, that the humble beer engine is the best way to serve a cask ale. But why is it so? Is it so?

What a beer engine does is “suck” the beer from the cask along several feet of pipe, through a cylinder, and shoot it down a narrower pipe into your glass. In the process the beer is severely agitated – releasing CO2 from solution and helping to form a nice head on your beer. But this is a side-effect really – the purpose of the beer engine is simply to move the beer, against gravity, from the barrel to the glass. From the best place to keep the beer (nice cool cellar) to the best place to serve the beer (nice warm bar). It certainly saves on having to run up and down stairs a lot.

So what we have is a practical device that has the side-effect of helping to force CO2 out of solution and giving your beer a nice foamy head. The humble sparkler takes this one step further by adding to that agitation, forcing more CO2 out of solution more rapidly – and forms a tighter head on your beer. (Whether or not that is an improvement is entirely up to the individual.)

But the fact is that that same beer dispensed directly from cask into a glass is going to have more CO2 in solution. Beer dispensed via beer engine (with or without sparkler) simply cannot be less “flat” than the same beer dispensed directly from the cask. Yet is seems to be a commonly held belief that gravity dispense means flat beer. This, I suspect, comes down to two things:

  1. The “head” on a beer is seen as an important indicator of non-flatness. Yet is it really? The mechanism of a beer engine (especially with sparkler) can force what little CO2 remains in a beer out of it, it creates head against all odds. The result is your already pretty flat beer ends up even flatter for the sake of that head. Appearances can be deceiving?
  2. Most people’s experience of gravity dispense is beer festivals. And there are a whole host of issues with beer festivals, especially: insufficient conditioning time, insufficient cooling, insufficient cellaring skills. All three of these yield flatter beer.
    1. Conditioning: the tight schedule of festivals relies on beer coming from the brewery/supplier sufficiently conditioned. This is the norm these days, but sometimes a beer needs time that a festival simply cannot give it.
    2. Cooling: warmer beer has less CO2 in solution. If you vent your beer at 15C, say, it’ll loose a lot more CO2 – and if it then cools to 12C it will appear even flatter as a result. (Ensure your beer is cool before you vent it.)
    3. Cellar skills: knowledge of the previous two, but also simple things like use of nylon pegs at all non-service times for most beers. Keep that condition in the beer!

So, basically, beer festivals give gravity dispense a bad name.[2]

An antidote to this is a sharper focus on cask ale “cellaring”/quality at festivals. Adequate cooling, adequate space and time to match bar capacity, and adequate knowledge and skills. With these three sorted a pint of cask ale whether from beer engine or gravity should be fantastic and sport a nice frothy head.

Gravity dispense in pubs is rare – but is a growing trend mainly thanks to the micropub “boom” and use of non-pub buildings as pubs. Where I have come across it it usually suffers the same problems as festivals. A lack of ability to give at-bar stillaged beer appropriate time and cooling are the enemies here – so too is the lack of knowledge of some of these new landlords who’re new to keeping cask ales.

Gravity Dispense - middle of 3-day festival

Gravity Dispense – middle of 3-day festival

Gravity Dispense - end of 3 day festival

Gravity Dispense – end of 3 day festival

If there is a natural superiority to the beer engine it is that it allows you to keep your beer in a properly cooled cellar away from the point of dispense. Gravity can be just as good… but due to various practical limitations the odds are often against it.

The story does not end there with respect to comparing cask dispense methods. I have tasted a few beers side-by-side sparkled-and-unsparkled and there appears to be a flavour difference. Albeit this has not been done in a blind tasting situation – just casually in a few northern pubs. The sparkled beers usually appear muted… blunted… you could say “smoother” perhaps. What is behind this? Tight head on a sparkled pint blocking some level of aroma perception perhaps? Is enough CO2 forced out of the beer to perceptively alter acidity? Is there something else there… does the sparkler add a rapid-oxidation effect, with an impact akin to putting wine through a blender to “breathe” it?

And if a change of flavour is evident in sparkled-v-unsparkled cask ale – is there similar between gravity-v-beer-engine? Can a beer engine actually change, and improve, the flavour of beer? I doubt it. But I keep an open mind…

Some further research is required… aka: drinking beer ;)

[1] I’m not saying sparklers make beer flat! If the cask is well kept and contains a good amount of CO2 in solution there will still be a good vol CO2 in the beer post-sparkler. In fact, as I see it, in order to serve non-flat beer sparklers demand the best in cellarmanship. (And perhaps this is why beer is generally kept better up north than it is in, say, London.) That said, I near-always find a sparkled pint is flatter than I would like. I do have a preference for a bit more carbonation in my beer however, dirty foreigner that I am…

[2] Though some are better than others – I pride myself in the quality of the beer at my own festival. But even I, with my pretty good practical knowledge and scientific understanding, cannot have 100% perfect beer at a cask ale festival. Cooling is a pain – even using the fancy CAMRA HQ cooling equipment (this year I had beer getting a bit too cold). And the “time” element is impossible to do anything about (luckily few beers come to a festival with insufficient condition in this day and age, but there are always some.)