Thursday, February 14, 2013

A spanner in the works

Different: that's my main assessment of the new IPA from Trouble Brewing, Sabotage. It's the Kildare-based brewery's third regular beer and they launched it a fortnight ago in Against the Grain, serving both cask and keg versions to the shower of freeloaders who showed up, alongside the respected members of the totally legitimate electronic media. Head brewer Paul is doing the honours on the right there and you can see the results below. At 5.5% ABV it's that little bit stronger than the nearest rival O'Hara's IPA and in a different bracket to the rest of Ireland's hop-forward craft pale ales.

However, where O'Hara's has opted for bold and tart American hops to mask its strength, Sabotage is altogether mellower and fruitier, eschewing citrus for more of a soft peach and mandarin sensation, the summery juiciness I've come to associate with Galaxy hops in particular.

The orange grove aroma is much more apparent in the cask edition (left, foreground), though I think the one we were served on the night suffered a little murkiness having not been left to settle fully. The clear keg version hasn't by any means had all the hops stripped from it, but it's not quite the same 3D experience.

But the oddest most striking thing about Sabotage is the weight: a massively full body laden with unfermented sugars. It unbalances the hops a little but makes for a very filling pint.

I suspect we'll be seeing that balance somewhat restored in the next batch of Sabotage, but that's on the other side of a brewery move. Meanwhile, give this a go if you fancy something out of the ordinary.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Strike to stop PRP - how can we afford not to?

You’ve already lost out through below-inflation pay increases …
You’re about to lose again when pension costs go up again in April …
But, from September, Gove’s performance-pay robbery would mean that
schools have the power to block annual pay progression - not just on UPS but on the mainscale. Being held back for just one year could cost you £10,000, but, as the chart above shows, if you’re blocked two or three times you could be losing a whole lot more!

PERFORMANCE-PAY:  Leaving teachers worse-off
If Gove gets away with his performance-pay plans, your income could soon depend on arbitrary judgements about your lessons or on pupil progress scores that can depend on so many factors outside your control. If your school is facing a tight budget or if you don’t get on with your management, expect the worst.

PERFORMANCE-PAY:  Leaving schools worse-off
‘Payment-by-results’ will set teacher against teacher, cutting across the teamwork that good schools rely upon. It will divide and demoralise, forcing teachers into ‘teaching-to-the-test’ instead of making sure that children enjoy their learning.  Just like in the NHS, a target-driven culture will undermine good education.

PERFORMANCE-PAY:  Leaving privatisers better-off
A secret memo leaked by the Independent confirms Gove’s plans to make “All academies and free schools … free to become profit-making for the first time.” If big business wants to make a profit out of schools, it needs to cut the main budget heading - the salary bill. Performance-pay is there to help these privatisers. 

… how can we afford not to ?

Knock-out stout

In the black corner, the champ -- brewed since the 1780s at the Barclay Perkins brewery in Southwark, surviving the merger with Courage and now, following nearly twenty years on hiatus, revived under the stewardship of Wells & Young of Luton: the original of the species, Courage Imperial Russian Stout!

And in the other black corner, the contender -- from darkest Yorkshire, representing the entirety of progressive British craft brewing, sporting the modernist typography of the Soviet Ewe-nion: Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout!

At the weigh-in, the champ had a few points on the sheep: 10% ABV vs. 8.5%. To keep things fair the bout was fought blindfolded. Seconds out; round 1!

No real head on either beer when poured, though what little foam there was showed much darker on the Courage. This extra density came through in the mouthfeel too, with the Black Sheep thinner and fizzier than the beautifully full and rounded Courage. Looks like this might not be much of a fight.

Black Sheep put in a good showing in the aroma, lots of lovely sweet treacle and molasses against Courage's rather bitter liquorice offering. But the knock-out punch is delivered in the flavour: Black Sheep drops its guard with an autolytic tang, producing a kind of unpleasant sour coffee effect, while the Courage avoids any big risky manoeuvers, instead going for a subtle dark smooth caramel with just a mild metallic hop tang. Deft, gracious, and the unanimous winner for the judges.

For its mix of heavyweight brawn and classically traditional flavours I don't know whether to match it against Guinness Foreign Extra or Brooklyn Black Chocolate in the next bout.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Strike to stop performance-pay - and help stop privatisation too

From the Dec 8 LANAC PowerPoint - download from

This morning's news of a 'secret memo' revealing the "full extent of Michael Gove's plans to revolutionise education" will come as no real surprise to teacher trade unionists.  However, this timely reminder that Gove's real agenda is for full privatisation of academies, allowing big business to make profits out of school budgets, is a key message that also needs to be publicised as part of our campaign against performance-pay.

As we have said from the very start, Gove's performance-pay plans are about cutting costs to help his privatising friends. If big business wants to make a profit out of schools, it needs to cut the main budget heading - the salary bill.

So Gove's performance-pay proposals are another step along the route towards school privatisation - with the added bonus that he hopes PRP will divide the workforce and undermine collective trade union action too. 

The NUT needs to make clear to parents how the PRP campaign and anti-academy campaigns are so closely linked. A strike against PRP is also a strike to help stop privatisation - both part of a battle to defend education.

The Mid-Staffs hospital scandal is also a stark reminder of what can happen to public services when they are dominated by targets. That same culture is already gripping education - and PRP will make it even worse.

But time is running short to stop Gove's pay proposals becoming implemented.  Agreement across London Region NUT for a demonstration against Gove on Wednesday March 13 is a good way of mobilising for national strike action - but when will that national action be called?
March 13 could, and should, have been the first day for a national strike - but that was narrowly rejected at the last meeting of the NUT Executive. 

Rather than retreat again, the next National Executive meeting on February 28th needs to correct its mistake and call a first day of national strike on Wednesday March 20. That should be followed by further national action early next term. Calling a two-day strike on April 30 and May 1st - May Day - would show teachers and Gove that we are serious about stopping these disastrous PRP plans.

That's why Warwickshire NUT and Liverpool NUT have added their names to the list of London Associations who are not only building for the March 13 demonstration but who are also building for a Lobby of the NUT Executive on February 27th as well.

Those Lobbyists will be trying to get the message across to National Executive members that we need to announce our plan of national strike action as soon as possible - and starting this term - so that teachers can start to budget ahead for loss of pay and so that Local NUT Associations can spread publicity and build hardship funds and so schools can alert parents and students, especially those preparing for exams.

We're battling for the future of education - we can't afford to hesitate any longer!

News of Gove's academy plan can be read via this link:

... and in further bad news for Gove, with evidence that the bullying culture that is gripping education starts at the very top, a Guardian article alleges that Gove may have misled Parliament over a bullying complaint at the Department of Education:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A rare occurrence

Hooray for freebies! This collection arrived courtesy of Molson Coors Ireland who seem to be on a bit of a PR drive at the moment, hot on the heels of their recent acquisition of the Irish microbrewing veteran Franciscan Well down in Cork. No Rebel Red in the bundle, however. Instead there was a bottle of Sharp's Doom Bar: a dull brown bitter which even from the cask I've never been a fan of, and which isn't in any way helped by the clear glass bottle. Also a bottle each of rightly acknowledged classic English IPA Worthington's White Shield and the newer blonde ale Red Shield: a worthy sibling. A bottle of P2 imperial stout would have closed off this set from the William Worthington Brewery in Burton nicely, but moochers can't be choosers.

And then the ones that really interested me: three brand extensions from the company's American faux-craft line, Blue Moon. The styles are varied -- a pale ale, an amber ale and an abbey beer -- yet the strengths are pretty uniform at around 5½% ABV.

I opened the Belgian-Style Pale Ale first, a beer known elsewhere as Pale Moon. I notice the unpleasantness a few years ago with the Confederation of Belgian Breweries hasn't prevented them describing this as a "Belgian Pale Ale" elsewhere on the label, despite it never having been near the low countries in its life. Corporate shenanigans aside, how does it taste? Well, not of very much. It's far more of a dark amber than would be normal for a pale ale, and there's a weight which comes with that: a slightly sugary malt thing, though without any of the caramel or toffee depth that one might expect. On top of this there's a mild fruity tang which I think owes more to the orange peel and hibiscus they've inexplicably thrown in here than the Cascade hops they also claim. The label adds further that wheat has been included, making the whole thing a sort of hybrid of standard Blue Moon and pale ale. Odd that it doesn't have more going on in it then, but it's not unpleasant either. Anyone looking for an American-style pale ale, or something in the Taras Boulba genre, will be sorely disappointed.

I was hoping for something a bit more interesting from Blue Moon Spiced Amber Ale. This is a few grades darker: a beautiful chestnut red and lighter in texture than the Pale Ale. Complex it isn't, but it's certainly interesting. The one flavour that jumps out is the cinnamon, toasted grain and brown sugar of Christmas cookies, not in any way sickly or artificial, but smooth and pleasantly warming. This is one of two Blue Moon winter seasonals and is perfectly, seasonally winterish.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale. This poured quite a pale, clear red and completely headless, despite lots of interfering fizz. Unsurprisingly it's sweet and caramelly but this isn't given any fruity depth by any Belgian yeast flavours, which makes it a non-runner as an abbey beer. Overall it's just too thin and one-dimensional to be worth anyone's time, especially since it'll likely be sharing shelf space and price brackets with several world-class Belgian dubbels.

Generally speaking, Molson Coors's attempt to twist their passable orangey wheat beer into different styles is not something that's in the drinker's interest, even when he's getting the bottles for nothing.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

EBacc - Gove forced to retreat !

Breaking news from:

"Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, will announce a major climbdown over his controversial plans to scrap GCSEs in favour of a new English Baccalaureate. In a surprise statement in the Commons, Mr Gove will reveal that he is abandoning plans to introduce the new qualification in 2015".

"GCSEs will remain, although they will be reformed in an attempt to restore confidence in them as an internationally respected qualification"

"The U-turn represents a political defeat for a minister seen by some Tory MPs as a potential successor to David Cameron".

This is an important setback for Gove and his plans to wreck education - now we must press ahead with strike action to force him back on performance-pay too !

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lewisham teachers call for strike action this term

By a unanimous vote, NUT members at last night's Lewisham NUT's General Meeting voted to call on the NUT National Executive to urgently call strike action, starting on March 20th.

The new poster from the National Union stating that "Michael Gove must understand that unless his onslaught ... stops, then strike action was inevitable" was seen as a step forward. However, that strike action needed to be called without further delay!

The text of the motion that was agreed was drafted during the discussion so that points could be added by the members present to make sure it fully reflected the views of the meeting.

This is what was unanimously agreed to be sent to the NUT National Executive:

1. This meeting is very angry that the NUT National Executive has failed to call strike action to oppose the most serious attack on our pay, terms and conditions of service that has occurred in the lifetime of current NUT members.

2. This meeting is very angry that the NUT National Executive has failed to show strong and decisive leadership in organising a strong campaign with the will to win to oppose the attack on our pay, terms and conditions of service.

3. This meeting calls on the NUT National Executive to organise strike action, commencing on 20th March 2013.

4. This meeting is very unhappy with the paucity of briefing materials that have been circulated to members by the NUT Communications Department concerning the threatened changes to pay and conditions of service and the timetable of that legislation.

5. This Association fully supports the Lobby of the Executive on February 27th and the Lobby of the Department of Education on March 13th