When Martin suggested I meet the legendary Pete Brown for a beer I jumped at the chance. After all, it’s not every day you sit down with an ex-marketing guru-turned-award-winning-beer-blogger-historian is it?
At the bar Pete orders a pint of soda and lime. Soda and lime. “I’m on detox this week” he explains apologetically. “I had meetings in microbreweries yesterday and today, it just never stops, sometimes I have to say enough is enough.”
“What about a cheeky half?” I ask – desperately. “Oh go on then”.
If you’ve not come across Pete Brown before you’ve been missing out. Inspired by TV beer ads – which used to be “the best thing on telly”– Pete got himself a job as an advertising planner and worked on the Stellar and Heineken ads of the late nineties.
It was running focus groups for beers that made him realise the importance and “passion” people had for beer.
“If you did a focus group for beer you’d get slick lads with loads of attitude, who one minute would be leaning back with a couldn’t care less attitude, and the next minute leaning forward and speaking passionately and openly about beer.”
Pete also talks passionately – and earnestly – about beer. Yet whereas those with an encyclopaedic knowledge can often get caught up in the… err… minutia of their subject, and become… well… dull, with Pete this never happens, quite the opposite.
Pete became a beer writer not because he’s obsessed with the chemistry of hops – he finds that a bit boring – but because he wanted to understand the social history of beer. He wanted to buy a book about it, when he couldn’t find that book he decided to write one, and found an untapped market – ’scuse the pun.
Three books later, with a fourth out next year, his market‘s booming. And so are British beers. “There are 800 different breweries in the UK now, which is more than there’s been since 1945,” he tells me. As for Wales, there are around 42 now when a few years back there were almost none.
So what’s Wales’ national beer then? “That’s difficult”. With some coercion he says Brains Dark because “there’s nothing else like, it’s not a stout and it’s not a Guinness either”.
Favourite Welsh pub? Pain passes his face and I feel mean making him choose – as though I’m asking a father to decide between his children.
“The Bunch of Grapes in Ynysangharad Road Pontypridd is perfect,” he says with serenity. It’s so perfect in fact they let him invent a beer; a stout with chocolate and crystallised ginger, stored in Penderyn whisky casks for six months, coming soon.
So what about the fate of pubs – currently closing at 20 a week? “This is a very controversial thing to say, but I think we did have too many pubs,” he says carefully.
Pete cites the Jolly Butchers as a once boarded up pub that is now booming because it’s caught up with times. Pubs need to evolve to stay open he says, “it’s a business”.
Pete doesn’t worry about the future of pubs. “If you went back to 1100 AD and kidnapped a bloke and brought him forward in a time machine to modern day London, he would recognise the church and the pub, nothing else would be familiar to him.
“After a thousand years, if we’re honestly saying that pubs will disappear in the next thirty years, that’s a misguided and arrogant thing to say.”
So there you go, thank goodness for that.
Want to hear more from Pete? Then visit his beer and food matching talk at the next Abergavenny Food Festival. Can’t wait till then? Well try Worthington White Shield with Mrs Keen’s Cheddar, one of Pete’s favourite matches or visit his favourite London pub, The White Horse on Parson’s Green and join him for a pint. I’ll see you there.