Michael Hardman MBE – Mighty Beer Enthusiast

Congratulations to Michael Hardman, one of the four founding members of Camra, appointed an MBE (that’s Member of the Order of the British Empire for my overseas readers) in the New Year’s Honours List “for services to the Campaign for Real Ale and the brewing industry”.

Since Michael has probably done more, in his way, to promote the cause of good beer in Britain than almost anyone else alive or dead, and yet remains remarkably little known even in the UK, an MBE is the least recognition he could get from his country for 37 years of service to the national drink, with Camra, with Young & Co as the London brewer’s long-serving PR man and, until very recently, as PR man for Siba, the independent small brewers’ organisation in the UK. An MBE is what they give you for being school lollipop lady*.

Without the pioneering efforts of Michael Hardman, first chairman of Camra, first editor of What’s Brewing, Camra’s newspaper, editor of the Good Beer Guide from its second edition in 1975, when it became a proper, professional effort, to 1977, there would probably, today, be fewer than half a dozen small breweries in Britain making cask ale, less than a thousand pubs selling it, and there certainly wouldn’t be the 550 or more new breweries in the UK that drinkers can currently enjoy, all direct beneficiaries of the good beer movement that Michael Hardman helped push-start.

Without Michael Hardman the careers of both Michael Jackson and Roger Protz would probably have been very different. Certainly Michael Jackson wouldn’t have received the publisher’s commission to write the World Guide to Beer in 1977 without the market for such a book provided by the rocketing interest in beer in the UK that Camra put the match to. Subsequently that book seems to have been an enormous inspiration to the pioneers of the microbrewery movement in the United States. Roger Protz replaced Michael Hardman as publications editor at Camra with plenty of experience as a journalist but no experience in beer writing and, I think it would probably be fair to say, not much more than an ordinary drinker’s knowledge of beer, but speedily proved up to his brief.

Without Michael Hardman, too, I would never have become a beer historian and you wouldn’t be reading this blog: my career as a digger into the beery past started with a request from the editor of the Camra Hertfordshire pub guide in 1979 for me to write something about old breweries to fill up the guide’s back pages It wasn’t far to travel from writing about old breweries to writing about the beers they once produced. But if Camra hadn’t existed, I wouldn’t have made the first step. Drink a New Year’s toast to Michael Hardman MBE – Mighty Beer Enthusiast.

Before I spotted Michael’s award I was going to write about this being the 100th post on the Zythophile blog, a small landmark, and perhaps not much to show for 18 months of beer blogging, when others post three or four times as often. Still, hits are running at a rate two or three times greater than they were a year ago, though some of those hits are definitely from people who aren’t really after what I’m offering. I’m sorry for the disappointment given to whoever arrived here via the search query “mature Latin dating” earlier this month. I hope the person who asked Google “what is a zythophile” worked out the answer. (Balding fat middle-aged bearded beer geek, actually.) I can’t imagine what the person whose search query was “ipa customer complaint website” was after: maybe they wanted to complain their IPA hadn’t really been on a four-month sea journey to Kolkota? And I’d love to know why there was a surge in search queries around December 7 for “hop telephone exchange” – was Southwark’s former HOP telephone code the answer to a quiz question somewhere?

Others have done excellent round-ups of 2008 – Pete Brown’s is very good, as usual, and I endorse 120 per cent his plea for people to stop going on about the death of the pub. Let’s see 2009 as the year we all make everybody realise how much vibrancy and excitement there is in the pub scene.

That vibrancy comes through particularly in the equally vibrant British (and English language-in-Europe) beer blogging scene. It was particularly good to see this year an “electronic media” section in the British Guild of Beer Writers awards, since easily the best, most informative, most useful, most entertaining and most exciting beer writing is taking place in blogs. (And doubly or trebly so when what is happening elsewhere in beer “journalism” is so often disappointing.)

I hope I’ve indicated through the year one or two of the developments in brewing that I’ve found particularly admirable: more British brewers are starting to realise the thrills of experimenting, of charting new courses through the seas of beer. I feel confident there’s plenty to look forward to in 2009. Certainly I can’t see any reason to stop blogging yet.

*For non-Britons – the woman appointed to guard the road crossing close to a school to ensure that pupils get across safely, and who carries what looks like a large metal lollipop to signal to drivers to stop.

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