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Guild Member Profile

Ben McFarland

Drinks journalist, beer writer, ‘alco-demic’ and 'pioneer of drinks-based comedy' - the Sunday Times
  • Full member
  • London
  • NCTJ qualified
  • FREELANCE, BEER, PUBS, TASTING/SPEAKING, CONSULTANCY, RADIO, TV, PODCAST

What is the one thing you'd like to tell visitors to the Guild's website?

A leading drinks writer and comedy performer named “Beer Writer of the Year” by the BGBW on three separate occasions.

Writing with humour and insight about beer, pubs and drinks culture, he regularly contributes, amongst others, to The Spectator, Telegraph, The Guardian, Drinks Retailer News and is the author of a number of acclaimed beer books including two editions of “World’s Best Beers”; “Boutique Beer” and “Good Beer Guide West Coast USA” & “Thinking Drinkers’ Guide to Alcohol”– both co-written with fellow drinks expert Tom Sandham.

They recently published their 4th book together: “The Thinking Drinkers Almanac” – a discerning drink to enjoy on every day of the year and a riveting reason to do so.

Together with Sandham, he created the “Thinking Drinkers”, best known for their unique, highly-acclaimed theatrical comedy tasting shows. Having begun their comedy career in a small freight container at the Edinburgh Fringe back in 2011, the Thinking Drinkers have now established themselves as one of the headline acts at the world-renowned festival and, every year, they take their award-winning show to more than 50 theatres around the country, playing to more than 17,500 people. They are currently on tour with Thinking Drinkers Pub Quiz”.

They regularly appear on TV, radio and host their own podcast “Around The World in 80 Drinks”.

Available for writing, tastings, consultancy, bah mitzvahs and children’s parties.

 

 

What you can offer as a writer/beer lover?

As an award-winning wordsmith with more than 20 years experience of writing about alcohol in all its fermented forms, I can offer knowledge, experience and an ability to bring the people, places and the past that shape the world of beer to life.

What Critics Said About Thinking Drinkers Shows

  • “For serious and not so serious devotees of legal recreational consumables, the ‘Thinking Drinkers Guide’ is your bible” Dan Aykroyd
  • “The most entertaining free drinks event I’ve ever been to” Dom Joly
  • ‘An erudite, liquor-loving duo’ Metro
  • ‘Pioneers of alcohol based comedy’ Sunday Times
  • ‘There’s no more discerning way to fall off the wagon’ Time Out
  • ‘An intoxicating success…as interesting as it is hilarious’**** Sunday Express
  • “Great fun as well as informative, and at times completely mental”

Edinburgh Evening News

  • “Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham illuminated, educated and intoxicated the crowd. The show is both hugely funny and genuinely fascinating” The Edinburgh Evening News ★★★★
  • “This is brilliant. I love this show.” The Skinny ★★★★
  • “A terrific show. And in these austere times, it has to be the best VALUE FOR MONEY in town. ★★★★ (The Scotsman)
  • “Fantastic drinks, with fascinating discussion from funny people” Three Weeks ★★★★
  • “Fascinating and funny” ****ThreeWeeks

What do you like most about being a Guild of Beer Writers member?

The shiny tankards and cheques.  

The feeling of camaraderie and community

Pieces of work by Ben:

  • In praise of pubs: why every man should have a local

    A neighbourhood isn’t a proper neighbourhood if it doesn’t have a pub. It helps if it has a post office or a corner shop or some kind of local “character” who points at planes. But, at the very least, every neighbourhood needs a pub.

    Britain has lost more than 18,000 pubs in the last 30 years. A sad and rather shameful statistic, really. To lose one pub is careless. To misplace, say, a hundred is daft. But more than 18,000? That’s just embarrassing.

    Every week, 26 pubs shut their doors. If things continue at the rate they are, there won’t be a single one left by 2050 which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is not that far away. Of course, many of these pubs deserve to die – be they blood-splattered tanking houses or the kind of places where they hand you back change from a pint on a silver platter – but far too many great boozers have been boarded up too.

    What’s driven the decline? Some blame the smoking ban, while others point the finger at the moustache-twirling antics of the dastardly property businesses, masquerading as pub companies, who turn pubs into flats – and a tidy profit.

    But the real root of the pubs’ problem is closer to home. In fact, it’s actually in the home – namely the living room and its irresistible allure. Ensconced in our very own sound and vision aquariums, time gently floating by on the back of box-sets and an anesthetised current of discounted supermarket booze, our attention spans and appetite for interaction have shrunk like a crisp packet in a roaring fire while the regular pilgrimage to the local pub is slipping slowly and gradually into the past.

    It is time, gentleman, please, to leave your living rooms and give your local a little bit of love. For the man at ease with himself, the local is no longer a mere pit-stop in the gormless pursuit of that ever-elusive utopian night out.

    As that overly excitable period of manhood loses its lustre, when the thrill of the chase starts to resemble the opening credits to The Benny Hill Show, every man should be looking to acquaint himself with a regular hangout.

    There’s no need to look beyond the local. In our secular society, the local pub is the nearest thing we have to a church, its pews offered to strangers irrespective of their past, pay packet or social standing. It’s a stunningly simple idea. There should be beer. There should be nuts. There should, preferably, be some kind of dog. But there doesn’t need to be much else.

    We, the British, are a naturally reserved bunch, but in the pub, as we curl our stiff upper lip over the edge of the pint glass, things begin to open up, social barricades are broken down with every sip. More than just a place to drink, the local pub is our “third place”. It can be a safe place. A calming quarantine of quiet contemplation, a restful antidote to a life too busy, a cosy asylum where one can clutch a pint to one’s chest, stare blankly into the middle distance and make soothing small talk with a fusty old colonel.

    Get yourself another and look around. Observe the miscellany of mankind spread out before you, real life played out in front of your pint and your peanuts. And remember that you, an upstanding pub-going pillar of the community, now belong to the last bastion of a world where life was simpler, more nourishing and more decent.

    Then buy everyone a pint.

  • In defence of alcohol

    Alcohol. One minute a soul mate, the next a psychopath, it pulls at the loose threads of life with one hand yet weaves joy through it with the other. A fickle fellow, it flips from faithful friend to fearsome foe in the space of a few small sips, the pin loosening from the social grenade with every pour.

    Mistreat it and it will mess you up, dropping you to your knees with nonchalant indifference. Consistent abuse leads to all manner of acute long-term ouch: liver disease, diabetes, cancer and other harmful things that no-one wants to have to deal with.

    On occasions when it is consumed in excess, it shoves a stick in the spokes of the central nervous system, decelerates brain activity and makes a mockery of your motor function. It increases anxiety, slurs speech, exacerbates anger, exaggerates irritation and it can also cause memory loss. It can also cause memory loss.

    Afford it the requisite level of reverence and respect, though, and alcohol is a truly wonderful thing to have around. It really is. Think of all the great things that have happened in your life and, chances are, a drink has played at least a cameo role.

    With each gentle bend of the elbow, drink rounds off the jagged edges of unease and liberally applies a unique afterglow to everything around you. Drink catalyses camaraderie, it makes music sound better, companions more compelling, conversations more absorbing and it even steadies your cue hand too.

    As one glass blends into another, it sharpens your subconscious, it coaxes out courage, confidence and creativity; it awakes your imagination and lights a fire under the rocking chair of unadventurous ideas.

    It unleashes your entire array of emotions – from virtuous indignation to unabashed joy to sobbing snot-bubble sadness – often within the same evening. It’s not drink that disguises us and veils our inner selves, it’s sobriety; drink peels away the layers of self-consciousness and kindly drops them in your top-pocket where you can find them in the morning.

    A source of solace in times of sorrow, an intoxicating aphrodisiac in love, and a powerful weapon in war, drink is also possibly the reason why this isn’t written in German. During the First World War, British soldiers in the trenches drank rum. The French drank brandy. The Germans and Soviets ran out of booze. And lost. Coincidence? Course not.

    And it was the drinks cabinet not the war cabinet that won World War II. Franklin D Roosevelt, Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill were all dedicated, discerning drinkers, while Adolf Hitler never touched the stuff. If only he’d had a drink in that Munich beer hall….

    Intoxication, exclaimed Friedrich Nietzsche, is indispensable ‘for any art, for any kind of aesthetic activity to exist’. Alcohol has inspired every aspect of civilisation: art, music, literature, poetry and philosophy; from Pablo to Picasso to Vincent Van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway to Tom Waits, abstinence would have deprived us some of history’s greatest minds.

    And those squaring up alcohol in the cross-hairs of society’s gun may do well to remember that the first people to make alcohol on a commercial scale were Benedictine Monks and, as everyone knows, there’s nothing nicer or more sensible than a Monk. It’s their job. And what’s more, they’ve got a direct line to the Big Man and if it’s alright with him then, well, it should be alright with everyone else.

    So go on, have a drink. Hell, why not have a couple. If you drink in moderation, then there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed about. Afford drink the due respect and, rest assured, drink will respect you back.

  • The best American craft beers to crack open for the Superbowl

    Like Thanksgiving, Baby Showers and Black Friday, the Super Bowl is an American custom that tends to polarise opinion over here.

    A baffling version of British bulldog played by grunting, grappling leviathans in skin-tight leggings, shoulder pads, eye make-up and shiny helmets that goes on for hours. It’s not for everyone.

    But one thing is for sure – no other sport lends itself better to drinking beer. American Football’s stop-starty rhythm allows everyone watching ample opportunity to get to the fridge and back without missing any of the action.

    Yet when Gridiron first appeared on British TV screens back in 1982, it was not a great time to be reaching for an American beer. Having once been home to more than 2700 craft breweries in the late 19th century, American beer in the 1980s had become a byword for uniform blandness.

    But that’s definitely not the case now. America boasts the world’s most creative and exciting craft beer scene made up of more than 4000 breweries (more than ever before) and a greater diversity of styles than any single European nation can offer. According to new figures from The Brewers Association, breweries are opening in the country at the rate of two a day.

    Even better, an increasing number of great American brewers are sending their beers over here and with this year’s Super Bowl taking place in San Francisco, California, we have chosen eleven beers that all hail from the Golden State.

    This wasn’t difficult as California is where American craft beer was born and it continues to be a fertile source of great beer. So when Superbowl 50 kicks off, we suggest you fill your fridge with a few of the following.

  • Hygge Beers

    Have you got a hygge knob? We don’t like to boast, but we do. And it’s turned up all the way to eleven. We’re up to our necks in Nordic knitwear; the wood burning stove and Pomegranate Noir Diffuser are on full blast; there’s a pastry in one hand and a cup of rosehip tea in the other; and we’ve taken all our Andy McNab books off the bookshelf and replaced them with an old typewriter.

    Yes, it’s fair to say, we’ve got a hell of a lot of hygge going on here. Disillusioned with wriggling under the thumb of The Man, fed-up with being ugly and English, we’re going to start living Danishly in 2017 – and that means working 20 hours a week, eating more pastries, being happier and much more handsome and, it says here, spending more of our time gazing at candles and firelight.

    To achieve the highest form of hygge, you’re going to need a beer. That’s not what the hygge guides necessarily say but, look, just light another candle and go with us on this one, it’s all about being in the moment.

    The fireside moment deserves more than a chilled cooking lager sloshed into a pint glass, it demands something rather special, something crafted for moments of quiet contemplation, something you can swirl in a snifter as you stare glassy-eyed into the smoldering embers of a once roaring fire. Slow sipping, celebratory beers especially suited for special occasions – dusted down, delicately decanted and treated with the utmost respect and reverence.

    Three to buy

    Cloudwater X TO OL Christmas Cake Imperial Stout
    This collaboration between the cutting-edge Cloudwater from Manchester and To OL, a Danish gypsy brewer that gets the craft beer geeks rather excited, is a viscous, maelstrom of rich chocolate malt, dried fruits and ground spices. Also worth trying are Cloudwater’s barrel-aged beers which, like this, suit cellaring and improve over time.

    Abbaye de Rochefort 10
    The Abbey de Notre-Dame de Saint Remy, near Namur in the Ardennes, remains one of Belgium’s most attractive ale-making abbeys to visit. Sunk deep in the undulating valleys of the Ardennes, it boasts one of the most handsome copper brew houses in the world – monks have been making the beer here since 1595. Rochefort’s holy trinity of unpasteurised, top-fermented beers are numbered 6, 8 and 10. While all three beers deserve ‘must drink’ status and are tremendous Trappist classics, it’s the Rochefort 10, especially drawn from the cellar after a few years, that impresses the most. Contemplative and complex, slip it into its own bespoke glass and swirl up a dark ruby reverie of chocolate, plums, fruit cake and anejo rum.

    Thornbridge Bracia
    From one of the UK’s most consistently excellent brewing outfits comes this velvety, voluptuous dark beer brewed, rather uniquely, with chestnut honey sourced from Italy. Launched in small batches, it’s an enthralling yet unusual combination of cappuccino, lemon, smooth chocolatey malt and a touch of peaty smoke on the finish.