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Guest Column

Who needs royalties? We do it for love....

Added: Tuesday, January 15th 2013

I perhaps should have seen it coming, but the email from my publisher cast a shadow across a clear and cloudless January day in God’s Own County.

I say “my publisher” because I suppose it adds a slither of cachet to a life where they have been woefully thin on the ground. It’s the sort of thing you can drop into conversation – just like you might remind people you once won a heat of Weakest Link or your mum taught Daniel Craig in primary school.

Any road up, I won’t be doing it from now on, seeing as the email made it crystal clear that although I once did have a publisher, any hope I had of this proving a long and fruitful relationship were now gone: “It is with much regret...due to poor sales...financial position...ceased trading...liquidators appointed.”

They can’t blame me, certainly not for the poor sales. I don’t pretend it had much appeal outside the A6110, but The Great Leeds Pub Crawl did pretty well. It was actually a total sell out (that’s in the “flying off the shelves” sense, rather than the “abandoning your principles for money” sense) and I’d nurtured delicate little hopes of a second edition, new books on pub crawls in other cities, a lucrative book-signing tour and possibly a major TV series in which I get drunk with a string of glamorous co-presenters in a sequence of unlikely locations.

The email punctured the fragile bubble of my imaginings; I won’t even get my royalties now, such as they were. And if I want any more copies to sell at my beer tasting events, I’ll most likely have to get them off Ebay. It won’t be long until I’m doing my own version of the Yellow Pages advert, ringing around the remaindered bookstores like JR Hartley.

Writing has rarely been a lucrative occupation, beer writing still less so. And though I do have a book out there, have written a pub column for the Yorkshire Evening Post for 20 years -- and contributed beer articles here, there and everywhere -- it's my day job that pays the bills. Thankfully, the University of Leeds seems quite content with the arrangement.

Like all beer writers, I do what I do because I enjoy it, because I want to share my passion and my love of a subject which has an endless capacity to delight and surprise. As it did this weekend when I made my first encounter with a couple of bottles of Greene King's lovely Abbot Reserve ale.

Now, GK take a whole heap of stick for their apparent plans for world domination, a policy which has pushed their sessionable Abbot Ale and IPA into plenty of pubs in their expanding empire, often supplanting the traditional local beers which had been sold there for years. Abbot's not bad, but the premium-strength Reserve (6.5% ABV) is packed with the rich fruitcakey tastes which you might associate with GK’s wonderful Strong Suffolk Ale.

It’s a perfect beer for this time of year, and served as a timely reminder that a big brewer - even one which has extended its range and reach and scale following a dizzying whirlwind of mergers and takeovers - can still produce quality, crafted, Great British Beer.

Royalties? Who needs them?

s.w.jenkins@ntlworld.com

Twitter @jenkolovesbeer

*Simon Jenkins was the British Guild of Beer Writers Beer Writer of the Year 2010