Simon Martin loves a good beer. Not for him, though, a quiet pint of the usual on his own. This is a beer evangelist, a man who has taken spreading the good word on fine beers right into the 21st century.
As Real Ale Guide, Simon (pictured right) is at the helm of one of the most popular channels on YouTube. His bottled beer reviews, filmed in his kitchen, are appreciated across the world, and brewers are queuing up to send him new beers to review, recognising the marketing power of this state-of the-art publicity.
The 32-year-old is surprised by how his life has changed in just a couple of years. A beer lover since he was a teenager — always the one in his group to eschew the Carlsberg in favour of something more interesting — Simon, a carpenter by trade, was given the Real Ale Guide book as a Christmas gift by his brother-in-law in 2009.
A bottled aficionado, ASDA was his retailer of choice. He had a bottle of Morland (Greene King) Hen’s Tooth, read about it in the book and wanted to find out more about on this internet. A Google search arrived at a video of an American doing a review of the beer and the seed of an idea was sown.
The first Real Ale Guide video review was of a bottle of England’s Gold, from the Badger Brewery. “It’s like something from the 1970s.” laughs Simon, and it’s true, it’s not up to his current standard. He did it by webcam, then moved on to mobile phone video, with the device balanced on a sponge for stability.
The first reviews may not have been Oscar nominees, but they worked in drawing in fans and YouTube subscribers and getting Simon’s name known to fellow drinkers and brewers alike. It wasn’t long before a proper video camera was employed, HD no less, and the polished versions currently uploaded show how far the views have come since that first Badger beer.
The point where the YouTube following really snowballed was when Simon was featured in the influential American Public House Review. The YouTube hit counter started spinning and now the breweries — on both sides of the Atlantic — really were sitting up and taking notice.
When I ring Simon to conduct this interview he’s momentarily unavailable as he’s taking delivery of a new box of beer. This time there are bottles from Wells & Young’s. At the time of writing there are some 150 bottles lined up for potential reviews. It’s a hard life, as they say, but someone’s got to do it.
Wells & Young’s figure largely in Real Ale Guide’s development. On the back of Simon’s video work he was invited to visit the brewery, film there and interview head brewer Jim Robinson. Now the project had moved on to a new phase — out of the kitchen and on the road.
Let’s come up to date. Real Ale Guide has been such a hit on YouTube it has become what the site calls a partner. These are users that offer a unique, high quality of content on You Tube and fulfil certain criteria in terms of hits and subscribers.
Real Ale Guide regular features in the South Wales Press, such as a South Wales Echo piece by journalist, beer blogger and festival organiser Arfur Daley. There was an interview on BBC Wales, too (available to watch on YouTube).
“I thought this was just going to be a small hobby,” Simon reflects. “But now it’s absolutely snowballed. My ultimate goal would be to make this a career.”
Simon is married with two young children. But Mrs Martin is no beer widow. In fact, go to YouTube and you will now find … Mrs Real Ale Guide!
Mel (pictured right), a florist by trade, has bloomed into a great video beer reviewer in her own right. Perhaps it was all that time behind the camera filming the other half on those brewery trips? Over the last 18 months she has become more curious about the beer scene and now makes her own reviews offering a women’s perspective on the beers.
The couple are naturals in front of their camera, any initial nervousness soon wearing off. Simon is convinced video is the medium for him. He had one of the first Android phones and saw that video, and particularly YouTube, was going to be a great driver to sell the hardware.
There is a library of some 300 Real Ale Guide reviews on YouTube now, and they’re well worth a browse. Infectious enthusiasm comes through as each new bottle top is flipped off, the reviews are thorough, honest and always entertaining. You never quite know what’s coming next, from a British beer to a heavily hopped American IPA or continental Saison.
At the end of the day it’s all about conveying a love for good beer and getting more people to try it. The lad from Barry has come a long way in just a couple of years or so. As he is famous for saying himself during his tastings: “Stone the crows!”