Thursday, 2 October 2014

Opportunity Can Still Knock


I went to a preview night of a new pub in Bury last night. It opens tomorrow officially. I say a new pub, but it is actually a renovated pub, re-opening after three years of closure and after a lot of money has been spent on it.

The Clarence was a Whitbread pub and had suffered from a lack of investment until bought from whatever PubCo had inherited it. It was virtually falling down, though that wasn't apparent from the outside. It has been stripped back to the bare bones, a lot of steel has been inserted and years of thoughtless renovations peeled back. For example five layers of flooring has to be removed to reveal beautiful original Edwardian tiling in the bar and a side room, which have now been renovated and are a striking feature of the pub.  Owner Lee Hollinworth showed me round and was obviously very proud of it. There are four floors, with an operating Dave Porter built brewery and the toilets in the basement, a ground floor bar which is centrally positioned. Lee explained that the architects had wanted it elsewhere, but when the tiling was revealed, the original bar position became obvious. So there it went, Lee reasoning that that was what the pub was designed to look like.

 Upstairs is a fifty cover restaurant with large windows and a view out over central Bury. Up one more floor is another bar. This will be reserved for diners, for pre and post meal drinks. Cask beer is on the bar here too.  It is all very well done and must have cost a fortune. Beers are from the in house brewery and were excellent. Even the brown "Session Bitter" impressed, as did the Porter.  Most of the craft keg beers are supplied by Bury's Outstanding Brewery and there will be guest, both cask and keg . Early days I know, but I can see this venture being a roaring success.  I  already plan to take my lass there for a meal one evening soon.

In these times of pub closures, it is refreshing to see a local entrepreneur investing money in such a project. There's life in the pub business yet.

The photo shows brewer Craig Adams outside the brewery. It is from the CAMRA Magazine I edit.  Nice innit?  You can read it here.

Also, in the interest of disclosure, I was given one free pint last night as was everyone else.  All other pints were paid for. There's a lot of money to recoup here. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Too Much of a Good Thing


I like a head on my beer.  You may not know that.  But even I can feel that sometimes that there is a point where a line should be drawn.  On our last day in St Petersburg, in glorious warm sunshine, we stopped at one of the two Soviet style cafes that we'd come across.  Soviet in this case means only that they had stuck up a hammer and sickle sign and painted a few things red.  Otherwise there was nothing different to elsewhere and the prices would probably have induced a fit in Leonid Brezhnev and his cronies.

Still we had roubles to get rid of and only an hour or two to go, so I plunged in.  I have no idea what the beer was called, only that it sounded different and indeed it was.  It was, as you can see served with rather a large head.  It was so milky at first that a Yorkshireman, a lover of the autovac no less, may have paused with concern as he watched it settle.  It wasn't nitrogen poured as far as I could tell, or if it was, it was with the lightest of mixes.  The young waitress who spoke no English brought it to the table with a flourish.  I looked at it dubiously.  Our server gestured that I should sup it before it settled.  Well when in Rome and all that.  It was delicious.  A pale auburn brown, it had hops, balancing malt and great mouthfeel.  I ordered another despite it settling out to around a third of a pint of beer.  I'm guessing that the equivalent pint price would probably be North of eight quid.  Thinking ahead,  I decided not to nick the glass (got far too many of them) as compensation, attractive though it was. 

  Russia does things differently, but I have to say, cost aside, it was the best beer of the trip, even if I don't know what it was.


Any Russian speakers out there could maybe translate the glass and let me know and actually, I wish I had liberated it now.  As tasty as the beer, it is half litre size.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Does Civilisation End and Begin at Derby?


He holds him with his glittering eye —
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years' child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Derby is a great drinking town I'm told. I have been there a couple of times before, but it was quite a few years ago.  This time, fresh from the magnificent Victoria in Beeston, Nottingham, where we had a private behind the scenes tour - one of our party knows the owner - we checked into our hotel just across from the railway station and handy for a kebab house, an off licence and a knocking shop.  What more could a man want?  Well cask beer obviously.  Now my two previous visits to Derby had, I think, confined me to just two pubs.  Who am I to break what could almost be described as a tradition?  Thus it was we convened at an old friend, the Brunswick, a magnificent Brew Pub, fashioned out of a complete mini terrace of houses and with that classic ship's prow, or flat iron front, that I for one find irresistible. I was first there, which is my bounden duty as kitty holder.

Now I am not always the most observant guy in the world and having first of all scanned the pumps to see what was on offer, I scanned the room to get my bearings and check out customers for possible danger, good looking lasses etc.  Thus when the friendly barman asked what I wanted, I didn't spot that the beer was unsparkled, until my glass, brim-full and more or less headless, was presented to me. It was I recall, from Oakham.  My companions joined me and all chose a house beer, which was enjoyed to varying degrees.  I was asked "What's yours like?"  "Pretty good" I opined, "but it would be better sparkled."  At that, a fellow barfly piped up "You should have asked for it to be sparkled then Mate, we do both."  My baleful eye was cast over the piper up.  "I'm the landlord here." he added. Now he was up for conversation and I'm always up for a sparkler debate, so it all looked promising, but this was to turn out a much more wide ranging and knowledgeable discussion than I was expecting.

"Didn't you notice the pumps then?" I was asked.  The bar was "L" shaped.  I hadn't really, but a bank of six or so to my left at right angles had the classic short spout and on/off key .  "Not them" said my new friend. "The ones in front of you."  I tiptoed up.  Each pump had the classic short spout and in addition had the revered and welcoming swan neck and sparkler. Yep. Both.   "You know why don't you?"  I was asked.  Now in sparkler conversations, I like to think I lead from the front, but this was back foot stuff.  "Umm, choice?" I ventured.  " Yes. Obviously that" said my new mentor.  "But do you know why?"  Then he pulled his rabbit out of his hat.  "Because Derby is the dividing line between Northern and Southern dispense.  Below here it is all sparklerless, above, sparkled."  I thought about it and sort of doubted it. I had no backing from my elderly friends who had all long since sat down to discuss retirement pensions, new knees and what kind of jam they like.  Could he be right?  I remembered a map I had published in this very blog about this very subject, back in 2008.  It was possible, though then and before this, I would have put Derby in the sparkled camp.  My new friend had stats.  90% of beer in his pub and elsewhere in Derby is served Southern style.  I looked round.  It was more than that there.  I couldn't doubt him.

The landlord, like the Ancient Mariner of old, had stoppethed one of four (in this case), and I was in his thrall. The telling of his tale could not be denied him.  I was powerless.  He described how unrest had come to this tranquil part of Derby on many occasions, when thirsty travellers from Sheffield, a mere 30 minutes away by train, had descended on the Brunswick, ordered pints and then gently remarked in that laid back South Yorkshire way, "Beer, beer everywhere, nor any drop to drink".  (Expressed more succinctly as "What the fuck have you done to this beer?"  After many such enquiries, the landlord had asked his handpump supplier (CFBS I think) for a solution.  It was as I already described and the second bank of pumps would be converted in due course.  The Sheffielders were happy - well as long as they chose from the converted pumps they were.

My friends were keen to move on, but I could not be denied another ten minutes discussing pulling technique - beer - not women - before I was reluctantly dragged away.  We moved on to the Alexandra, about 50 yards away and my only other visited Derby pub.  A Tynemill House, it had a great beer selection, a friendly welcome,  haggis Scotch Eggs and unsparkled beer, but with a swan neck.   We stayed almost until closing time, but I had to go back to the Brunswick for the last pint, where my new friend, the landlord pulled me a (promised) perfect sparkled pint. So.  Is Derby where North and South divide sparkler wise? My previous line was more likely to have been Birmingham, drawn at an angle though and maybe excluding Coventry below the line and Leicester above. Maybe my readers can venture an opinion or two, preferably town by town and where the line might be drawn.

For now though, I accept Derby as sparkler free by and large, but not as the dividing line.  Does my map look about right?  It doesn't to me really if I'm honest.

It is nonetheless gratifying that the line appears to be heading southward and does anyone else think as I do, that a Scotch Egg is better with just a little heat going through it?  say 30 seconds in a microwave? I know. I'm asking two big questions here.

Monday, 29 September 2014

The Mean Back Streets of Cambridge


My annual trip away with the "boys" this year took place in Cambridge and Derby.  Both good drinking towns.  I took some advice from the Twitterati and of course, being only one person out of four that had a votes, it was ignored.  At least in part.

On the way there we enjoyed a couple of pubs in Newark. First of all the absolutely superb micropub, Just Beer, which was one roomed, friendly, had lovely local cheese and crackers and a great pint of Haf Gwyn from Cwrw lal in Clwyd, which had just the right amount of hops to quench a thirst brought on by two hours motoring south.  Then a couple more in an old favourite, the Tynemill (Castle Rock) owned Fox and Crown where Castle Rock Harvest Pale was impossible to ignore. Old favourites are sometimes just the ticket.

In Cambridge we stayed a twenty minute walk from the centre, so decided just to stick local.  First surprise. Just off the main Newmarket Road is street upon street of back to back terraced houses, just like we have up North, only in pale local brick, not the deep red we are used to.  Most we think were filled, with students - as you might imagine in this university town.  What also was appealing was that many of these rather long terraces had corner pubs.  I do love a street corner pub. We chose a couple and were very pleasantly surprised, firstly by the very appealing Geldart, with two busy bars and decent beer and then by the Kingston Arms where we ate and enjoyed the bustling atmosphere and oddly, beers times two, from different Salford breweries. No doubt specially chosen to make us feel at home. Both pubs, on a Wednesday night were heaving.

We finished off at the Live and Let Live on Mawson Road which was perhaps a bit less up market than the other two - OK a bit more tatty - but with beer from Oakham - a common brew in Cambridge - served in tip top condition and a landlord, who once we praised the quality of his beer, warmed to us immensely and was chatty and welcoming.  Thus we had little to cause to leave.

So we didn't, until we were chucked out at eleven.  Three good pubs in one evening were quite enough for such old men as us.

We did see many of the recommended City Centre pubs the next day, but we didn't stay long enough to see them open, but on the whole, we didn't feel we'd missed out.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Sexist T Shirt Update


I mentioned here that I'd asked that we check that there would be no sexist T shirts on sale at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. The Organiser has confirmed with our T Shirt man that there won't be any, and as I understand it, that he'll be happy to be subject to audit to ensure there isn't. Good man. From memory his is a pretty big stall, but it seems unlikely after all (though we initially thought he was) that he is the same person that sells T shirts at GBBF. Someone else will need to take that one up I think.

Still, I'm pleased . I hope my readers are too. It shows it can be done. Small steps and all that.

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, Manchester Velodrome, 21st/24th January 2015. No sexists T Shirts on sale, but lots of beer.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Vladimir's Cure


Before I went to Russia, my fellow blogger the Beer Nut wrote somewhere - was it twitter? - I can't find it anyway, something to the effect of "Just wait to you see a country totally ruled by strong drink".  So when I went, I thought I'd find the place littered with scary drunks, pubs full of gangsters and an attitude to drink that would make Glasgow seem like a temperance hall.  Instead I found a very civilised place - OK it was posh Moscow and St Petersburg - and no sign of drunkeness at all.  The bars and pubs were filled with lovely, well dressed people sipping wine and having a very nice time in a quiet way. The only potential drunk I came across was me.

OK.  It was so expensive that you couldn't afford to get drunk, so worryingly these anti alcohol Johnnies have a case study that they could possibly use.  But that was in bars.  Drinking from the offie was cheap. Not as cheap as good old GB, but still reasonably cheap.  So maybe they just get pissed at home?

In one bar, a short measure half litre of Young's Double Chocolate Stout and a half of Harp (in a McEwan's glass) was over a tenner.  Why did I choose Young's?  It was on offer. Why didn't I drink Russian beer?  They didn't sell any - a feature of many Moscow bars.

More of Russia soon,  but building works at home make internet access and somewhere to sit and do it, tricky at the moment.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Going in for the Kil.




Kilderkin

The kilderkin (from the Dutch for "small cask") is equal to half a barrel or two firkins.


Beer kilderkin

Until the adoption of the imperial system the beer kilderkin was defined as 18 ale or beer gallons.

Imperial kilderkin

With the adoption of the imperial system the kilderkin was redefined to be 18 imperial gallons, which is exactly 81.82962 litres or approximately 2.890 cubic feet.
 

On Saturday last week, we had an organising meeting for the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. (Get it in your diaries Folks - Bigger and better than last year's sell-out, 50% of beers on main floor, 50% on concourse to avoid the stairs - and back at the magnificent Velodrome - advert ends.) One discussion was how to liven up the beer selection to get many more up and coming breweries in and to provide as wide a selection as possible.

I won't bore you with all the details of the discussion, but the Beer Orderer (a thankless task if ever there was one) pointed out that we had just discussed how tight space was at the bars and that we need where possible, in as many cases as we can, to get beer in eighteens. A major stumbling block is that very few small, up and coming, cutting edge breweries supply beer in eighteens (kilderkins) thus limiting our ability to order them, as we really need to maximise the utilisation of available space. Now this isn't the end of the matter, but I know this is a common problem with beer festivals. It might therefore be an idea for some breweries that find themselves excluded from certain festivals, would do well to point out that they can supply in kils. It would also be a good idea, where funds permit, to buy a few.

I also suggested that we should try and ensure that no sexist T Shirts are being sold at our event. We use the same guy as GBBF and while we can't be sure what the situation will be, enquiries will be made.  I'll keep you informed as to how that goes.

Just a small quote from our website:  "Once again we’ll be featuring some of the very best cask conditioned craft beers available selected from the very best brewers from around the country. From traditional bitters to hop front IPAs, through to the most cutting edge sours & saisons"  

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

"Old" Ales



Apologies for my recent silence. A trip to Russia and the fact my house is being torn to bits by builders, has precluded me from writing.  Oh and my shoulder is still sore, thanks for asking.

The removal of a wall cabinet in what used to be my kitchen (I think) turned up these beauties.  I rather thought (OK I know) I had a bottle of Bass No1 in there too, but before I accuse the building lads of supping or breaking it, I'd need to check through a million things that have been put elsewhere. One doesn't half tend to accumulate junk over the years though. This morning I've "enjoyed" reading through old love letters from my first real girlfriend - nothing mucky at all really - to my immense disappointment and loads of stuff about the National Insurance Act of 1975, which was a big thing in er, 1975 when I worked in, wait for it, National Insurance.  I had lovely handwriting too in those days.

Anyway, a picture tells a thousand words, so without real comment, here it is.  We have a photo of some old ales which are both old and strong and some which are old and aren't old or strong, but are indeed strong and old. All are in nips.

What's in a beer name?

You can see the skip in the background.  Also have rediscovered many other bottles and glasses. Might show them soon too. Saves thinking anything up.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Post GBBF Thoughts


There has been a little criticism of the recently closed Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) around social media.  It tends to centre on two things.  A feeling that the Great British Beer Swally isn't inclusive enough in terms of welcoming women (in particular, the selling of sexist T Shirts) and of course the allegation that somehow there isn't enough choice (diversity) and all beer isn't represented.

Now the first is complex.  In many years of representing Trade Union members (though not for over 20 years), cases involving gender were always the most difficult and emotive.  (It was just as difficult as a senior manager.) The issues (whatever they might be) are rarely seen the same way by everyone and that makes reaching an agreed conclusion - or even understanding - problematic to say the least.  Perception is involved and that's a very individual thing.  Though there are usually some things that seem obvious, when you get underneath it, a solution is often not as straightforward as you might think.  Now I must admit that I didn't even notice the T Shirt stand this year, but then again, I wasn't looking for it. I'm not a potential customer. I have it though on good authority that the same old offensive to female T Shirts were on sale.  Tasteless and insulting I agree.  Is the answer to ban them?  On balance yes.  Anything that makes even a minority of female guests at GBBF uncomfortable isn't a good idea and it would seem a quick and simple fix.  It shouldn't be beyond T Shirt sellers and producers capability to find other more appealing themes surely?  Thankfully I haven't heard allegations about women being denied pints or strong beer this year - or other mockings. Yet.

On the wider front, looking around this year, my perception was that a lot more female volunteers were working behind the bars (many in Bar Manager or Deputy positions) and many more behind the scenes that you don't see  - in Staffing, Press, Hospitality and more.  On the floor there seemed to be plenty female customers and most seemed to be having a good time, though maybe they were just putting a brave face on it.  Is the ratio correct?  We certainly had plenty happy women coming to the German Bar, asking for tasters, advice and then going off smiling. Hard to say overall as it is a huge event, but it seemed reasonably healthy to me and improving year on year.  Can more be done?  Of course.  I'm sure the Organiser would welcome suggestions.  I'm guessing the entertainment might be an area for improvement too for example.

Ah beer choice.  Loads of boring samey beers and no craft keg. Well I have news for some.  Most beer in Britain is "boring and samey" and almost all of it isn't craft keg .  It is what most people like to drink and what most brewers produce, because that's what most customers want.  There was plenty of more interesting and stretching alternatives though in cask and bottle and on Foreign Beer Bars.  What you had to do is seek them out, just as you would in the wider world and at least at GBBF, within a few yards, you'd likely find them.  "Not representative" in this case tends to mean "No keg beers from my favourite hipster brewers".  That isn't the same as having no choice folks. It just isn't.  CAMRA has increased choice year upon year - I know this as I've been going for 15 years or more - and who knows, things may change further, but there is no a lack of choice and quality on the whole, is pretty good.  There really is something for almost everyone and rather than think what might be missing, with over 900 beers to choose from, a better way of looking at it would be to get on with what's on offer as there is so much to choose from. Of course, everyone scratches their head from time to time and wonders why their favourite brewery isn't represented.  I do too, but with 1200 breweries in the UK, omissions are surely inevitable?  Despite its unwieldiness, GBBF is what it is.  A huge effort by willing volunteers, to put on the best beer show they can in pursuit of the aims of the Campaign for Real Ale.  It changes and evolves and generally improves, year on year, but is still a great event for most attendees.

With the caveats above, we shouldn't forget that to most customers, the flamboyance, familiarity, friendliness and approachability of the event, the gobsmacking size and the sheer good time they have, are what really matters.

Spare and thought too for the volunteers, young and increasingly old, that give up their time and feet to put the show on.  You'd miss it and them if it wasn't there.  That day is getting closer perhaps.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Cheeky German Waiters


The gruffness of German waiters is legendary.  It is a matter of professional pride to many never to crack a smile, though maybe that is changing as more and more of them hail from East Europe.  Until you come across one of the old school that is.

In Munich last month, our little party of four decided to eat at the Loewenbrau Keller as it has a lovely big screen outdoors on the terrace where we could watch the semi final of the World Cup involving Germany and Brazil.  Alas it wasn't to be, as torrential rain forced us inside.  Still, we got a nice table just a dozen steps down from a room with loads of tables and a telly.  There was lots of room at the back to stand if need be and nobody minded us doing so.  The Germans, all flags and painted faces, were seated in neat benched rows.  Even football watching seemed organised and, well, neat.

We ordered drinks.  Now we'd been before for a nightcap and the girls really liked Loewenbrau Pils.  I do too. It is delicate, but with a firm body and a bitter, perfumey finish. It is actually rather an elegant drink. Two were ordered.  Our waiter, an elderly type, said that they'd be better with Helles as the Pils was too bitter for women.  Now Janet is a bit of a hop fiend and can take as much hops as the next person, even if that next person is a 100 IBU one.  Eileen is not the kind of person you tell what she can or can't drink.  Trust me on that one.  Pils were insisted on and provided. I spent quite a lot of time running up and down the stairs in response the the roars of the lads and lasses in the tv room.  We enjoyed our beer and the hearty food and it was a great night, despite the wet walk home and the Pils Denier.

I won't say whether or not I had a German flag painted on each arm, but will say that I didn't have one on my face. Unlike some other Brits present.

The Loewenbrau Keller is huge and only a fraction of the size it used to be.  Maybe not the best beer in the world, but that pils is good.

Blogroll Deleted. Doh!


Shit.  I've accidentally deleted my blogroll while amending an incorrect entry. Blogger it seems has no way of recovering this.

So, looking on the bright side, I suppose it brings me the chance to bring it all up to date.  If you wish to be on my blogroll could you send me your blog's details and url in the comments column so that you appear when I reconstruct it.  Sorry about this. My fault I suppose, but I still don't understand how it happened.

Of course, if you already appear on my "Latest Blog Info" on the left hand side, there is no need to do so.

In fact I might just add you to that. Or maybe I will reconstruct Blogroll.  Either way it has pissed me right off.


Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Good Thing About Unsparkled Beer


You can't really bugger up an unsparkled pint. Well you can, but it will be hard to tell the difference, or, crucially, how good it could have been, because of course it isn't sparkled and therefore presented at its best. As God intended.

I considered this basic truth when in one of my local pubs last night. The key to pulling a good sparkled pint is in the initial pull, which must be vigorous enough to produce the creamy head. The swan neck must go to the bottom of the glass, with the glass held straight, not tilted. The second pull can usually be less strong and the nozzle should always be kept in the beer, not raised as the glass fills. When the fill is nearly complete,a good barperson will hesitate near the top, take your money and let the pint settle while doing so. Then the pint is topped up by inserting the swan neck back into the body of the beer. It should be topped up from below, allowing the fine collar of cream to remain intact. That's the key to using a swan neck and sparkler, you fill the glass from the bottom.

There's a skill to this, but frankly it is a piece of cake once you have pulled a few pints. This is especially true when the same range of beers are sold. You get used to how they behave, but the principle is the same. Why am I telling you this? Well of course education of the heaving masses might be one reason and an honourable one at that. But it isn't. A couple of my pints were spoiled last night by incorrect topping up from the top which tends to bubble the beer and dissipate the head.

To the sparkler hater, this is neither here nor there, but to those of us that follow the true path of enlightenment, it is a heartbreaker.

At least being the North, the beer was beautifully conditioned and cool. The photos show a Yorkshire pint settling in the Riverhead Brewery Tap and the other one poured by me at home. Neither was the beer drunk last night.

PS Bon Don Doon from Wilson Potter is a lovely beer. As always, I am available to teach the uninitiated for a very reasonable fee.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Note for Tegernsee Lovers


I wrote here about my liking for the beers of Tegernsee, a smallish brewery near Munich.  While it is perfectly possible and indeed a very good idea to hop on the train to the lake and drink them at source, you no longer have to do so. To my delight on my recent trip to Munich, I discovered that Tegernsee has opened a pub on Tal, right in the centre of the best drinking area.  Very easy to find it is too, being directly opposite the Weisses Brauhaus and next door but one to Paulaner.

Among other visits, we watched the Netherlands being (unfairly) beaten by Argentina.  We were there until the last kick of the match at around 12.45. Beers were served throughout.  This is a fairly pubby place, with a long bar you can sit at in the front to one side and a number of tables and booths inside.  Off course there is the usual tempting German food.  Prices are reasonable and the staff were smilingly obliging on every visit. Oh. And they sell Spezial, a sort of strongish export style beer which is kind of unique to these parts.  Like Augustiner Edelstoff or Andechs Spezial, it isn't for everyone with a slight sweetness from the full malty body and the alcohol, leading to a bitter finish.  A boys beer at 5.6%, so still (just) in the swoopable range.  Well, I certainly swooped a few.

All we needed to complete our joy was the sadly lacking sunshine, when I believe they put tables outside. Go there if in Munich whatever the weather.

Tegernsee Im Tal:  Im Tal 8, 80331 Munich. Photo: Praying at the Tegernsee Altar.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Lack of Consistent Quality is Cask Beer's Real Enemy


I read with interest and without surprise that in the blog of  Roger Protz veteran and still going beery guy, guest writer Jane Peyton, would like to see a more united front in the continuing pursuit of good beer.  The article can be read by clicking the link above and is well worth a read.  In it Jane makes the usual points in trying to encourage togetherness and overall there is little if anything to disagree with.  I particularly like her point about the growing generations (not all young and female by my observation) of "sweet" cider drinkers, though to call some of these abominations cider, is stretching it more than somewhat given the low (if any) apple juice content, but the point is still particularly valid.  Another very obvious but overlooked point (though Jane puts it in reverse) is that the vast majority of pubs are kept open not by cask ale or craft keg drinkers, but drinkers of utility lagers such as Carlsberg, Carling and Fosters.

Where I part company with her is where she says "I can understand why so many CAMRA members  resent kegged beers, after all those members have campaigned for years to protect cask ale against boring and flavourless pasteurised beer and thanks to their efforts the war has been won."  I wonder about that. I am sure that many CAMRA members do resent keg beer, though, as there is so little competition from keg beer in the standard three to five percent range - the norm for cask beer drinkers - do they really need to?  Ordinary lower alcohol beers don't really present as well when kegged.  It's one of the reasons why so few do it. But "the war has been won." Has it really?  It has been won in the sense that cask beer's market share is shrinking less in today's market than other products (except craft keg oddly), but is it out of danger? I'd say not and while craft keg is a factor, there are a number of others.  Oddly, availability is one reason. Too often cask is available, but poor. Cask ale being very perishable, depends on a quick turnover.  It requires folks that will happily rattle back two, three or four pints in a session and it would seem that there are less drinkers of that ilk around now.  Volume drinking is, if not exactly going out of fashion, decreasing in popularity, especially with younger drinkers who don't quite see beer, or indeed themselves in that way, being often more eclectic in their likings (both beerwise and socially) and pretty concious of outcomes in terms of weight, health and image. 

The demise of many local pubs has diminished cask ale drinking too.  True many closed pubs were pretty poor, but even those, in my younger drinking days in Liverpool, were almost all cask, though of course not so latterly.  Turnover leads to quality and while choice was less, bad pints were rare.  And there is a quality issue with cask in many places.  I rather think we are getting a little nearer than we realise to the bad old days of the 1980s when Ruddles, Theakstons, Boddingtons and others became national brands with a resulting drop in quality overall.  Nowadays it is seen as enough by many (as it was then) to have a slow shifting, badly kept set of beers such as Doom Bar, Greene King IPA, Deuchars, London Pride and others of that ilk, that demonstrate the same "boring and flavourlessness" - to quote Jane - that the old keg beers of yore did, with the added disadvantage that it will likely be sold to you in less than perfect condition and temperature.  In the "bad old days" when pubs were brewery owned that happened so much less.  Most breweries policed their estates somewhat assiduously then.

 There was a very good piece in his blog by Martyn Cornell on the subject of CAMRA's stance on pub closures and changes of use.  He makes a lot of good points, including some that may not meet with universal agreement.  But where he is certainly right is in his point that CAMRA should have a campaign to raise the standard of cask beer sold in the UK today.  I agree with him, though in my case, as it would be as well as, not instead of campaigning against certain pub closures. My CAMRA Branch has an over-riding campaigning objective of so doing - and we have pretty good cask beer on the whole, so it could be argued that we don't need to do so.  Other CAMRA branches - and they need to be honest with themselves - ought to do the same. As long as cask beer is sold in many outlets in its blandest form, as long as pubs don't cellar and keep it correctly, as long as access to the market for more interesting beers is made either impossible or impossibly expensive by the Pub Companies, cask beer will always be in danger. When you can confidently expect a perfectly kept pint of interesting cask ale in the vast majority of pubs, then maybe, just maybe the war will be won. Not until then though and that's a long way off.

There is still plenty campaigning to be done.  The war to keep cask safe isn't yet over. The enemy though isn't craft keg, which is very encouraging of new entrant beer drinkers (a big plus to me), it is the quality of cask beer at the point of dispense and probably always has been.

Neither Cask Marque nor the Good Beer Guide will guarantee good beer sadly, but we should feedback to both when it isn't up to snuff.  If nobody complains..............

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Ice Cold in Munich


Tickers weep.  I'm about to tell you about a beer I've had and you'll never have. This is an exclusive and I just stumbled across it.  More or less.

Before going to Munich recently, I had hurriedly printed off some stuff about craft beers in Munich. Mostly just where to buy it, or drink it, but among the restaurants and pubs, there were two new breweries listed - both just with addresses and little else.  They were served by the same S Bahn station, so, with my companions, we thought, "Why not?" and set off. The one we were really aiming for was Brauerei Im Eiswerk which was supposedly a small offshoot run by Paulaner, one of the Munich giants.  We found it easily enough, in a quiet yard behind the huge Paulaner-Hacker Pschorr Brewery, but it all looked a bit closed.  As we nosed around, a door opened and my friend John explained the purpose of our mission to the charming young lady (one of the brewers as it turned out) that opened it. She fetched another gentleman who turned out to be the Head Brewer.  He explained that the brewery produced a number of exclusive beers which are sold to the public by pre-arranged collection once or twice a month.  It wasn't open to the public other than that.  Ah well.

Brewers though are princes among men.  The brewer thought for a moment and said "Would you like to come in and I'll tell you a bit about what we do here?"  "Yes please" we chorused.  The brewery is in an old building which was where they produced ice to allow round the year brewing many years ago. Herr Martin Zuber is the Brauemeister and his aim is to extend the range of beers brewed by Paulaner by re-interpreting or extending existing styles and by using different techniques or hops. The main thrust seems to be promote more passion about the beers they produce and to generally stimulate interest in beer and brewing.  Herr Zuber who spoke excellent English of course, then talked us through what they brew and showed us the remarkable and expensive looking stainless steel kit on which he brews his range of beers.  As he warmed to his theme, he seemed to make his mind up.  "We could maybe taste some of the products?" he suggested.  We were very happy to go along with this and were treated to snifters of all the beers.  Starting with Josef's Special, a brown ale of 5.2%, named after Joseph Pschorr, a renowned member of the famous Pschorr brewing family, which was creamy and smoky, then a Maerzen 1881 named after the year the Ice Factory in which we stood, was built, thus allowing brewing to take place at Paulaner throughout the year.  Previously brewing couldn't happen in the summer months as beer would spoil.  This Maerzen, weighing in at 5.7%, is styled on the forerunner of all Oktoberfest beers.  It had sweet malt, caramel notes and a smooth, elegant finish with some hops. 

In a different mode altogether was Weizen Bock Mandarin (6.9%) . This is a wheat beer made with top fermenting yeast and hopped with Hersbrucker, Hallertauer and Mandarina Bavaria, which imparts apricot/peach, mango and mandarin notes.  The beer is also dry hopped with Mandarina. It was slightly alcoholic with peachy fruit, tropical mango notes and a touch of orangey mandarin.  Quite delicious.  Then the alcohol was upped with Bourbon Bock (9.2%), described by the brewer as a a Triple Ale Bock. The beer undergoes a  triple fermentation and is then stored for 3 months in oak bourbon barrels giving it a hint of sherry, dried fruit and vanilla.  It was very warming and silky. Last up was a real treat.  An Eisbock of around 20% abv (I can't quite remember) which was liqueur smooth, thick and lasting in the mouth.  It kind of reminded me of 7 star Metaxa Brandy. It would be a great nightcap.

We asked Herr Zuber about himself and the Paulaner-Hacker Pschorr set up.  He trained as a brewer at Weihenstephan and used to be Head of Production and Quality Assurance in the main brewery.  In addition to his duties in the Ice Factory, he has the responsibility nowadays of overseeing all of Paulaner's 30 odd breweries abroad and has to visit them to ensure quality. A tough job, but someone has to do it I suppose. He is a big hop fan and of course we asked him, among many other things, about whether he'd like to brew an IPA.  "Well" he said, "I have in fact done so, here in this brewery, just to show others we can do it".  But he added you won't likely ever see a Paulaner IPA released on general sale from Paulaner- HackerPschorr, as the aim of the Ice Factory is quite different.  He again paused and thought for a second.  "Would you like to try my IPA?"  Er. "Yes please" we chorused.  So we did.  100% Cascades and perhaps at the less hoppy end of that particular spectrum, it was nonetheless a unique tasting experience.  It won't ever be released and when the keg is emptied or goes stale, that will be that.

As I have said before, brewers are generally lovely people who like to talk about beer, but this was above and beyond that.  Herr Zuber was kindness itself, giving an hour and a half of his time to four complete strangers.  It never ceases to amaze me that beery folks are the best.  But it shouldn't really, should it? 

Paulaner and Hcker Pschorr don't compete against each other any more, but rather, complement beer ranges which are separate brews and mostly different. That was an interesting part of our visit to me at least.  The top photo is Martin Zuber and the other one a not very good photo of the lovely little stainless steel Eiswerk Brauerei kit.

We did go to the other brewery mentioned in my first paragraph.  It took me back to my younger beer hunting days. More on that another time.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Poor London Pride


I'm not that big a fan of London Pride though I recall way back years ago when the Marble Arch sold it, it was a beer to actively seek out.  When I say way back, I'm talking over 25 years ago.  Was my enjoyment of it because of its comparative rareness, or was it simply better then?  Or maybe we had simpler tastes back in the good old days when hops were a background addition to beer and not the main star?  Now it seems one dimensional and sweet, but hey ho, that's how some people like it. What I have noticed though, in the few times I have had it recently, is how thin and generally unappealing it has become - to my palate at least.  It doesn't refresh, it cloys. Admittedly most of those times have been in Wetherspoon in London when there has been nothing else I fancy on.  When I've moaned on Twitter, I have been advised that I should only have it in Fuller's pubs. I've tried that and really don't find it any better there.

I wonder if the beer really has got worse, or if, in these days of vast choice,  I've simply become far more picky? In fact, have too many of us, rather than being discerning, just become too hard to please?


Worryingly, I tend to think the same of Lees Bitter these days too, relying instead on their seasonals or Manchester Pale Ale

Monday, 4 August 2014

It's a Bit Different In Munich


The Augustiner Keller is a classic of its kind and best of all, it is very handy for the centre of town when in Munich and an easy walk from the main railway station. In Munich the word "keller" generally denotes a beer garden and this is a classic of its type. Huge, sprawling, but nonetheless cosy enough, with its dozens - or is it hundreds - of benches set under chestnut trees, while an oompah band plays folksy German tunes in the background. On a lovely Monday evening in July it was seductively attractive.

It helps to know the form here. The place is split into two areas. One is self service in that you go in via a turnstile, choose your food from a number of counters and then separately your beer (Edelstoff from a wooden cask in my case), which is handed to you and hence, cafeteria style, to a till where you settle up. Otherwise you go to the other half of the keller, where a waiter will eventually wander over and take your order. In the posher bit, like many German restaurants, the tables will all have either people sitting at them or reserved signs on them. If you make it clear that you wish to eat, then, usually,  a table will be found for you. If you just want a drink, well its more hit and miss and you may have to find a table to share, which is normal there. It's all very jolly and civilised.  No children running wild, no shirts off tattooed drunks and just the buzz of conversion (and the band who are not amplified) to accompany good beer. Oh and another thing. In the self service area, unless you choose wheat beer, the smallest (indeed only) measure is a litre. Just get on with it. In the "waited on" area you can have half litres. Go figure.

We started off in the self service part and as we intended to dine, moved to the waiter service area where a reserved sign was removed for us.  We looked and I tried to estimate how many people were there.  It was hard to say, but I'd guess quite a few over 800.  We discussed this and couldn't think of any location at all in the UK, where, on a Monday night, without it being a special event or location, that so many people were eating and drinking out in such a relaxed and casual manner.

The German beer garden is a thing of wonder, as is how it all works and the incredible wealth and social cohesion that sits behind it.  It was a smashing night of a kind you can only really get in Germany and more specifically, in Bavaria.

Unfortunately the weather then turned and more or less ended our outdoor drinking.  If you want good weather in Munich, find out when I'm going and don't go then. I've a bad record in that respect.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

You Can't Sit There


On my recent trip to Munich, I had half an hour to myself, so decided to ensure my time was usefully spent. Thus I nipped into the Augustiner Großgaststätte, a massive pub, restaurant and Beer Hall on Neuhauserstrasse and a favourite of mine. It was rather busy, so I ambled around looking for a likely spot. Finding a decent looking perch at the end of an under occupied table, I plonked myself down. Promptly a waitress appeared and told me auf Deutsch "You can't sit there". Having encountered this kind of situation before, I know better than to argue the toss in such circumstances and while having no precise idea why I couldn't sit there, I shuffled off in the general direction of her vague wave. I found a seat on a table not at all dissimilar, with just one guy sitting there and a pleasant male waiter brought me a half litre of Edlestoff and all was well.

Almost certainly the waitress was going off shift and didn't want any more customers before she settled up her receipts.  Or maybe was just being awkward.  That's a possibility too. Funny old place is Germany.

There are those that see little merit in Edelstoff.  They are quite wrong. It is a super export beer of considerable poise and elegance and far better than the somewhat watery Helles .

I also had the distasteful experience of having to crunch a cockroach underfoot in there.  I thought at first it was a child's toy.  Big bugger but better off dead. I don't think I could have reasoned with it. 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Definitely a Bit Ouchy


Not beer prices, but my left shoulder, which has seized up and is showing me what pain is all about. That's why this blog has been silent for too long. It is just too painful to hunch over a screen, hence nothing from me.  Physio is kind of helping, but rest is needed.

I'll be back.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

More Than a Bit Ouchy


I like the Soup Kitchen in Manchester. Not a pub, more of a genuine café-bar, it has five handpumps though invariably only three or four are on, some craft kegs, a few good bottles, a great atmosphere and service is always friendly and pleasant. You can perch on infeasibly high stools (beware of your legs going numb and the long drop back to terra firma) and watch the world go by both inside and out. OK I might up the average age by far too many years, but it's a firm favourite of mine and as long as you go during the day, there's a chance you won't be the oldest there.

On Saturday daytime, after very good pints in Pie and Ale, I visited with a mate.  It was my round and three beers were on.  We dismissed one on the grounds of not fancying it, one on the grounds of strength (7.4%), so we had the other, a Manchester brewery which is pretty new.  Squawk Pale Ale (3.9%) was purchased after we sampled it. OK, it was a bit warm, but we went for it.  I thought I'd misheard the barmaid when she chimed  "£8.20 please" but no, that's what it was.  I looked at the board.  Other beers were around the £3.50 mark.  I asked why so and was advised by the barmaid replied that it is very expensive to buy.  Hmm. My answer to that would be "Unless it is extra special, don't buy it then."

Now I know that beer can vary in price, but I reckon £4.10 for this beer, brewed not more than a couple of miles away, is taking the proverbial.  It even exceeds most beers in the Port St Beer House and they know how to charge. But who is doing it?  Not the pub they say,  who are (presumably) applying their standard mark up.  They blame the brewery and the price of the strong beer we turned down would seem to indicate this might be the case.  Arbor Breakfast Stout, all the way from Bristol and at 7.4%, a lot stronger, was exactly the same price. (No - they don't charge a standard price for beer.)  Nor was the beer, while absolutely fine, anything special to justify the price and certainly not as good as either the Outstanding Green Bullet or the First Chop DOC we'd enjoyed previously.

 Of course breweries will charge what the market will stand, as will pubs and good luck to them if they can do it, but for me, that was just too much, whoever is to blame.

We didn't get a duff pint at all on Saturday and most were absolutely top notch.  That at least was positive. Roosters The Italian Job confirms the steady rise back to excellence for this brewery.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Booths


For those that don't know, Booths are a small, independent, supermarket chain based in Preston with around 29 stores.  The nearest to me is Media City in Salford.  Think of them as the Waitrose of Lancashire and you won't go far wrong.  They are noted among other things for their large and very varied beer selection which has most connoisseurs of bottle British beer, not only nodding their approval, but actively seeking them out.  I like them and make a point of popping in when I can, though more usually for their foodstuffs rather than beer. Still, I like beer too and while I don't drink beer at home that much, I was nonetheless grateful to receive three samples from Booths of their latest in house range.  Now I tend to leave beer descriptions to those that are adept at it, such as the Beer Nut and those who are not such as.... well, let's move on there, but last night, pre-thunderstorm seemed a good time to give them a try, sat out in the garden in the warmth and sunshine.  I also had the lovely E on hand to give here usual forthright views, so what could possibly go wrong?

First of all the labelling. Plain, striking and simple.  Full marks.  Beers descriptions actually told you useful things, rather than "Brewed from the finest malt and hops".  More plaudits.  We started off with Booths Summer Ale, brewed for them by the highly respected Ilkley Brewery at 4% abv.  The helpful label told us that it contained wheat as well as barley and was bottled by Holdens.  More praise here.  This geek didn't know Holdens had a wholesale bottling operation.  Well interesting to me, though E seemed less impressed funnily enough.  Right away E identified orange notes in the nose.  I agreed and the taste of Seville oranges throughout was very pleasing indeed.  It claims to be refreshing, though E thought it too bitter to be so.  It certainly wasn't a gulper, but to me the Frank Cooper marmalade notes were very attractive.  There was maybe just a hint of the promised peach, but neither of us could detect the label's passion fruit.  I don't doubt the dreaded crystal malt was there too, as a slight barley sugar note could be detected, but hey, Ilkley clearly know their stuff and it worked.  We'd both buy it.  Me in a heartbeat. I loved it and could see myself drinking two or three in a row with pleasure.

Next up was Booths Lemongrass Ale (also 4%), made by Lancaster Brewery and bottled by Robinson's in Stockport.  It promises "natural lemon and lemongrass".  There's always a difficulty in this kind of beer which to my mind tend to veer between toilet duck and lemon furniture polish.  E didn't like the nose or her first taste, but became a little more enthusiastic as she moved on through her glass.  She detected lemon sherbet and thought it rather woody from the lemongrass.  My own thoughts were rather sentimentally of the old Huntley and Palmer Lemon Puff in a badly done liquid form.  It had lemon and biscuity malt, buy sadly it didn't really work for me at all, though oddly, I liked it more, the more I had of it.  E concluded that it was like a "badly made shandy."  Funnily both of us would like to try it again, so pick the bones out of that.

Last, but by no means least was Black IPA, brewed by Hawkshead Brewery and bottled, oddly, by Agricola in East Yorkshire.  I love that.  Another new one on me.  Now this was almost guaranteed to divide opinion, E not being the biggest lover of dark beers.  She loved the piney resinous nose though, but the distinct roastiness wasn't to her taste, but it was right up my street.  Now here I have a dilemma. It tasted to me of roast barley, but it could be a modified carafa. I don't know, but even less do I really know what the difference between this and a bitter stout might be.  I'd suggest if you changed the label, no bugger would know, or care, or shout foul.  Whatever, it was the kind of classy beer that you'd expect from Hawkshead.   I liked it and E didn't really.  I'd love to see it on cask form at a boozer near me. No real surprises there.

To conclude. Three beers, two great and one a bit of a puzzle.  Not so bad.  Well done Booths.

Tasting notes from me eh?  Whatever next?   My thanks to Booths for the samples.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

The Captain James Lang (Again)


This is by way of an update, so please read the background here and the initial post here first.  It all helps my stats and you, Dear Reader, to understand things.

Mum and I returned to the newly opened JDW, Captain James Lang in Dumbarton two days after our first trip.  Mum had offered to pay, so why not? (She didn't as usual!)  This time we were able to sit in one of the much coveted booths and see what was happening at the bar.  I didn't give the cask beer a go at first - once bitten -twice shy and all that - but had a couple of pints of St Mungo Lager from West Brewery in Glasgow.  Decent stuff, but perhaps they are being a bit fanciful to call it a cross between a Bavarian Helles and a North German Pilsner.  At least in my view, though I must try that as an experiment if I ever have the chance to cross pollinate the two.  Still, though as I said, it is good stuff.

I didn't see any cask being sold for a good while and then a guy asked for a pint of London Pride.  It looked clear and he supped it with obvious enjoyment, returning not many minutes later for another.  One or two more handpumps were now moving.  Things cask wise were clearly looking up.  I was deciding whether to plunge in, when I noticed a very tall guy at the bar, with shorts, a fleece top, a notebook and a mullet haircut.  Bugger me if it wasn't Timbo himself.  Tim Martin the boss man no less.  I went over and said "Tim Martin?"  "The same" quoth he amiably.  We had a brief chat where I filled him in on the lack of cask beer in Dumbarton over the years and he asked me what I thought of the place.  He was very pleasant and told me he'd been doing the rounds of some of his Scottish pubs and waved his bulging notebook at me "These are my observations" he boomed.  As I ordered my pint of St Mungo he added "I'll get that".  Splendid.  What a guy.

As I pointed him out to my Mum, he went off on an inspection.  I finished my pint and ordered a London Pride.  It was rather good as Pride goes.  There is hope as I suggested already and the staff were still trying hard.

I was very impressed that Tim was, sans entourage, going round his own pubs under what seemed to be his own steam.  Can't see many Chairmen doing that.  The photo is nicked from the web.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Teething Troubles


The long awaited JDW, The Captain James Lang, in Dumbarton has opened and a a fine place it is too.  The former Woolies has been transformed into a modern and comfortable pub with a long bar and eight handpumps (which is probably the most Dumbarton has ever seen) bringing cask ale back to the town.  Seating is a mixture of high and low tables, booths (which are popular and commandeered by twos in each case, though they'd fit four comfortably) and a beer garden with spectacular view of Levengrove Park, the River Leven and Dumbarton Rock.  It provides food up until eleven at night which brings the number of such pubs in Dumbarton doing so, up to.... err.... one.  On a Monday night when I rolled up with my old Mum, it was doing a roaring trade.

Now Dumbarton and cask ale are complete strangers to each other.  I ordered a pint of something from a Scottish Brewery (I can't remember which) and asked thr barman how the cask was doing.  "Flying out" quoth he.  My pint was disturbingly murky.  Not London Murky perhaps, but too murky for my liking.  It was also stale tasting and exchanged with a smile and apology for another pint of murk from a different handpump.  Hmm.  Third time lucky?  Doom Bar it was. Clear looking, so a result?  Not quite.  It was sour and acetic.  I ordered a gin and tonic and went back to my Mum, whose red wine was fine.

Meals next. A mixed result. Cremation of meat seems to be the order of the day.  My burger was just about OK though hardly succulent.  Mum's gammon steak had great potential.  Potential as an offensive weapon, or as a stone age axe head.  This was exchanged with apologies and later, unexpectedly, by a refund.  I took the opportunity to have a chat with the charming and helpful Duty Manager who put it all down  to teething problems.  I don't doubt it, but it didn't make for a great experience. It will be all right here though. Staff were absolutely fantastic.  Cheerful, helpful, doing their best and showing signs of being a good team. Mum enjoyed it too,  though I think it was more the red wine, the presence of her son and reminiscences of Woolworths. 

Don't worry Dumbarton. It will soon be sorted out, but please drink the cask before it goes off.

I didn't notice until my way out,  as it is tucked away to one side, but a bonus is West Brewery St Mungo on sale.  That'll be my tipple until the cask situation is sorted out and not a bad choice in any event.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Not Much to See Here. Move Along


I was alerted by @robsterowski through his blog that a new craft beer bar had opened in Glasgow and as I would be there, soon, I popped in when I arrived on Monday just gone. Handy for Glasgow Central Station, on Regent St, the Raven is operated by former brewer and now pub operator Maclay and is in the ex premises of a pub I believe to have been called the Bay Horse. Maybe.

 Walk in, bar to the left up a couple of steps (might have been two lots actually now I think of it) with toilets straight ahead and a bigger space off to the right which seemed more devoted to eating - pulled pork and other meaty stuff mainly. Reviews for this aspect have been very positive, but I wasn't there to eat. Three handpulls and a handfull of keg fonts had a fairly ordinary set of beers on and there was a decent but modest selection of bottles. I didn't fancy the cask offerings, so opted for a half of BrewDog Fake Lager, which was enjoyably better than I remember it. One "innovation" which I liked was sample trays of three, either cask or keg, with keg sold at a premium. The place is well enough done, with wood and chrome, matt walls and the like, but it felt to me like a corporate idea of what a craft beer bar majoring in food ought to be. It was generic, derivative and pretty uninteresting.

I doubt if it will set the craft beer scene in Glasgow alight, or if it was intended that it would, but given its location, I imagine it'll do well enough for those that just want decent pub food and good  beer in pleasant surroundings.  I'll guess too, that Mclays will happily settle for that.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

More Sharp Practice


Sometimes pubs just don't help themselves do they.? Fast on the heels of my previous post about warm glasses, I was out in Manchester with E and two friends discussing the finer points about next week's Munich trip. (Seems we'll drink some beer in beer kellers assuming the right weather).

We started off in Pie and Ale where the beer though excellently kept, wasn't to our taste on that occasion. No issue with that - it's just the luck of the draw. We had no plan,so adopted the simple expedient of going to the nearest good pub, in this case a bar. Five handpumps in front of us and three turned round. The  verycharming barmaid explained that nobody present knew how to change a cask, so if we came back in an hour, we'd have a full choice. This at six o'clock on a Friday evening. Really? We didn't fancy the strong beers on offer, so took her advice and returned later where a full array of beers sorted us out. But it isn't that good is it?

In the meantime we went to a much lauded craft ale bar. The cask beers were to our liking. I chose a pint of one and E a half of a different one. I saw some jiggery pokery going on under the bar however. I tiptoed higher and saw at once what was occurring. E's half had been poured to within a inch of the top from a full glass on the driptray and was being "brightened" by a a sparkler. The beer was warm and flat. I mentioned his sleight of hand to the barman. He said "I'd just poured the pint by mistake and didn't want to waste it." I said that it meant my wife had a poor drink because of it and was therefore paying for his mistake. He shrugged but didn't offer to replace it. I didn't want a fuss so said no more. You don't come to the pub for a confrontation as I've said before.E was unimpressed.

In the first case, not ensuring that staff know how to change beers is amateurish. In the second, it is just bad practice.  You don't make the customers pay for staff mistakes and if unwise enough to get caught doing so, you should apologise and sort it out.

I must be getting soft in my old age by not naming names, but maybe I can be persuaded if readers deem it essential.  There are clues in the text though.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A Mixed Blessing


I had a pint with one of my local landlords at the weekend while visiting his pub.  I like to do this when I can, as it keeps me in touch with what's happening locally - essential for my day job as CAMRA Branch chairman.  I asked if the World Cup was helping trade and he pulled a face.  While he had 90 or so in his vault watching England on Thursday night, his thriving (but TV free) lounge and restaurant were more or less empty and his beer garden, on one of the most pleasant and warmest nights of the year had nary a soul in it.

The assembled horde in the vault supped plenty of beer, but overall, his trade on the day was well down.  This contrasted with when England played late - after normal usual closing time - when people could have their normal night out, then go home and watch the game, while as a bonus, the vault (the only part of the pub with TV), was again filled with extra custom.  We talked about whether he could have put TV in other areas of the pub for this four yearly event only, but although he considered it, the logistics, as well as the fact that it isn't what he is trying to achieve in his pub, ruled it out.  He felt it better overall to just take the hit on what will, sadly, turn out to be one night only.   He isn't expecting much from the last and meaningless England game either trade - or indeed football wise.  Overall the World Cup has, on balance,  been good for trade, but it has been a bit lumpy and certainly not a money spinner..

He wasn't pleased to see England go home early by any means, but it seems, life for some pub landlords at least, will be simpler now.

Lees new seasonal, Golden Peddler, is pretty decent too, assuming you actually want a beer to drink as opposed to beer as an intellectual exercise.


Friday, 20 June 2014

Reading Minds at the Bar


I'm at the bar in one of our local pubs with E who is sitting at a table.  The pub is early Friday night busy, which is just steady. There is no wait at the bar, desultory though the service is.  The order is a simple one.  A pint of MPA for me and a half of Original for E. My pint is poured and the barman reaches behind him to the shelf where the half pint glasses are stored.  I watch with interest.  Watching barstaff is one of my little hobbies.  Did I tell you I was trained by an expert?  Yes I think I did. Once or twice.  You never forget good habits if they are instilled in you from an early age. I've probably mentioned that too I suppose.

The barman clutches a glass.  He hesitates and I watch his mind wrestling with itself.  I know what's afoot instantly.  The glass is warm from the glasswasher.  I know what he is thinking.  He internalises the problem instantly and I see him putting the arguments to himself.  "This glass is hot.  Should I find another or just serve in it anyway ?" will be the gist.  The decision is made more or less at once. Inside his head he silently says "Fuck it".  The half is served in a warm glass, which I detect immediately by the simple expedient of putting my paw round it.  "You made the wrong decision there" I say.  The barman looks at me slightly uncomfortably.  "We both know that glass was too warm for the beer don't we?" I add. He says nothing, but pours the beer away, checks for a cold glass and serves me the beer.  I pay and say no more.

It cost JW Lees a half pint of beer though.  Will the lesson be learned?  I am not so sure.

Lees Golden Original Lager is an excellent beer.  I had a few pints of it (elsewhere) last night.  Tremendous stuff really.  Try it if you have the chance.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Princess of Prussia


I am not the biggest fan of the cask products of Shepherd Neame which I find harsh and samey.  I can't say the same about many of their non standard bottles though, which are quite the opposite. They are very good. Shep's should maybe look at putting some of them such as Brilliant Ale (which actually is) or Double Stout on cask, rather than the nondescript ones they do now.  Early Bird, Amber Ale, Late Red?  Just say no.  They taste the same as the usual ones.  Harsh and difficult to tell from each other. Be that as it may, I still like the nearest Shepherd Neame pub to my London flat and do go there.  You'd hardly be attracted by the prices though, expensive as it is, even by local standards which are scarcely cheap.  But I like the place. That's the thing about pubs.  It isn't just the beer. The Princess of Prussia is very pubby, with a good mixed clientèle and a nice feel to the place.  Distinct drinking areas, lots of dark wood for cosiness and a splendid, atmospheric, heated outside area at the back adds to its considerable attractiveness. It is pretty well run too and while I dislike the beer, I have never had a badly kept pint.

So, despite having tried repeatedly to like the cask offerings, I just can't, so generally end up drinking Oranjeboom, which in its original Dutch incarnation at least, is an all malt brew.  No obvious corn notes in the Shep's brewed stuff, so probably all malt here too (though I wouldn't bet my reputation on it ) and as I usually just have a quick couple of pints, while it's no great flavour experience, no harm done either.
 
All this rambling leads to the reason for this post.  The Princess of Prussia used to be a Truman's pub and bore some traces of its ancestry outside.  Recently the outside has been done up, with new tiling replacing old, broken stuff.  Doesn't it look great?

So, while I don't care for the cask beer, I do like the pub and Shep's sympathetic care of it.  Two out of three isn't bad.  Or is it?

Can't help thinking I'd enjoy Truman's Burton Brewed Pale and Old Ales better.  Stout and Mild would be nice too! Where's that time machine?

The Princess of Prussia is at 15 Prescot St, London E1 8AZ

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Just off Bethnal Green Rd


It's a funny old place is Bethnall Green Road.  You tend to think of it as the Krays and Cockney geezers, but you'd be far nearer the mark nowadays thinking of Karachi or some such, as the whole area seems to be one long tatty shop after another, so the whole feels like one long foreign market.  It isn't pretty. Trust me on that one. Be that as it may, there are pubs to be found, though often more in the sense of signs for former boozers, or a few very run down looking places which could just as easily be in a poor area of Manchester, Leeds, Bradford or Liverpool rather than wealthy London.  Emerging at the end of Bethnall Green Road, where we'd walked from our flat on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we were almost on our target.  Immediate left under the railway bridge and into Paradise Row.  A neat little row of terraces leads you to Mother Kelly's, in a railway arch, but not for once a brewery, but a bar.

It is a decent size with some benches out front, a stall selling fancified pig flesh of some sort, run by an incredibly hairy guy and two skinny women and inside a neat spacious place with more benches, fridges of exotic beers down the left wall and a long bar with keg taps at the back.  A non bearded barman greets us with a smile and a hello.  He offers tasters and good advice, all in a non condescending way.  He is very amiable and friendly.  We choose two two thirds. Me of wheat beer, E of lager, which shows clearly the limitations of this glass.  On a hot day, two gulps and there is almost nothing left of my beer, but hey, maybe that's just me. We take seats inside, as outside the few patrons practice the usual British policy of spreading themselves out to keep a space for six the domain of two.  But we don't mind - it's nice inside and we can look out through the wide open doors at the trees (look to the right for this, otherwise it is the back of a nondescript building).  We note that mercifully the music, playing at a sensible volume, is not techno beat, but something equally modern, without that drilling bass sound that makes you want to kill yourself, or, better,  the bastard that put it on.  Most of the men aren't bearded, which endears the place to me even more. We like it. 

Back to Bethnall Green Road and some history.  We pass the sign for the Ship.  A Watney's House, though there is no trace of the pub.  I look with interest at the few open pubs.  The Marquis of Cornwallis, the Star of Bethnall Green which I'd have liked to go in, rough though it looked, but E wouldn't. The Old George?  No. Not this time.  A new target for us was The King's Arms.  It is disconcerting to turn a few yards off the main road with its distinct Asian feel into posh London with neat streets and that gentrified feel which is almost unique to London.  The pub is majestic,  with its long floor to ceiling windows and a good feel inside.  The place though is more or less empty and the beer, ironically from Salford, is toasty warm. The cellarman is called.  He apologises and pours a new one which is much better.  He explains the beer lines aren't cooled to the point of dispense.  He and I both shake our heads at this.  Three casks, a few well chosen kegs, but it needed customers, though we did linger a while and one or two did wander in.  We like it and again we'll be back. But I'll make sure I'm not the first customer for a while.

We finish up in the Carpenter's Arms - or rather outside it.  Fairly good (but warmish) Adnams and with a nod to the East, a curry in Tayaabs which was, frankly disappointingly bland.  It seems it isn't what it used be.  A bit like Bethnall Green Road?

 Can I thank Matt Curtis for recommending both pubs, even if he thought I'd find cask free Mother Kelly's not to my taste. Mind you I wouldn't fancy it when it is heaving.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Brewing Velvet Pilsner Lager


I was brewing beer in London recently with Pilsner Urquell. Martyn Cornell has already set out the background and detail of why we were all gathered in the White Horse at Parson's Green here, so I urge you to read his blog first (good advice at any time - for example, his piece on supplying beer to the troops after D Day is superb).  He gives all the detail, so, keen on avoiding hard work as I am, I won't do it all again here.  Thanks Martyn.  I owe you a pint.

A quick recap though of the mission. In the upstairs room at the White Horse, six teams -  three a day over two days all to brew a lager beer based on the Pilsner Urquell recipe.  The aim is to tweak, or indeed utterly change the PU recipe and produce a beer to be judged later. The winning beer to be brewed commercially by Windsor and Eton Brewery.  So big stakes and a very serious brew-off punctuated by a lot of fun.  Throughout the day we had superb advice from Václav Berka PU Senior Brewmaster, Paddy Johnson of Windsor and Eton Brewery and from Greg Tucker, a taste psychologist, who was with us from the beginning and whose insight into tasting was for me one of the highlights of a day of highlights.  Think you know about taste? Think again.  He was brilliant both in content and delivery.

Now I'm no home brewer, but I like to think I know enough about the processes not to make a fool of myself, so our little team - thrust together absolutely randomly - first all determined that none of us were home brewers - or indeed any other kinds of brewers.  So we had an even non brewing playing field and hopefully not too many preconceptions. We had though all listened carefully to the pep talk by Václav and another by Paddy and fortunately all of us had taken the same main message out of it "Less is more."  We decided at that point that our recipe would be a tweak, not a complete re-write.

The water - brought from Pilsen was already being boiled - so we (Canadian Presenter and Filmmaker Nate Nolan, Norwegian writer Line Elise Svanevik from In a Pub Magazine (who incidentally sounded as Norwegian as I do), Neil Walker, Blogger and National Press Officer at CAMRA and me) started thinking about malt.  PU is brewed with 100% pilsner malt.  We decided that we wanted something with more mouthfeel, so we substituted some melanoidin malt and just a touch of Munich to again add richness and also to add a touch of colour which in PU is provided by triple decoction.  Not something we could do.  That decided, it was into the boil.  For those that like detail; 3.9kg Pilsner Malt, 325g Munich Malt and 75g Melanoidin Malt went in and a lot of hot and sticky stirring ensued.

The hops discussion was much livelier and longer lasting.  PU is hopped solely with Saaz, but after much sensual rubbing, sniffing, oohing and aahing, we decided on an all Czech hop bill.  Currying favour? Us? Certainly.  So we had 40g Saaz in the initial boil, 20g of Agnus five minutes from the end and 40g of Kazbek (which we all really loved) to provide aroma at flame out.  Sounds good?   We thought so.  We ended up more or less where we wanted to be with an OG of 1048.6.  21 litres in all.  The wort tasted good. Much as we'd hoped, with good bitterness under all the sweetness and distinct lemon and spice.  The worts were then chilled and the yeast pitched before being taken away to London Beer Labs for fermentation and lagering. 

Of course all breweries have to have a name and ours was Four Corners (as in the four different countries of the world our team hailed from) and the beer was named Velvet Pilsner after the Velvet Revolution that separated the Czech Republic from Slovakia. Everything had been thought of and we even had on hand a design artist who pulled together a remarkably good label from our very vague and unformed thoughts. Regrettably I didn't take a photo of that!

 The resulting beers will be bottled for judging in July.  I can't wait.  I'll be there biting my nails, but we are all quietly confident. 

 We were also treated to copious amounts of Tankovna unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell, poured mainly by Václav himself.  It is a cracking, complex beer.  My thanks to Pilsner Urquell UK and to Mark Dredge for the invitation to a fascinating day.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Cooler Down London Way?



Regular readers will know that on average I find the temperature of cask beer sold in London pubs to be on the warm side.  Not slightly warm, but a lot too warm.  And no, I don't accept that there are regional preferences in this kind of thing, though there may be incorrect local flash backs to a byegone era in cellar practice.  Are things changing though?  I think they might just be. In some places at least.

There is, apart from preference for refreshment, a technical reason for this dislike of warm beer.  It is pure physics.  The amount of CO2 remaining in the beer after venting is inversely affected by temperature.  Colder beer equals more condition and warm beer means flat beer. Put simply CO2 is less soluble the more the temperature increases.  From me, the customer, there is nothing more vexing than coughing up the best part of four quid for a pint in London (or anywhere to be fair) and then finding it warm enough to poach an egg in.  It has made me on so many occasions just drink lager - and even that can be warm too sometimes, but not cask warm. Saddo that I am, now and then in a fit of zeal, I take out my Cask Marque temperature probe and check how warm my pint is.  I did that for the first day of my visit last week.  Naturally, prick I may be, but I don't want to be seen as such, so I do this surrepticiously.  I have standards you know. Low though they may be, but my intentions are to drive home the message. No warm cask beer please!

Now I usually name names, but this, with one exception,  I won't, but I will give you some useful pointers as to where things might be better.  The exception is the Euston Tap where my first London pint weighed in at a near perfect 11.2°C.  Yippee.  Other good news was to be found in two Nicolsons pubs, again more or less perfect and in JD Wetherspoon. (Almost never a problem there). So here's an immediate piece of advice.  You are likely (with exceptions) to get cooler and better kept beer in a chain or brewery pub that is managed, as Head Office will be keeping a close eye on beer orders, sales, wastage and customer complaints.*
 
In each pub I looked for a Cask Marque sign and if there was a problem I determined to bubble them to Cask Marque. After all, that is the name of their game.  I didn't need to, so great. Again with one exception, as of course into each life a little rain must fall.  One pub that shall remain nameless, sold  me my cask beer at an unacceptable 17.2°C and my lass's Budvar at 10.1°C.  Yes they had a Cask Marque plaque on the wall and it is by no means the first time,  so an email is being sent. Now this may seem petty, but I remind you of the price.  When you are charging someone £4 a pint or thereabouts, it needs to be served correctly and after all Cask Marque is meant to be a sign of beer quality.  That's why they exist. 

Let's leave warm beer to John Major's misty eyed reminiscing. Maybe the often poor state of cask in some places in London is one reason why craft keg is getting a decent hold. And why CAMRA's job is not yet done.

* In managed houses you are also likely to find beer python cooled to the point of dispense, a standard cellar practice folllowed and the cellar cooling temperature set correctly and remaining switched on.