Thursday, 27 November 2014

Blowing Hot and Cold


My most recent London visit brought some warm beer to my notice. Well it would, as I was the recipient. It also brought some excellent beer.  There was some in the middle.  So dreadful was a Roosters beer in JDW Shakespeare's Head that I reported it to Cask Marque. (I must ask them what their conclusion was.)  That's one thing you can do if it has the CM accreditation, though I've reported the Brown Bear in Leman St before and the beer was still awful when I watched the football there two weeks ago. Maybe it does less good than you hope? (Apparently miscreants thus reported usually tell CM the cooling was broken that day, or someone new turned it off instead of the light - that kind of thing. CM are meant to follow up with a later visit, but I don't know if they do or not.)  Anyway and either way, I do urge those afflicted by poor beer in a Cask Marque pub to let them know. It might just help.

So to the good news.  I thought the beer in the Hop and Berry in Angel, recommended to me by Matt Curtis, was very well kept and  I was delighted by the truly top quality  I experienced in the Market Porter, a place I don't tend to go in that much, but did, as I had been let down quality wise - well temperature wise - by the usually reliable Southwark Tavern, whose beer I had praised on a warm summer's day. Sadly on a much colder Autumn one, the beer was warm, as was E's lager.  The Market Porter was heaving, but service was quick and friendly and the beer, stout in my case, was sparkled, cool and lively. A sure two pinter.

Lastly a word in praise of the Draft House in Seething Lane. The Tankovna Pilsner Urquell was delicious and at £4.75 a pint, well under the price of most local keg beers on the same bar.  I find that a bit odd.

I didn't realise they chucked out at six on a Sunday in the Draft House. Made my last pint a bit of rush. My own fault.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Tale of Two Breweries


I was alerted by my good friend Tyson about a new brewery on the Bermondsey Mile. Tyson being at the cutting edge had been there and noted that it wasn't a keg and bottle effort as most of them are, but a cask brewery. Sounded interesting and being at the Tower Bridge end of the mile, it's just a twenty five minute walk from my London place.  So we went on Saturday.

Situated in Druid Street, in the inevitable railway arch and sandwiched between a bakery (see what I did there) and a car repair shop, sits Southwark Brewery.  This straightforward name gives you an idea of what to expect. It's quite a big arch and sported a bar to the right with four handpumps and the usual benches and a toilet stuck near the door. Handy.  We got there at one and it wasn't that busy and in the hour or so we were there, it changed customers more or less, but remained fairly quiet and it was noticeable to this old git, that it was mostly a more mature customer that was attracted.  In other words, other old gits, though there was a few younger ones, wondering probably how they'd got into this fine mess. We sat nearest the mouth of the arch and watched the various hipsters as they wandered up and down Druid Street. One or two looked in and found something wanting and moved on.  Some were bolder and came in, looked round, then buggered off. 

There were four beers on. Each served, Glory Be, by a swan neck and a sparkler, for that is the policy. I was warming to them.  I didn't care much for Bermonsey Best which was reassuringly brown and a decent enough drink if you wanted a malt forward, fugglesy type thing.  But I didn't. However it was to be all good news after that. I liked LPA which was indeed hoppy with citrus notes, Hop-X (I think - I didn't take notes) was a blend of English and American hops, was pale and it worked well and leading the pack at 5.6% was Gold, which just has a sweet hint of alcohol and was a decent drink.  Beers were available in thirds, halves, two thirds and pints and were all under £4 a pint.  Enjoyable and reasonable priced. There were bottles too, including a Russian Imperial Stout at 8.6%. The bottled take away service was doing quite well.  Staff were pleasant and happy to chat.

Now I've said it before and will do so again. Will those drinking craft keg please stop saying it costs just a little bit more. We left Southwark Brewery and walked the few yards to Ansbach and Hobday where the beard and too small jacket brigade were in full swing. It was, as we say in Scotland, "hoaching". Busy.  We had a look and noted that all beers were £6 a pint -  even those at 2.8%. No chance. Like a News of the World reporter in a knocking shop, we made our excuses and left.

So what's it all about? The lure of superior keg beer, the attraction of being with fellow types?  Why was one heaving and the other, a stone's throw away not?  Will cask beer crack the Bermondsey Beer Mile?  You tell me.

 But it isn't all bad news. At least they'll have me from time to time. Cool and sparkled beer in London? Why ever not?

This is of course a tongue in cheek post, but I really do wonder. Is it just that Southwark Brewery aren't on the radar yet I do hope so.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A Bone Picked Out


Ed set the cat among the pigeons with his controversial (though he'd say tongue in cheek) post about the so called elitism of craft beer.  There was a flurry of responses, probably by now not far short of 100 of them. I don't think it unfair to say that these generated more heat than light, but also a fair degree of exasperation. There is an amount of defensiveness in the crafterati and a large portion of doubtful economics on the side of those that think craft is overpriced for what it is.  That generated a lot of passion, but you must pick the bones out of that yourself, though I do wish that craft aficionados would stop saying that it is worth paying "a little more" for "better beer". It is rarely a little more. It is a lot more. And it isn't always by any means better.

In all this I would like to commend to you for consideration the words of Yvan Seth when he says "And hell, £1 more for keg because I don't have to play cask-quality-roulette and I can just get on with my drinking without the fuss of returning beer or putting up with a semi-drinkable pint. This is a point I have made before (hence my liking it), but it harks back to why keg was so welcomed in the 60's when cask quality was thought to be uniformly dire.  It took the lottery away when purchasing a pint. This quality lottery goes a long way towards explaining why when I'm in London, I quite often end up drinking commodity lager. Yes I know where to get good beer, but despite the beer revolution in London, you still have to travel to get that good beer. Random decent looking pubs will often disappoint.

Then Yvan goes on to say something with which I more or less totally agree. It is worth repeating here:

"[IMO, if there is one thing CAMRA could *really* do for the future of cask ale, & the good of the cask ale drinker, it would be to drop most of what it does now and focus entirely on quality of beer at point of dispense. Because on average it is abysmal. This might even help save flagging pubs."

I have said until I'm blue in the face that quality at the point of dispense is cask beer's Achilles Heel.  It might well be in an advanced state of decrepitude in London, but it has problems in cellar skills everywhere. We have all played the cask beer lottery and all lost.  Yvan is absolutely right that CAMRA does not do enough about that. I'm not yet sure what that might be. I'm thinking about it, but it shouldn't be that difficult to come up with something. After all it is the "raison d'etre" of the Campaign.

There are those that say the CAMRA battle has been won. Real ale is indeed everywhere, but as long as a quality pint remains elusive, CAMRA still has plenty to do. We  need to fight the right fight though.  Keg beer, in whatever form is not the enemy. Lack of quality cask beer at the point of sale is. 

I watched Scotland win last night in my local London pub. My pint of Gales Seafarer (see above) was a warm, flat mess. I'd have had three or four pints if the beer was any good. I had one Gales and a pint of Becks, which was awful in a different way, but at least cold and with condition. Bad beer loses pubs money.


Friday, 7 November 2014

A Tale of Two Bloggers


I was invited to the launch (or should that be revitalisation) of the new "Let There Be Beer Campaign", but couldn't go due to other commitments that meant I'd be in the Grim North instead of Millbank. Others went and liked what they saw. One or two most certainly didn't like what they saw, so much so, they were still spitting hops days later and could only write about it after they'd calmed down. Interesting stuff.

The focus now is "There's a Beer for That". Two bloggers I like and respect wrote about it. One, Matt, was in the "Incandescent With Rage" Corner" and t'other Ed, in the "Seems All Right to Me" Corner. Other bloggers (I like them too) have also written about it - for example Pete Brown has done so and was broadly in favour, while Beersoakedboy was agin it on the whole, but in quite measured tones, seemingly more concerned about lazy stereotypes and likely poor impact, than Matt, whose main and recurring theme was that it sat on the backs of the smaller craft brewers in order to get a better view. "It's the better that the people behind this campaign are worried about, craft beer is bucking the industry trend and growing at an exponential rate........... Craft beer hasn't just got its foot in the door to the mainstream, it's already in the room throwing a party and it brought beer. So why do we need There's a Beer for That? Well, multinational corporations really don't like it when small businesses infringe on their market share. That's pretty clear. Craft doesn't need the big brewers, so bog off. 

Of course the argument that advertising such as this is kind of lowest common denominator stuff can easily be made, but advertising does work, though only the very cleverest of advertising can make those who do not wish to engage, engage. Nonetheless if the phrase "There's a Beer for That" sticks in the mind of those sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and makes them think of beer, wouldn't you think that a good thing? I think I would. On the other hand though I take Matt's point about the overwhelming wish seems to be for those funding the campaign to be the biggest beneficiaries of it. Mind you, it would be somewhat remarkable if they didn't.  It is maybe worth pointing out that few of us came to craft beer by starting out that way. Most of us started out with a pint of Harp, or Carling and moved on. Or didn't. And that's the point. Craft may be rising, but it doesn't rule the world just yet and is for most a destination that they may never consider visiting, not a journey's start. Most beer drinkers drink the good old cooking stuff and why shouldn't they? Matt's love of craft beer is legendary, but he wears his craft credentials on his sleeve. Not that that's a bad thing. He probably hides it less well than those that funded the Let There Be Beer Campaign hide their intentions. But like them it does colour his view somewhat. They are maybe not so different then in some ways?  Matt certainly isn't the target audience.

So what does Ed say? He has only a few well reasoned paragraphs, culminating in this " I have to say I'm quite pleased to see a generic campaign to promote beer." He gets far fewer comments, but John Clarke, quite a craft beer supporter, weighs in by saying "I have to say that I'm a little bemused by all this outrage. If it's a generic promotion to raise the profile of beer does it really matter who funds it?" That would I suppose only be true if you don't mind what beer people drink, as long as it is beer.  I'm not sure that's the message I'm getting when I read what Matt has to say.  "People are drinking better etc."  Is it that old beer snob thing again? I hope not. The truth is, that for most people, "There's a Beer for That" is unlikely to mean craft, so to that extent Matt has a fair point.  An analogy is that over the years, when campaigning for real ale (and it still is true), that as an advocate for cask, you have to accept that your view of beer is a minority one.  Craft keg is no different.

On the balance, Ed has the right of it.  More people drinking beer is good for everyone. When the craft beer movement can throw ten million quid at it, they can do it their way. Until then, let's get them to drink beer first, then worry about them drinking "better" beer later.

This isn't a go at Matt by the way. His passion for beer - craft beer in particular -makes his views worth commenting on.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Prententious? Moi?


The cartoon that illustrates this post was sent to me by one of my Yankee chums. My American friends seem to like it, but I'm not so sure.

Let's have a look. It is contemporary being next month's New Yorker magazine. We have obvious hipsters. It looks like it is in a trendy bar, not a restaurant and it has no caption. Does that mean it is self explanatory? Is there some article inside that puts it in context? I don't know. On the face of it, it is a guy having a taste of beer before he confirms his purchase in the same manner as he might with wine. Would that be a bad thing however unlikely? Is it a pop at perceived pretentiousness? Is it a go at hipsters with their pernickity ways? Is it a New York thing or is it more general? I really can't say.  

What's your take?

Whatever it is, I love the look on the waiter's face. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

Mature Matters


I was going to write an article about how little I'd enjoyed the beers brewed by overseas brewers for the current Wetherspoon's Beer Festival.  The Regal Moon in Rochdale had nine on the first day of the festival and some I thought were quite poor and others tasted of acetone or other brewing faults and some were just pretty bland. Or odd.  It was a bit of a depressing list, so I just didn't bother.

At the moment there is no cooking facilities in our house as renovations near the end and a new kitchen is being fitted.  After my usual Sunday session at the Tavern, we decided to nip into our local JDW, the Harbord Harbord,  in Middleton for something to eat.  Before you condemn me, trust me, there isn't a lot of other choice in Midd at half past six on a Sunday, unless you want a curry. And while there are few times I'm not up for a ruby, E didn't fancy it so JDW it was.

Where's this all leading?  Well I had two different foreign brewer's beers that I had had on that first night in the Regal Moon and I thought both really rather good.  It occurred to me that they were older.  Both seemed rounder, fuller and more polished.  More mature and less harsh in fact. It is often overlooked these days that beer in cask needs a little time to be at its best and for the flavours to fully develop.  Often, due to lack of experience in cellarmanship, the difficulty of storing beer, both in terms of space and cost, means a lot of cask beer is sold before it has reached its best in the cask. It is often referred to as being "green." There isn't an easy answer to this, but the difference you taste in the same beer in different venues may well be down to this,  resulting in a beer that tastes young, thin and not as good as it could. As most live beer will develop in the cask, only a short time more in the cellar will make a difference in many cases.

So publicans, if you can afford to, leave (unbroached) beer a little longer in the cellar.  It'll pay in flavour and condition and your customers will notice a difference.

The practice of serving beer immediately it drops bright isn't always helpful either.

You will see that Thwaites used to call their real ale "mature." 

Friday, 24 October 2014

New and Recommended


This is a beer blog, so occasionally I talk about beer rather than pubs and beer, or beer politics - yes my friends such a thing does exist, as evidenced by recent twitter outpourings. But no mention here. This post is all sweetness and light.

On Tuesday I popped into the award winning Baum in Rochdale to say hello to Alex Brodie owner of Hawkshead Brewery, who was there to do a "Meet the Brewer" session. Regretfully I couldn't stay long due to a prior engagement, but it was good to see him as always and to have a pint.  Knowing I'm an unashamed fan of his beers, Alex was surprised I hadn't tried my chosen beer before.  Iti is Maori for "small" and is described by the brewery as New Zealand Pale Ale's little brother. A souped down version of NZPA? Will that work? The answer is an unequivocal "Yes."  At 3.5% it is a belter, full of luscious New Zealand hops and surprisingly full bodied from the low colour Maris Otter barley used.  Seek it out.  In fact, seek out any Hawkshead beer.

On Thursday, I encountered the legendary Hawkshead Windermere Pale once again in the Angel when out discussing Manchester Beer and Cider Festival business.  It is not that though to which I wish to draw your attention.  A couple of us finished off with a pint of Se7en Brothers Brewing Stout.  Dark, full bodied, touch of roast, some resinous hops and sheer drinkability that belied its 5.2% strength, made this another to recommend to you.  Se7en Brothers (see what they did there) Brewing is a newish Salford brewery run by, er, seven brothers.  On this evidence I'd watch out for them.  My colleague has had their IPA and he thought highly of it.

There you are. Two recommendations you know you can trust, just in time for the weekend's boozing.   That's good isn't it?

Alex, who is actually a Rochdale lad (he left when he was five though) was very favourably impressed by the Baum. That's also good as is the fact his event was a sell-out.

Sorry, but the Se7en Brothers Website has no useable, relevant images to regale you with.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Nothing New Under the Sun


Chris Hall is promoting his idea of "juicy bangers" to describe beers that, to borrow a phrase, "hit the spot". It is an interesting concept when you extend it to beer design, but otherwise its probably just a bit of fun, though with a serious point underneath.    Boak and Bailey, extending this simple idea to one a tad more complex, are asking on their blog for suggestions for further categories.  They are even getting some, though perhaps it's just me that finds people giving pet names to beer styles a bit odd. It's all a touch anal for me, though that perhaps isn't the best word, considering what I am about to say.

Back in the good old flame throwing days of Usenet, probably in the late 1990s, I am pretty sure that Chris's juicy bangers would have ended up very scorched and unpalatable indeed, such was the snappiness of those involved. Any whiff of juicy bangers would have been ruthlessly taken apart. Nonetheless we did discuss ad nauseum the difficult subject of beer styles.  Odd really when then there weren't many. Or rather there were, but either they were categorised differently, or they were obscure foreign styles which at best were lumped under "foreign", or they hadn't been like saison or Imperial IPA invented. Or re-invented, since Ron Pattinson has long since proved the title of this piece.  Back then, at worst, beers styles were scarcely understood at all by many and the subject of violent disagreement. There were those (and they still exist) that simply referred to and rigidly adhered to, American beer judging guidelines. Others, as now, were subjective more often than not and maybe the most sensible of a pretty leery bunch. Beer after all is a pretty subjective thing.

So how did we deal with this eternal conundrum? While we couldn't solve the unsolveable, or change human nature, we did come up with a solution of sorts.  It was a simple really. In the end we boiled it all down to something simple. Something easily understood and effective, though not perhaps in a particularly sophisticated way.  The question to ask about a beer was "Is it good or shite?" 

Unless you are particularly enamoured by over analysis, it works. Good old Usenet. We got to the bottom of things then.

It was suggested by Rich at BeerCast that I sometimes write tongue in cheek.  Perish the thought.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

BlackJackpot


It was a busy old day on Saturday.  The Manchester Beer and Cider Festival Organising Meeting in the Angel was (unusually) businesslike and brisk. It was gratifying to see that not only do we have a great team running things, but excellent progress is being made. Lessons learned from last year are being applied and that's as it should be. It'll be bigger and better, with more seats, beer on two floors, a greater selection and more. If it isn't in your diary, put it in now. The link is below. Also gratifying to this reader at least, was ideal organising meeting beer in the shape of an old friend and favourite, Hawkshead Windermere Pale.  At 3.5%, you can sup a few without your concentration and ability to contribute being adversely affected.  It was in tremendous form too, though another bar person wouldn't have gone amiss in what was a very busy pub, especially when you have to wait behind someone paying for a couple of beers with a credit card.  That's a pain in the whatsit to put it mildly.

Afterwards a few of us nipped into the recently renovated Smithfield, which has been opened out a bit, cleaned up tremendously and dragged into the 21st Century. It had sorely needed it. Sadly there was only two cask beers on, Lytham Gold and a variation thereof with added berries and fruit.  I didn't try that, but my "ordinary" Lytham Gold was fine, if unexciting. I noted too that Heineken had clearly put money into the place, the viewing lager cellar somewhat giving the game away and the adverts, brewery signs, John Smith's Smooth and Fosters point of sale visible everywhere, providing ample confirmation. At least we were spared Deuchars IPA, though.  This is a venture on which the jury is still out I think. Round the corner, the Crown and Kettle was busy and had a good choice to go at.  I settled for my first ever Brewsmith beer, their 6% IPA, cashing in my previous weak beer credit all at once.  I enjoyed it and it certainly seemed appropriate, having met brewer James and his wife Jennifer at IndyManBeerCon only the week before.  I'll be taking up their kind invitation to visit, even though their premises are, sadly, just a mere 200 yards of so outside my CAMRA Bailiwick.

No trip to Manchester is complete with popping in to the Marble Arch. I've not been in for while and had hoped for great things following the appointment of a new head brewer. Marble Best was brown, full of crystal malt and pretty much a standard, English Bitter.  One for the malt fans I think.  A half of Chocolate Marble wasn't as good as I've had it before on this showing and neither retained their heads,  indicating that perhaps there is some way to go.  Pint too, drunk by a colleague, lost its head immediately.  On the plus side, service was noticeably friendly and quick. The visit was saved though by a recommendation.  Blackjack Stout, dispensed by nitrogen mix, was smooth, bitter, strong (ish) and quite delicious.  But then, I'm a bit of  a sucker for unpasteurised nitro stout, as it gives lovely mouthfeel and a gorgeous thick white head.  Stouts simply look and taste better through a tight white head.* 

Your mileage may of course vary on that one.  Probably does in fact.

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival details are here. Open from 21st- 24th January 2015 at the Manchester Velodrome.

*Cask conditioned stout through a tight sparkler is also delicious, if not more so.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

When Guinness Was Real


When did Guinness stop bottle conditioning?  I'm not actually sure, but certainly some time in the early nineties I'd say, even though here Martyn Cornell says in the eighties.  I was interested in this when reading Boak and Bailey and a suggestion - quashed as a possibility by the Beer Nut - that they start bottle conditioning their beer again. Going back to when they stopped, how do I know it wasn't the eighties?   Well, while checking through some old stuff as part of a fairly fruitless endeavour to get rid of some junk, I came across a stash of bottles including the one you see photos of.  It is "ordinary" bottled Guinness and  bears the following words on the back label "ingredients - barley, malted barley, hops, yeast and water - combined with a secondary fermentation to condition the beer in the bottle."

I recall buying it as part of a four pack in Belfast and you will see that the best before date is 29-11-95,  indicating a bottling date of maybe nine months, or slightly more, before that.  Interestingly it is bottled by Guinness Belfast.   I'd imagine the beer is still pretty well drinkable, as it has sat in the dark these last 18 or so years, though I may be wrong.  Maybe I'll try it and maybe I won't. Can't be that many of them around though, so maybe I'll keep it a bit longer.

Going back to Boak and Bailey, I was astonished at the praise from some about the two new Guinness Porters.  My view and that of many others is that they are complete gack. After giving it short shrift on Twitter and getting the odd disagreement, I agreed to try the West Indies Porter again.   At the Baum last week as part of a double tasting with the Dublin Porter, it was still a horrid, sweet, fizzy mess, as was its partner in crime.  No-one that tried them that night thought them that good at all.  Still, as I said on BB's site, beer is a broad church and I didn't even think of mentioning duff palates there. Perish that thought.

Sadly and truly, the best thing about the new beers was the labels.

The label from the early nineties is rather good too.  Bit of a classic. Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, 13 October 2014

What's Up with IndyManBeerCon?


There's a great post about IndyManBeerCon by Phil from Oh Good Ale.  It tells in a humorous way his reasons for not attending this much praised and sought after event.  While I don't agree with them all, I can see where he is coming from. It is a particularly different type of beer festival to most and to some not at all their cup of tea. For many others though, it is a "must", which in itself must surely make it worthwhile?  Give the people what they want and all that.

One of Phil's main gripes - and it would have been one of mine too had I paid - was the £13  entrance fee which got you a glass, a programme and nothing else.  As I was there as trade, I didn't pay and glad I am too that I didn't, but I do know that many felt it a bit steep and that many more either didn't, or didn't care that much.  You see, for many, IMBC has become a place to be seen at. That's worth a lot to them as social cachet apparently, but then again, in the non beer world, there are plenty such events and while we may shake our heads about Glyndebourne, Henley Regatta and Last Night of the Proms, if it gives pleasure to attendees and a good time is had, I for one say "Good Luck to Them".

It was the first time I'd been to Victoria Baths in the daylight and while always thoroughly convinced that this event would be a lot less attractive if held elsewhere, I moved the dial over even more. The venue is tremendous. Magnificent in fact and the perfect backdrop to the event itself.  The usual mix of keg and cask seemed to veer more to keg this year and that's what I mainly drank.  Prices varied from a pound a third to £4 a third, with most somewhere in between and exhibited the usual bizarre differences. A 3% and a 6.7% beer on the same bar at the same price is odd to say the least, but then again, I have no idea how things are priced up there and who decides.  And someone has to pay for the set up, brewers etc.

So how was it for me?  Well, as always I find this kind of do a place to meet people I already know or know of.  It is the social interaction that I enjoy, the putting of faces to names and the meeting up with fellow beery friends that I only see now and again.  It may well be heresy, but the beer is rather incidental to me and I don't therefore sit scribbling notes about this or that beer.  I'm there for the crack and all the effort in the world to put on this or that saison, sour, or (yawn) collaboration, is merely backdrop to that particular aim. The venue wasn't without its problems though. The room with the food was too smoky from much grilling and the room with the ceiling under renovation was pretty gloomy, but both were easily dealt with by nipping in, buying your beer and retreating elsewhere to drink it.  The beers were interesting enough to provide talking points and were all well presented.I didn't find much wrong with the beer once you'd swirled some of the excess CO2 out of it. I'm guessing too that Manchester has a lot less hipsters, so the crowd was pretty mixed, with plenty of CAMRA types there also and many of then serving as volunteers. We laughed at one customer who thought a photo of three CAMRA chairmen all drinking keg might have been newsworthy (it isn't) and generally had a good time with beery people.

IMBC is a great event. It is all done on a very human level and for most of its customers it's a pleasure. Can't see much wrong with that really.  Nothing suits everyone and you don't have to go.

 One or two beers disappointed, but what festival does that not happen at.  Mostly though, these are beers for sipping, not supping.  That changes the dynamic  of the event too and one well known brewer told me his cask products were suffering from that aspect.

The photo shows the sort of shenanigans that goes on there.  I think they may still have had their trousers on at the point I took the photo.

I guess too there would be many more hipsters and trendies there in the evenings.





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.