Thursday, 13 September 2018

Mercato Metropolitano

According to the blurb Mercato Metropolitano is a "Community based Food retailer with an Italian soul that promotes sustainability, craftsmanship and community." (OK there is a needless repetition of "community" there, but hey ho, I'm not that much of a pedant.) Anyway that sort of thing is right up my right on street, so I had to go.

Fortunately its location on Newington Causeway is easy to get to from my London place and even easier from where I was when I set off.  Taking a break from my endeavours at the Dispensary Pub, I nipped round the corner to Aldgate Bus Sation and hopped on the 40 bus which drops you right outside the door. Lovely.  Only it didn't. As I was early to meet E for drinks and a bite to eat, I hopped off a stop early and went for a quiet pint of Harveys Mild in the Royal Oak.  And quiet it was too. Being mid afternoon I was the sole customer for most of my visit. But that was fine. It was rather restorative sitting with a pint and just reflecting on things. However man does not live by family brewers and inner contemplation alone, so after one, I bid my farewell and left.

Confirming the bus stop was indeed opposite the entrance to the rather anonymous looking building housing Mercato Metropolitano - think cross between a market and an abandoned Scottish League 2 football ground - in I went.  It was impressive. I entered through a area which sold all sorts of excellent looking comestibles from all over - but mostly from all over Italy.  All looked fab frankly, particularly the bread. I'll certainly be back for some of that. Leaving by a side exit into the main body of the kirk, my eye was immediately caught by brewing vessels and the home of Kraft, making authentic German beers with proper German ownership, braumeister etc.  "This should be good" I thought.  I started off with the helles, Heidi Blonde,  which was unfiltered. A bit chewy and grainy this, with a somewhat muddled flavour. Not bad, but no Weltschläge.  Next up was the Edel Weiss, which was much more on the money. It ticked all the weissbier boxes, with bubble gum, and cloves evident, though it would have been better in the traditional weissbier glass, rather than a handled pint mug.  I finished off as E arrived - from a completely different direction than I expected - thus surprising me. If I'd been a sentry, my throat would have been cut. Hopfen Kiss Pale Ale was rather a decent, just hoppy enough, bottom fermented Pale Ale. Very drinkable and probably my favourite.

E didn't fancy any of the beers at Kraft - she has a deep and well founded suspicion based on bitter experience, of opaque German beers - so we set off to explore. There really is something for everyone to eat and drink here. Plenty of craft beer choice, very decent wine and food from all over the world, sensibly not overlooking that staple of the traditional hipster/craftie - burgers. But seriously, good stuff abounded.  By the time we'd wandered round it and it is a good size, the place which had been virtually empty when I arrived, was filling up with the after work crowd. We found a seat and ordered some beer. My choice, from cheery Italians (I think) was a remarkably good Das Kölsch from Howling Hops.  This was such a good (and rather authentic) brew that my tentative half was immediately followed by a pint, though the glassware, a non nucleated nonic, was not perhaps the best way to present such a delicate beer. E being E had a pils of some sort from an entirely different stall, which is the beauty of the setup. Again, getting into the spirit of the place, I had Vietnamese food while E hopped continents to South America. I think I had the better of that though, which is rarely the case.

This is a seriously good place to visit. We will certainly be back and I now know I must visit Howling Hops soon. That Kölsch was good.

Handily the 40 bus is outside on both sides of the road, though road works made our return to Aldgate less handy.

Only complaint is that your clothes are likely to smell of cooking after a couple of hours. There is a lot of it going on, but that's a small price to pay.

Friday, 7 September 2018

It's Not Difficult

Readers of this blog know I have shall we say, some issues in finding top quality cask beer in London. It always puzzles me why. Apart from the obvious antipathy to keeping cellars at the appropriate temperature of course. I get that. Not why they don't, just the fact that they don't. Let's be quite clear here. Too high temperature buggers up cask beer. You start off wrong and there  is no way back. Chemistry and all that.

I've been down in London helping my friends Annie and David with their beer festival at the Dispensary in Leman St. It's my local when down here and though not far away at all from Tandleman Towers South, it isn't the nearest pub, but it is the one where the beer is kept properly.  The cellar is kept at around 10 -12C and the beer is properly conditioned. Even without a sparkler, it sparkles. Just look at the photo of London Brewed Dark Star Hophead. Perfect.

I've looked after the stillaged beers in the bar. They are cooled and could do with being a little colder - but that's just me - I'd much rather have colder. Beer warms up. Customers have been fine with them and the beers are in great nick. How? Simple. Keep the bloody condition in them. Avoid soft spiles for a start. Most modern beers don't need them and they bleed condition. Porous hard spiles are the cellarman's or indeed cellarwoman's friend.  Keeping cask beer is not, despite what some would tell you, difficult. It just needs common sense and a little know how.

As long as you follow a few basic rules that is. They all begin with C. Cleanliness, condition and cellar temperature are the basics. The other is somewhat contrived, but is chronology. Time. Rack the beer to settle. give it a day at least. Vent when the beer has rested. Know when the beer went on and when it ought to be sold by. Nobody wants knackered beer and that can happen even if otherwise the basics have been observed.There is a bit more to it of course, but follow these guidelines and experience will provide the rest - or the questions that you need to ask.

The final C is for check. Check the beer before serving and at intervals. The last person that should find out a duff pint has been served is yet another C. The customer.

Reckon you can't afford to keep your cooling on?  False economy. Put a few more pence on a pint rather than do that.

Fullers seem to have done a smashing job matching Hophead at Chiswick. Well done on that one.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Old Beers Show Up Well

I was invited to take part in an impromptu tasting of old beers behind our bar at GBBF. I use the term "old" deliberately. These weren't "aged" beers in the sense that they hadn't been kept carefully in a cellar, or some such controlled environment, with a view to tasting them at a later date. Instead, they had come from God knows where and ended up in a CAMRA stall at the beer festival.  The carefully controlled conditions they had endured are unknown, but most likely consisted of years of neglect somewhere  or other, before ending up being donated to CAMRA, where the most controlled environment waslikely to be a cardboard box on a non temperature controlled warehouse shelf.

We wondered if we were in for a gourmet vinegar session and as the first bottle, M&B Centenary Ale from 1979, was opened with not a hiss, we feared the worst. To our surprise, the beer had loads of carbonation and was as clean as a whistle on the palate. Sherry and dark sugar notes dominated in a good way. It was perfectly drinkable.  One of our company remarked that this bottle of beer was brewed long before he was even a twinkle in his dad's eye. Sadly I couldn't say the same, even if then, by way of compensation for that melancholy thought, I had a lot more twinkle then than now.

Our next bottle however wasn't quite so good.  Centenary Ale from Home Brewery of Nottingham hadn't endured the years as well. Brewed in 1978, it was still conditioned but exhibited distinct marzipan flavours, as well as considerable stale cardboard notes. You can't win 'em all.

Our next two were really rather good. Both were well carbonated and again showed rich sherry/port like notes. Both were brewed to celebrate the marriage of Prince Charles to the late Diana Spencer. Royal Wedding Ale (1981) from Bourne Valley Brewery was first of the final pair. This was rather a nice bottle with a fired on label. Plenty carbonation again in this one, from a brewery which was then only three years old. (Brewing started in 1978. but, sadly, brewing ceased in October 1985 following a split in the partnership behind the brewery.)  We finished off with Celebration Royale from King and Barnes. King and Barnes were taken over by Hall and Woodhouse in 2001 and the Horsham Brewery closed.  They must have known what they were doing though, as this may well have been pick of the bunch, though it mirrored the M&B in many ways with its rich fortified wine flavour. 

This was an interesting little interlude and  it was good that the surprises were mostly pleasant.  Why not have a root through your cupboards? You might just enjoy that old bottle that you find, but even if you don't, you are drinking liquid history. 

Our host my colleague Ian Garret sourced these beauties for around a pound a piece from the CAMRA memorabilia stall.

I have quite a few old bottles at home. One day maybe.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Not So Brown and Boring?

On Thursday night I was out with an old mate of mine from the USA.  We met in the Blackjack Brewery Tap and after a couple of very decent beers my companion fancied a change.  "What do you fancy?" I asked? Now he had spent the afternoon enjoyably drinking at Runaway and Cloudwater and wanted something a little plainer and simpler.  "Any Holts or Lees nearby?" he asked?

We adjourned to the Hare and Hounds on Shudehill for some Joey Holts.  This is a splendidly traditional little City Centre local of the type that used to abound, but is now a relative rarity. The Holts was in splendid form and slipped down easily as we sat in the front room, catching up.  Time was against us, so we nipped round the corner to the much more recently opened Abel Heywood, which although quite traditional inside is only a few years old as a pub. Hydes own this and we settled on Hydes Original which in another era would likely have been plain old Hydes Bitter. My friend declared it even better than the the Holts. He enjoyed very much the balanced malt and hops and the easy drinkability of both beers and he remarked how he really appreciated these kind of beers which are rarely if ever available in his native Pacific North West of the US.

By now it was approaching 11 o'clock and the next port of call, the Millstone, for Lees, sadly had to be abandoned. T'internet said it closed at 11 and we didn't want to miss a final pint before I got the last bus. So, more Hydes it was, this time the excellent Lowry, much more modern with Chinook and Citra hops, but unmistakeably British in its malt profile.

And that was it, excellent Manchester brewed beers from brewers who have been around from 1849 and 1863 respectively showng that to an American beer writer and beer aficionado, that they can stand proudly against the modern brewers that we are  lucky to have so many of in Manchester.

We shouldn't overlook them or take them for granted.

My companion was Don Scheidt who I have known for many years. Read some of his stuff here. He is by no means the first American beer writer who has made a similar observation about our most traditional of beers.

As we walked to the Hare and Hounds, a fellow pedestrian approached. "Hi Don" he said.  He was a brewer from Runaway, who a tad ironically knew Don, not me.  

Friday, 17 August 2018

Unser Burgerbrau

Bad Reichenhall is a charming little German town in the Bavarian Chiemgau Alps, noted in the past particularly for salt production. It is the capital of Berchtesgadener Land, set in spectacular forested countryside, not a million miles from Salzburg.

I first encountered it many years ago, cycling to it from the Alpine resort of Inzell in what can best be described as pissing rain.  It was in the early days of my long-lasting, but now defunct German cycling holiday phase and one of only two times I forsook the bicycle we had paid so much for. Both were for the same reason - the aforementioned pissing rain.  Our destination was Berchtesgaden, another charming (in a kind of colder way) Bavarian town , probably best known as the home of Hitler's Alpine redoubt, the Obersalzberg and its Kehlsteinhaus - also known as Hitler's Tea House.

After a horrible slog, in a torrent of rain, up countless Eiger like hills, we arrived, knackered and soaked in Bad Reichenhall and made for the nearest pub for much need liquid refreshment. I remember the relief and I thoroughly enjoyed the cloudy hefe-weizen brewed by the pleasingly named Unser Burgerbrau.  How do I know what I drank?  Well somehow, the distinctive glass - perhaps to cock a snook at the appalling German weather - found its way home with me and it took pride of place in Tandleman Towers for quite a few years. Back in Bad Reichenhall, we looked our maps and the waterfall of rain outside. Noting that the railway station was near and that Berchtesgaden was to be reached by even more precipitous alpine ascents, we decided. "Bugger this, we are getting the train."  And we did. And I've never regretted that decision.

Is there more to this tale? Well yes. A few years after acquiring the glass, while in bed one morning before work, while E made tea (my job these days and ever since), I heard a horrendous crash of broken glass. I immediately knew what had occurred having drank a hefe-weizen the night before. My treasured glass, on end to drain, had taken the knock by a sightless E, who had neither glasses nor contact lenses aboard at the time.

I was reminded of this a few days ago in Berlin at the Berlin Biermeile, when among the many beer stands, we came across one from Unser Burgerbrau. I was firstly uncommonly pleased that it is still on the go and secondly, I was determined, on this sunniest of days, to reaquaint myself with the thirst slaking hefe-weizen of that rain soaked day of yore.  Alas it wasn't to be. The hefe-weizen wasn't on sale.

Nor was it possible to pay the deposit and buy and keep a replacement Unser Burgerbrau Hefe-Weizen glass. They didn't have any. Some things are just not meant to be. 

It peed down in Berchtesgaden that first night too. I remember sitting in the almost deserted hotel dining room, when at about 9 o'clock, the waiter returned to our table with his coat on and gave us the bill.  The rain bounced back to knee height. Escape was impossible. We were in bed by 9.30. On a Saturday night too.

Our trip to the Kehlsteinhaus was completed in glorious sunshine. Our luck changed. We were the last group to enjoy the panorama (2600ft) before fog swept in rendering the views invisible.  

Friday, 13 July 2018

Cain's to Return to Liverpool?

Readers of this blog will recall that Robert Cain, based in the old Higson's Brewery (itself the original Cain's Brewery) in Stanhope St, Liverpool, closed under somewaht of a shitstorm in May 2013. See the Liverpool Echo here for full details.

Suffice to say that the Dusanj brothers who bought the brewery had a somewhat chequered career in brewing and pub running, but finished with an idea of turning the Stanhope St site and its historic Grade 2 listed brewery into a "Brewery Village" with a hotel, beer hall and whatnot.  This never happened, though there is some beery activity on the site on a small scale now.

Now it seems it will. Local entrepreneur - well Rainford, but that's close enough - Andrew Mikhail, has taken the plan forward and in a £7 million plan, agreed a deal with owner (I think)  Sid Dusanj to take over the Cains brand and bring forward his 15,000 sq ft scheme on three levels of the original Cains Brewery building. Plans include a craft-brewery with cask and keg beers, an Altrincham-market style venture for artisan food & drink lovers, and a state of the art sky bar.

In addition, another bar with capacity for 120, already named as The Quarter Hoop, plus a brewery hall housing 400 guests will sit alongside the existing Brewery Tap and the Punch Tarmey brand (part of Mr. Mikhail’s existing portfolio) that will operate on the other side of the brewery.

The development will take place in four phases over three years include in  phase one, Punch Tarmey, an artisan food and drink hall. The brewery will follow in phase two, the sky bar in phase three and the hotel in phase four. Mikhail said the new Cains Brewery project will create 200 jobs and will partly model itself on Guinness Brewery in Ireland. He added: “For example, we’re going to create one of the biggest Irish bars in the industry that will be sports-led, include brewery tours, lots of customer interaction with a child-friendly, family-friendly vibe.” 

The building is wonderful and I for one certainly hope this all comes to fruition. There are already many reasons for the beer lover to go to Liverpool and hopefully, fingers crossed, this will be one more.

The revival of the Cain's brand is interesting, with Higson's (without the famous bitter, already revived), history is being recreated in Scousley.

Wonder if the Dusanj brothers are getting a cut? Who will own the site? Dunno, but watch this space.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Down Memory Lane

I read, with a great deal of interest, Mudgie's article in response to one by Boak and Bailey referred to on Twitter and linked.  The subject, paraphrased, is dodgy pubs.  Now it has to be said that Boak and Bailey aim their piece squarely at the (American) visitor as it was published in All About Beer Magazine, but there is more than a grain of truth in their observations, summed up in this paragraph, which Mudgie quotes. It is necessary for me to do the same as it provides context.

"But if you wander into side streets, the outer suburbs, or into the shade of concrete tower blocks, you might still come across the kind of pub where it is possible for an innocent abroad to get into trouble. There aren’t many exterior clues other than a general state of disrepair, although with experience you develop a kind of sixth sense based on the state of the curtains or some subtle hint implied in the signage."

Like my colleague Pub Curmudgeon, I too have been visiting pubs where I'm not known for over 40 years and like Mudgie, I have had few problems in so doing.  Of course, to some extent in terms of pubs, you do develop a sense of impending danger and are able to quietly slip away before anything difficult to deal with occurs. I agree too that as you get older, you present no real challenge to those with the potential to do you harm at worst -  or alarm - which in itself is bad enough, but likely more difficult to deal with for the foreign visitor, who is already struggling to understand both culture and nuance.

I did relate on Mudgie's blog, a little story of my time in Liverpool, when I was once physically attacked, though then as a fit football playing young man under 30, I was able to shrug off my attacker, though not the locals who grabbed me and chucked my out on my ear, but no more than that.  In recalling this incident, I looked up the name of the pub concerned (The Newstead Abbey -see photo from Google)  as memory had faded. In doing so I came across this fantastic review of what was my manor. It talks about the pubs I used to visit frequently, most of which are closed. It concentrates on Smithdown Road in Liverpool 7. I lived 100 yards from that road, though most of my local drinking was done in the parallel roads and back streets. Nonetheless, those were pubs I visited frequently and usually with great pleasure.  The bus went from Smithdown Road, so it had that handiness too for a quick pee when returning from Town, or a swifty on the way there.

Do read the linked article. It hints at a pub life that has faded away to a large extent and in its observations, suggests I think, about why the beleaguered remainder may not be as welcoming as I can assure, most once were.

I think that the Newstead Abbey has now closed. My own local, The Earl Marshall a mere 100 yards away was still open fairly recently, but who knows now. 

The writer of the other article speaks of his dislike for the New Campfield. Me too. Unlike the rest (Mulliner excepted - ) it was keg. Whitbread of course. 

The photo is of the Mulliner which was a Tetley pub which sold "Drum Bitter" or keg. It was a nice boozer inside and very welcoming, but was called something else then which I can't remember, but everyone called it the Mulliner.. 

Photo:By Rept0n1x [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Nice Lot in the East Riding

When it comes to how you best increase the viability of pubs and to a lesser extent how you make your venue more attractive to the diminishing number of pub devotees, one aspect that is overlooked when suggesting themed evenings, upping the food offer, serving cream teas, breakfasts, or using it as a venue for the local slimming club or the like, is simply getting the staff to smile, or even, horror of horrors actually talk to customers.

I may have mentioned this before - of course I have - I'm always banging on about it - but as someone who was trained properly in how to act behind the bar it always amazes me that this simple and cheap aspect is largely overlooked.  Last week three of us were served (separately and at different times) by the same "Shift Leader" in a local JDW without the server actually looking any of us in the eye. She did though manage to conduct, simultaneously and not without a deal of dexterity, an apparently more satisfactory and enjoyable conversation with her colleagues standing at the drinking side of the bar, who had just finished their own stint on the staff side of it. So, on the bright side, she did know how to do it, just it seems, not in the context of her job.

Simple things like "Hello" when you arrive and "Thanks" when you leave, an assuring "I'll be with you in a minute" if the bar is busy, are easy to do, but make a massive difference to how the customer perceives the place. It can literally can be money in the bank. If somehow staff can be taught to parrot annoyingly  "Is there anything else?" as if dealing with a chronic amnesiac, then surely the odd greeting and goodbye can't be beyond them?  As for the meaningless "You all right there?" well, I covered that one here years ago when it was in its infancy, but it goes on still, and still grates as much.  Try unambiguous "Can I help you?" or "What can I get you?" Trust me it will annoy the customers a lot less, especially grumpy old bastards like me, though of course like all customer facing jobs, you need to adapt your approach according to the situation.

But it wasn't last weeks JDW encounter that prompts this. On last weekend's trip to Hull and Beverley, it was noticeable how the staff in that neck of the woods, despite hoards of people - including our busload arriving more or less at once at one or two places - all seemed to be pleasant, interested and helpful - often unpromptedly suggesting pubs, or joining in conversations to give directions, or asking where we came from.  I don't recall one "You all right there?"  Well done to all.

Unless of course it was the sunshine that made them smile? Can't see it being that though surely. They were stuck inside.

Got a couple more tales to tell from that weekend of unbroken sunshine and indeed fairly unbroken boozing.

I also went to Nellies in Beverley. A Sam's gem. You'll all know it of course?


Wednesday, 27 June 2018

So. What's Been Happening?

I've been away and busy with some personal matters, so while the odd Twitter comment kept me in touch while dodging rain in Dumbarton and Albania, I have spent a little time since returning, catching up with what's been going on.  The main chatter is about brewery takeovers - well nearly takeovers in this case. The airwaves are being choked by the dreadful news that one (more) of the darlings of the crafterati has fallen off the shining path and found itself in the arms of, in the eyes of some at least, an unsuitable suitor.  Yes folks, it's the Beavertown Show.  Now reading blogs and other social media, there is lots of righteous indignation as well as a smattering of insight and pragmatism.  You'll have, like as not, read most of it already.  Frankly I can't get too excited about it. I've only ever had the odd Beavertown beer and now, if predictions are to be believed, I'm likely to have much more of it available soon as the unsuitable suitor (Heineken) makes it widely available, but at a much smaller price.  Not exactly a losing position for most. Unless the recipe changes, but that won't happen, will it?

Of course takeovers are nothing new. In my time as a beer drinker I've seen many of them. The usual thing is that it will be good for consumers. Economies of scale, a bigger organisation helping out where needed and of course, the beer will be matched. It won't change. No Siree. But of course, change it did. Or it disappeared altogether.  So there is precedent, though then it was outlets (pubs) the predator was after, but now it is brand and volumes.  The fundamental reason remains the same - to protect and increase market share - whether by acquisition and absorption - or by owning the production one way or another. Elimination of the opposition is the name of the game I reckon. Mind you, in a lot of cases in the bad old days, it wasn't usually a marriage of convenience, but a shotgun wedding, the bride having been knocked up by the suitor by way of a hostile takeover. Nowadays, the complaint seems to be that the bride was busy behind the scenes prettying up for marriage and making herself a "catch". Same outcome, but usually given the ownership, a willing partnership.

Having read quite a few comments, I'd recommend Roger Protz's take. He's seen it all before and I reckon he has the right of it. My comment on Twitter and Roger's response is reproduced below.

A final thought from me. Business is business, though the ambition to build something called (slightly pornographically) Beaverworld is given as the reason for this. Oh and a shiny new 270,000 barrel brewery as a competitor might well explain the outrage by some. In the real world though there is still plenty decent beer to go at, so move along. Nothing much to see - for the time being at least.

Another thing to catch my eye is the carbon dioxide (CO2) shortage.  CO2  is needed in reasonable sized breweries for many things other than injecting it into beer, so it might affect some of us a bit. I think though this is more good headline stuff than a real worry. CO2 will be back in a gas bottle near you soon.

Right.That's under my belt. Think I'll go to the pub tonight and see if the Beavertown is on offer yet. 

Two beers that both required CO2 are shown to illustrate this article.  One is craft and was reassuringly expensive. The other was Albanian and therefore wasn't.

 I do feel the pain of some. My beloved Higsons Bitter has gone forever. It still hurts.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Old Style Drinking in Liverpool

I met one of my oldest friends for a few beers in Liverpool yesterday.  John now lives in Australia, but comes to see his elderly mother once a year or so. We always meet up and chat about what we are doing now and of course our times boozing, playing football, darts and the like in Scousley 30 odd years ago. It is a lot of fun.

Less fun was the Northern train journey to Liverpool.  Bad enough having to use that useless shower - I've already experienced their gross incompetence first hand while changing trains at Preston in my recent frequent trips to Scotland. Listening to the litany of cancelled trains as well as enduring their inherent inability to run a train on time has given me a healthy dislike of the company. And that's even before you suffer their wretched Class 142s, built over 40 years ago. Bloody boneshakers.

Yesterday's trip was by no means enhanced by the closure of Lime St station for upgrade. This meant a change at Liverpool South Parkway and a Merseyrail train to Moorfields, so we arranged to meet at an old haunt, the Lion, handy for the station and a fine traditional, corridored, multiroomed pub in which we originally drank Walkers, but now has many taps to choose from. At lunchtime, the pub being in Liverpool's business area, was actually fairly quiet, but a few diehards in suits gave it some atmosphere. Despite my two hour journey, I was early, so found a prime spot where I could watch the workers scurrying out for lunch and, with a pint of Peerless and the Times crossword, I was pretty much happy.  John, who has become an Australian Rugby League fan in his exile arrived a little late having persuaded some sports bar or other to beam in an important game live from Sydney. His team had won and after greeting him and a mate who I knew of, but hadn't met, we settled down to drink and chat.

I hadn't really liked my first beer enough to order a second, so changed to First Chop Hop. The boys ordered the same and we got on with the serious business of supping ale and chatting. Time flew and one round, melted into another. We considered moving to a different pub, but all agreed we were just fine where we were.  Pints mounted up and mostly we had the pub to ourselves, with the barman pitching in now and then to avoid boredom. Eventually around seven o'clock I decided I'd better get back to Manchester.  We'd been there, putting the world right for about five and half hours.  We stuck with the same round throughout and all left, pleasantly buzzed, but not at all drunk. Me for a further two hours on the train and the lads to get a bus home.

Later in Middleton, E met me off my bus from Manchester. "Thought you'd be pissed" she said. "Not me" I replied. And surprisingly, despite a certain nine pints, I wasn't.

4.1% beer drunk at a rate of around a pint every half hour was the kind of old fashioned steady drinking which is less frequent now. Not chopping or changing was refreshing in its own way and is to be recommended, even if the quantity isn't! 

Both Merseyrail trains were on time. I'd also forgotten how big and deep underground Moorfields is. Liverpool South Parkway was also rather impressive and larger than I'd imagined. I come from a railway family and like these sort of things.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Muddying the Waters

I was struck recently by the tweet below from blogger @Super Crushy about that vexed old subject, beer clarity.
Never being one to pass up an opportunity to respond, I, err, responded with a tweet and then the following conversation took place:
I think people should focus their efforts on highlighting badly made beer, rather than just complaining about beer styles they don't enjoy.

No argument there but I quite like responding in kind to your proselytizing.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Don't Bam Tennent's

Yesterday I happened to notice the tweet mentioned in this great article in the Daily Record.  Our dear friends BrewDog, thought it might be awesome to have a pop at the great Scottish icon Tennent's Lager, by suggesting that anything you do would be better that drinking good old TL.

 Very droll I thought and promptly forgot about it.

They are made of sterner stuff though over at Wellpark and they responded with the following:

The subsequent comments by the Record's readers are well worth a look. As one said "Come at the King then you best not miss." BrewDog subsequently removed the tweet.Tennent's 1; BrewDog 0.

I might just have a glass of TL on the way to the station today on that account. I fondly remember drinking pint screwtops of TL in my youth and still have one now and then. Well not screwtops sadly, but TL still.

I thank the Daily Record for reminding me of this tweet. Funnily it brought to mind the daily trot to the newsagent for a copy of same when I was a child. I kind of grew up with the Record, another Scottish icon.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The Curious Incident of the Dog That Barked Rather a Lot

There has been quite a lot written about the CAMRA AGM and the members failure to vote by the required 75% in favour, of Special Resolution 6. (SR6).  (The 75%, for the avoidance of doubt is set as part of UK Company Law.)

This resolution, along with its fellows was  a part of the Revitalisation Project and as a whole were intended to modernise the Campaign going forward.  This failure, despite the fact that all other resolutions were passed, has been greeted with a great deal of hysteria by many who should know better. Roger Protz on the other hand, has summed it all up rather well and I recommend that you read what he says before reading the rest of my tuppence worth.

As someone who was actually there when the result was announced in Coventry - and is a CAMRA activist and, I like to think, a moderniser - I voted in favour of all the resolutions. So what was the reaction at the AGM when this was announced?  Well actually very little. All of us who were modernisers had actually feared a much worse result and were rather upbeat we had come so far. These feelings were further enhanced by the Conference which sets policy, passing a number of very progressive motions, including acceptance of cask breathers and lifting the ban on keg beers at our festivals and much more.

So does SR6 matter? Well, it was a kind of catch all that frankly could have been more cleverly worded. It intended, I think, to show that CAMRA accepts that its remit should be formally widened:

To approve the insertion of the following Article 2(e)
in CAMRA’s Articles of Association: “2(e) to act as the
voice and represent the interests of all pub-goers and
beer, cider and perry drinkers;”

De facto of course, that is already the case and the acceptance of other resolutions and motions, while not exactly making SR6 moot, means that the intention of SR6 is more or less covered elsewhere. I would add that those that fondly imagine that the passing of SR6 would result in some kind of sudden support for say, including keg beers in the GBG for example, are likely to have been pretty well disappointed.Even if it had been passed, it would have taken a while for its implications to have worked through the system and there would have been no certainty about how that would have played out.

The hysteria I mentioned elsewhere cannot go without comment.   Pete Brown set out his stall and frankly if I was making a case to reject SR6 due to the parlous state of cask ale - the main raison d'être - then I could have taken almost all of what he said as a bloody good reason to stick to our knitting.  In parts it could be used more like a speech for the status quo. Take this for example:

"What I find most alarming is that no one in the cask ale industry wants to ‘fess up that there’s a serious issue here. This is a recipe for disaster, like the middle-aged man who won’t go and get that pain checked out at any the doctor because he’s scared of what he might hear, and anyway it might just go away. Last year. when I wrote about the quality issues around cask in London, I was comprehensively attacked from all corners of the industry, in a number of different publications.  Now, the plight of cask is actively being covered up"

For those that think the campaign for real ale has been won and that this failure is a card ripping up matter, (and I include my good friend Beers Manchester here,) just look at what Pete has to say and I agree with him in spades about it. We can never be complacent about cask conditioned beer. With a live product, the battle will never be won. It just goes on with high points and low points. Are we at a high? Not at all. More choice has not brought better quality at point of dispense. There is much more still to do and maybe that is why some people had doubts.  There is also a cadre that believe that we should not be supporting cider and perry as well as a few diehards, so maybe the result is a lot better than could reasonably have been expected. Please remember 72.6% of the 18,000 were in favour.

I also recommend that you look at Boak and Bailey. They have summed a lot of this up although I don't like the title which suggests the way forward will now be difficult. The door is certainly, while not fully open, pretty much ajar. Progress can now be made without SR6 and there is always next year.

Finally there are those that worry about the election of one traditionalist member to the Executive Committee. All I can say is until I read her manifesto, I'd never heard of her and in any case, is one traditionalist so bad to have as an opposing voice? You need different opinions on a committee, even when they are a minority of one.

This was a very progressive AGM and Conference. The Campaign has moved towards the future. Those on either side that tear up membership cards must of course suit themselves, but really could do with sitting down and looking at the evidence before doing so.

I'll finish with a quote by Martyn Cornell on Twitter.  

The call for change failed by about 900 votes. About 2,000 Camra members die every year.

Not a nice thought, but likely true enough. The Campaign will change further. One way or another.

I thought Coventry and the AGM venue were both places I would go a long way to avoid in the future.


Saturday, 14 April 2018

Book Review - Good Beer Guide Belgium

What is there to tell you about beer drinking in Belgium that you don't already know or can readily find out?   I'm guessing that was on the minds of the authors of this book when they say in the chapter entitled Beer in the Belgian Way(s) and aimed squarely at the armchair drinker or beer rating site aficionado, "Unlearn what you have learned, as it is unlikely to be correct." Now such advice when given by many could be safely disregarded as bravado at best, or chutzpah at worst, but when it comes from authors of the standing of Tim Webb and Joe Stange, you have to sit up and take notice, for these guys know their stuff.  Tim first produced a Good Beer Guide Belgium in 1992 and Joe is well known for his beer blog and is the author of "Around Brussels in 80 Beers", so they have a track record that gives you confidence from the get go.

The book itself, beautifully illustrated in colour throughout,  is fairly conventionally arranged and no worse for that. With a a foreword by the authors, a personal message  from Tim, whose last edition this is, a historical chapter about how Belgian beer has developed and expanded, one on food, travel and transport, beer styles (of course) and much more; everything is covered. Stylistically the book is written in a very easy going and approachable way.  It avoids being over technical and instead gently suggests to the reader how a beer might present. It outlines but does not define. There are handy little hints dotted about so you know how to order beer, whether you tip or not, where one might stay and some helpful notes about beer making and so on.  They even warn you about the comparative lack of cash points in Belgium. Who knew? All essential and appropriate but the meat of this book is, undoubtedly, the brewery listings and where you can best go to drink the beers. This is where the dedicated beer fiend and the beer curious alike will be most at home. The brewery section is arranged alphabetically and it is here you can gain an insight into what you might want to sample and what indeed you might want to avoid.  Each brewery has a bit of a pen picture, a listing of the beers with tasting notes and a helpful star rating system. One star earns you "Life is too short" and five stars are deemed "Amongst the best in the world".  Points in between are easily understood, so the reader will be gently guided in the right direction. This though is a book with opinions and the authors aren't afraid to air them. The description for Stella Artois (a two star beer) tells us the beer is "Impressively clean and beautifully presented" and then adds waspishly "wet air". Westmalle Tripel on the other hand gets five stars and is described as "the stuff of eulogies".

 The part of the book listing pubs and bars is perhaps the section that the dedicated travelling beer drinker will find most useful. Alphabetically arranged by towns within regions, once you have decided where to go, the book becomes an essential vademecum when perusing pub or bar beer lists which can, in some cases, stretch to 300 or so beers.  The authors point out - and this is important - that they did not seek samples from breweries, but rather, went there and bought the beers. They are also keen to opine that, in an age of obfuscation and blurring of lines, often by large conglomerates,  the place of origin of beer remains important, as it adds to authenticity. This is particularly so in Belgium, where beer in all its diverse forms so often has a clear link to its local or regional roots.

 The best thing that can usually be said about a guide book is that it makes you want to go there, to check it out and to see if it really is like that. This book ticks all these boxes in spades and it will add a bit of genuine insight to the keenest Belgian beer afficionado, the armchair ticker, or those that aspire to travel there and see for themselves. I thoroughly recommend it.

The Good Beer Guide Belgium is published by the Campaign for Real Ale Ltd. who provided me with this preview copy.

Publication date: 16th April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-85249-341-7
RRP: £14.99

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Slipping in for a Pint

A roaring coal fire, a busy little bar with banter flowing, comfy bench seating and a living room like atmosphere probably tells you that the pub is owned by Samuel Smith.  Add in a dismal, rain sodden  Bank Holiday Monday and all you have to worry about is whether the locals will welcome you, ignore you, or just be puzzled by your presence. Read on and all will be revealed.

The Slip Inn in deepest Milnrow is rather a neat little pub from the outside. Even as the rain battered down, it had an air of cheerful permanence that belied the weather. Solidly stone built, unusually it didn't have bay windows on each side of the front door, but two smaller ones apiece, rather like a schoolchild's drawing.  A small corridor - and it is pretty damn small here - reveals a couple of dinky little rooms off to the left, one with a smouldering coal fire and one without and the bar ahead of you, facing the main room which is comfortable with solid cast iron tables, bench seating and assorted regulars, all watched over by a rather diminutive barmaid who greeted us civilly enough.  The customers did their best to ignore us, but you could tell that our presence there puzzled them somewhat. And why wouldn't it? What indeed were we doing there at all?  I can empathise with that sentiment.  We could hardly have been on holiday after all and did kind of stick out a bit. OK. A lot.

Sadly there was no mild, dark or light on the bar. While E took a seat, I could have chosen Sovereign, OBB (keg) Stout and on the lager side, Double Four, Alpine or Taddy Lager. I ordered the stout while E plumped for a half of Taddy Lager. The locals resumed their banter which had died down slightly. There was a spot of minor effing and jeffing, but the barmaid shushed that from time to time. The edicts of Humphrey on this subject, clearly displayed on the usual notice, were being taken much more in the breach than the observance, but it was low level harmless stuff. Banter was of the "Where's so and so?" and the like, but mostly it was just the easy familiarity of those who had known each other for years and could readily pass the time with one another. One fellow seemed the ringleader of the denizens, but was a bluff, pleasant sort. In fact everyone was just enjoying themselves harmlessly. The accents were rural Rochdale - sort of Lancastrian - but not quite.  The fire - no shortage of coal when Humph is paying - emitted a fearsome radiated heat, causing one woman to suddenly rise and flee. In response to enquiries, she remarked about being boiled alive. It was a fair point and she lurked about, not quite sure where to go, while we, a bit further away, just enjoyed it.

As time ticked on, one or two left and one or two arrived. One customer was ribbed for his need to leave to be home for his tea, promptly at five, but he shrugged that off easily enough. It was all pretty easy going and while nobody spoke to us, nobody was remotely unpleasant.  Around five o'clock the excitement of the early leaver was augmented by a barmaidy shift change.  A few pleasantries were exchanged and the job was done. Everything lurched on much as before. My stout was fine. A bit like Guinness with actual stout characteristics. You know, roast barley, hops, malt. That sort of thing. E enjoyed her Taddy, though she would have preferred Pure Brewed which wasn't available.

Much to the astonishment of our fellow drinkers, we had another. I topped my glass up with further half of stout, while E, daringly, had a Double Four which she pronounced as inferior to Taddy. So now you know.

We left shortly after, no doubt to the relief of the others. Would I hurry back? No.  Was it unpleasant? Not at all. 

I wonder what Humphrey's coal bill is like? He seeems to allow generous use of it.

What about bottles I hear you ask. Didn't spot any. Also if you want to get there by bus, all required info is on the photo if you look hard enough.

Monday, 9 April 2018

The Loveliest of All

I rarely write in any detail about Manchester pubs, but I've been meaning to say a few words about the Unicorn in Church St for quite some time.

This former Bass house is one of the few remaining traditional multi-roomed pubs of what could be said to be the old school. Along with the Hare and Hounds in Shudehill and the Millstone in Thomas St and maybe one or two others in the same broad area, the Unicorn is the haunt of those of a certain age who have been around the block a bit. It is rough and ready and for many it will be daunting, as it is a no holds barred, old fashioned but attractive, city centre boozer of a type that was all too common in the days when I lived in Liverpool, but nowadays is a bit of an endangered species. It is invariably rammed.

My last visit was unplanned and perhaps not the best date to choose. While E and I awaited a table at a Northern Quarter restaurant, we had 45 minutes to kill, so nipped in for a pint, completely overlooking that this most traditional of pubs was celebrating St Patrick's evening and was a lot more chokka than it usually is - and it is never not full. Fighting our way through the throng of smokers at the door, we were nearly bowled over by the Fields of Athenry at top amplified volume. An almost impenetrable wall of celebrants made progress onwards and inwards a bit of a challenge. To the uninitiated this would seem like a near impossible task, but a wriggle here and an "excuse me" there and we were in and within sight of the bar. To me there is only one drink to order here and it isn't Guinness, though there was plenty of that in evidence. No. Draught Bass it must be, for the Unicorn, in a nod to its previous ownership, stocks Bass as its regular beer.

The bar is broadly horseshoe in shape, with one closed off end, a small room beyond that and to the right off the main corridor, a larger rectangular area split into several distinct parts, with a neat snug like area in the front.  It is all wood, leather and brass, with the passageways rather too narrow to comfortably squeeze past the stand up drinkers who invariably huddle there as they most likely have done for many years.  Additionally on this busiest of nights, every space was taken. Clutching our drinks we made for the corridor from the crammed bar. I watched as E deftly moved out and with alarm noted as she did, that a fellow imbiber turned to watch her go, in the process swiping a drink off a ledge and onto the floor.  I was unprepared though to be accused the crime and warily protested my innocence. These things can easily get out of hand, but a worrying situation was defused and all became sweetness and light as it became clear the drink was unattended and unclaimed. Its demise and therefore who dun it, didn't matter. Whew.

From our new perch at the bottom of the stairs leading to the accommodation above and opposite the juke box we watched three rather inebriated young women swig wine like beer and shriekingly discuss moving on to the Millstone, while still singing off key along to the music. A warning by a staff member to "keep it down" was to no avail and frankly, above the merry din, a touch pointless. They stayed for another and like as not, another after that.  Around us there was young and old. The young - mostly pretty pissed - seemed just as at home as their older counterparts who rigidly claimed their usual spot while being inadvertently jostled. Staff filled glasses at lightning speed and the tide of people ebbed and flowed.  It was all very jolly and just a tad edgy.

A point to note is that actually, though the noise and numbers were enhanced by the occasion, it is pretty much like this all the time, with an amazing array of divergent characters; ne'er do wells, respectable types, older couples and everything in between can be found within. In short it is a proper pub of a type that was common once, but isn't now, so well worth a visit for that alone. And you get to try Draught Bass.

Do keep your wits about you though.

Another plus is that the staff are very quick and friendly.  You never have to wait long for a drink in here. Also handy for the bus station, local bus stops and the rest of the Northern Quarter.

Why no photo of the pub? I hadn't actually intended to write about it and these days, you can't just nab a photo off the web. Draught Bass it is then and not even from the same evening. I'm rubbish at this.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The Thirties Revisited

There's always something new and unexpected in the pub game, no matter how long you have been involved in it. Having said that, you don't really expect the unexpected in a Sam Smith's pub. OK, there may be a set of bizarre promulgations adorning the walls, advising you in polite but specific terms as to what you can or can't do and what will or will not be tolerated. Trust me though, in Sam's that's a norm - scarcely to be remarked upon at all, but rather, to be embraced as part of the ambiance - a kind of par for the course and an odd but somehow comforting enhancement to the overall experience.  What is not expected though, especially in Milnrow suburban Rochdale, which, and I'm being kind here, just isn't that sort of place, is to be accosted with, as you walk through the door and into the pub, "Table for two is it?".

The Kingsway Hotel is a very imposing building, more or less isolated on its own off a main road with an industrial estate behind it and little housing around it. It does though have a Hungry Horse more or less opposite it, so at least there is passing trade and the potential to attract it, though judging by the emptiness of the Kingsway, too much of it is doing passing and not enough doing stopping. I took the lovely E with me my for this bank holiday outing, in what can best and accurately be described, as pissing rain.  The car park is pretty big and was more or less empty as we emerged, dripping onto the parquet floor, into a rather fetching, but decidedly bare 1930's room, with a bar to left - which most unSamslike - was illuminated by only two keg fonts, one dispensing Old Brewery Bitter and the other Taddy Lager. There is a well appointed dining room straight ahead, with, on this visit, one table silently occupied by three people. The owner of the enquiring voice turned out to be the landlady, a rather charming Scots lass from South Glasgow, who seemed rather taken aback by me being taken aback by her greeting.  The confusion was sorted out when I explained we only wanted a drink. Chattily she explained that the emphasis was now on food, hence the paucity of the draught offering.  I expressed my surprise at this as it seemed at odds with Humphrey Smith's usual policy and was advised in turn that it was his idea and her partner , a chef of 17 years standing had been encouraged to up the food offering which is all cooked on the premises. Well I never.

I observed that the place was, shall we say, empty other than the disconsolate lone diners who were quite possibly enjoying Brown Windsor soup followed by Woolton Pie or some such. Our chatty host explained that it was Humph's policy to open on Bank Holidays, so open they were - until six. Looking around the pub interior and building are superb. Built in 1938, it is a fantastic example of inter war pub design. Totally unspoilt, it has a plethora of original features, such as the aforementioned parquet floor, a working revolving door, panelled walls, proper fireplaces, as as well as the rather grand lamps of the time. A bit of a worm hole to the past in fact. An overspill dining room was again tastefully decorated in the same comfortable 1930s manner. Local photos enhanced the experience, but the eerie quiet must have made dining a rather soulless experience and one which I was glad I hadn't signed up to.

As I looked around and E chatted to the boss woman, the chef, bored shitless no doubt, joined us for a chat while I perused the rather unambitious menu. Oddly given the ambition, it was mostly standard British pub grub, though E approvingly noted the inclusion of liver and onions.  In addition to the two keg offerings, there was a full range of Sam's bottles available at under a fiver each and even the revered Yorkshire Stingo was on sale at a modest - for this beer - £9 a pop. 

You know, somehow I liked this place a lot. The landlady was a delight, the building was superb, but I can't help but thinking they'd be better off trying to attract drinkers, re-open the closed vault and if dining really is the game, up the offering a bit.  I'd love to be here when it is going like a fair, but I've an idea a time machine might well be needed to achieve this.

I usually poke a bit of gentle fun at the Sam's pubs I review, but this time it just seems right to wish it well, as to lose such an architectural gem would be a great shame.

Apparently the pub only opens Wednesday to Sunday, bank holidays excepted.  

The landlady was a big fan of Humph who she thought rather a hard working and nice fellow. You can only speak as you find I suppose.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

To Be or not to Be

There is an excellent piece of analysis in Phil's blog about CAMRA's Revitalisation proposals.  Phil does a bit of slicing and dicing of the various resolutions put to the members and comes out, on the whole against them. It is a worthwhile read.  At the time of writing, there is one lengthy comment which, while not taking an opposing view exactly, does pursue a more optimistic line regarding of the future of the Campaign if change occurs.

Dominic Pinto is the commentator and he cuts through a lot of the arguments with the following observation "In setting out more succinct objects the proposed new Articles [of Association] start fairly crucially, surely, with securing the long term future of first real ale, and also real cider and real perry, by increasing their quality. availability and popularity."

Of course when you read a lot of the words written in support of change, it is clear that no matter how carefully framed - and I suppose there must have been many iterations - there is still an element of Humpty Dumpty about them  "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."  I rather fancy that there is a deliberate element of (at best) vagueness in what is proposed, as the changes, when you think about them, are backgrounded against two seemingly irreconcilable objectives. On one hand there is the perceived need to move with the times in the face of a rapidly changing beery landscape and on the other a wish to say it is all much the same - except we will not say bad things about keg - and will allow festivals to sell it - though that ship has already sailed. In other words, we don't want to frighten the horses, the horses being those of us in the Campaign who actually put in the time and effort. Will the stalwarts take their bats and balls home in other words? Will they believe Humpty Dumpty or Alice?

If Dominic is to be believed though, that in itself may not be a worry. He has a lot of experience of other voluntary organisation and sees a ray of hope there. Comparing CAMRA with organisations such as Oxfam, and the Consumers Association and countering some of Phil's arguments, he concludes (following arguments you should read) "So the idea that these corporate-like entities with (bloated?) head offices with a passive income generating membership, commercial income generating arms, and declining local activity is really very far from the reality you suggest."

Returning to the proposed changes to include non real beers, the crux of the matter to many, what do we find? What are the likely views of members? Now I suspect from observation that most members do mostly drink real ale and lots of active members do drink non real ales from time to time. (I do, but mostly lager not ale). Likely non active members do the same.  There are pockets in the country of die hard real ale folks who "up with this they will not put" but in the main most of us, while championing great quality real ale, will drink other things from time to time. The changes in emphasis will not affect what we do one little bit. Most of us will continue with the main objective of drinking and supporting real ale and the idea of mass resignations, or campaigning for "Evil Keg Filth" are to my mind as fanciful as the notion that including non real beer recognition in our objectives will attract lots of new people to becoming active in the Campaign. In reality it won't happen and actually, when you think about it, why would it? As an aside, at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival, we have a substantial non real ale presence and while there may have been the odd bit of member unease about it, nobody has refused to work at the festival for that reason.  We do have some younger members working as a result of it, but many of them are from the breweries offering the product - so that may not count that much.

What about the armchair CAMRA members who will have a vote on all of this for the first time? Will the tail wag the dog? (I know the small number of activists compared to total members are really the tail, but you see what I mean.)  My own experience is that it is almost impossible to get those that are passive members to do anything, whether it is nominating for Pubs of the Year, Good Beer Guide entries, or pretty much anything else at all. So will they turn out in droves to vote for or against the proposed changes? I rather doubt it, but maybe, just maybe, there could be enough to outvote the activists, though I suspect their vote will be split too.

So, what will happen and how will I vote? The outcome is by no means certain is all I can say. Despite my remarks above about armchair voting, that is a big unknown. In fact I just don't know, though my instinct is that if members believe that the future of real ale is threatened or even compromised by the proposals, then they will vote to retain the status quo.

As for me, I like to think I'm a moderniser, but underneath it all, there's a bit of, as Hilaire Belloc said, "always keep a-hold of Nurse for fear of finding something worse." 

The pick and mix nature of the resolutions make for a known unknown. Depending on how it is voted on, it could end up a dog's breakfast.

CAMRA does need change though, so likely that's what will swing it for me. But remember the pick and mix warning.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Balloch Blues

It must be hard being a real ale campaigner in Scotland and I take my hat off to those that do it. This is a rocky and uphill road and it has much ability to give disappointment and duff pints in equal measure. Though there must be compensating pleasures, I'm glad I do my bit for CAMRA in the relatively green, sunny and real ale rich pastures of Rochdale, Oldham and Bury.

But the campaign is about quality as well as choice, so how does Balloch measure up?  Firstly, why Balloch? Well simple really. It was the only handy place I could get a train to. Balloch is at the bottom of Loch Lomond, though in shivering cold, its banks and braes were anything but bonny. The road wasn't that bonny either, being around two feet of slushy snow. It has three real ale outlets - I say outlets rather than pubs - as none is a pub in the accepted English sense, two being hotel bars and one, just a typical Scottish one room bar*.  It has one other advantage as a small real ale crawl - all the boozers are within a three minute walk of the station and consequently of each other.

*The Dog House is a typical one roomed bar - or so I thought - but seemingly there is another bar within. Nonetheless I was in the one with the real ale, though as might be expected, everyone was drinking Tennents or cider, which may well explain the slightly stale and oxidised pint of the local brew, Southern Summit from Loch Lomond Brewery, carefully served in a Belhaven Best glass. The room was roughly rectangular with some bench seating and a small row of tables and chairs placed strategically in front of one of the dominating TVs.  It was friendly enough in that nobody stabbed me, but it was clearly a locals bar, with banter flying freely about as the denizens battered back the TL and walloped down the vodka.  I stayed for one only and was gratified that another recalcitrant ordered the cask before I left. Maybe it would be better than mine?

Just 50 yards away on the other side of the road was a place, Balloch House, I'd been to before without having a particularly good time.  I wrote about that here.  Hoping for improvement, I went in. Firstly it was busy.  Two guys were playing traditional (not Scottish) music and a few stood at the bar though like me they held their coats awkwardly under their arms, as there was nowhere apparent to hang them. The handpump selection was, one (empty), one (Doom Bar - off,) one (Bitter and Twisted) and the other Deuchars IPA. There might even have been another, but I can't remember. I selected Bitter and Twisted which was unsparkled and definitely uninspiring - average at best.  Looking around the pub had been furnished with various useless tat by modern pub central and although plenty people were in, it strikes me as the kind of place that couldn't generate atmosphere if you sealed all the doors and windows and pumped laughing gas in. (Your mileage may vary.) I was additionally annoyed by the free Wi-Fi which required - and didn't get - a huge amount of intrusive information as a matter of course. Having failed to enjoy this place on two visits, I must bravely face the fact that I like nothing at all about this Mitchells and Butler's outpost. Sorry.

Lastly the Tullie Inn. This is a bit of a barn and was clearly redeveloped some years ago from its former more traditional look to aim for the summer trade. In winter, it just looked, big, soulless, cold and empty.  I was greeted at the door by an A board where "George and Mildred" - or whoever - assured me of a warm welcome. I find though that if you have to write the welcome down, it is sure to be wholly absent within. And so it came to pass.  Funnily though my Cask Marque accredited pint from Fallen Brewery of Stirling was pretty good, even though the beer, Grapevine, fell several hurdles short of its description of "New World Pale" and was a mighty £4 a pint. Time was against me and that one would have to do. My train and, unknown to me, a very disturbed night ahead, awaited me.

Balloch is probably best experienced for its views of Loch Lomond and the Ben. Stick to them and you'll be quite happy. Expect a lot from the local pubs and sadly, you may well be disappointed.

I don't recall any keg craft as such in any of the pubs, so that avenue was pretty well closed. 

The rail line to Helensburgh is now restored and with luck I can nip down there later for a decent pint. I might even get home tomorrow.