Monday, 31 August 2015

Sneery Beery

I haven't written about the Great British Beer Festival until now and as far as I can make out not that many have either.  There are one or two moaning  exceptions which I'll mention in a moment or two, but my own thoughts first.  I want to address the complaint of "sameiness" which is a recurring theme of the knockers.  As someone who has been working at the festival for many years, you do get a feeling of familiarity and indeed cosy sameness about it when you show up and it is all there set out invitingly before you (I don't do set up - I'm far too old for that) but even so I still spend my first "let loose" half hour checking what's new and what's different.  There is always enough. It may look the same, but subtle changes are always being made.  But back to the cosy sameness.  That is to some extent the point.  You are showing up at a huge version of your local.  It has a set of features you enjoy, usually the chance of bumping into people to chat to and it has a lot of good beer.  And the beer is getting better. Huge efforts are made to cool the beer and present it well and I for one didn't have a pint at an unacceptable temperature, nor did I have a pint that was flat. So given that it is served Southern style, nothing to moan about there.

"Ah but the choice?" I hear you shout.  The GBBF has a huge choice of beer.  If you can't find enough there to keep you happy you are unlikely to be happy anywhere.  It represents what British Brewers in the main are brewing and what British pub customers in the main are drinking.  It does include in cask form, beers from many cutting edge brewers and some of them rather exotic. The number of great small brewers is slowly increasing as it is elsewhere at beer festivals.  But it isn't a showcase for strong and obscure. If you want a pineapple sour aged in feta cheese barrels coming in at 11% and £5.50 a third, well yes, you'll be disappointed.  That's not what it is what it is about.  What it is about is a jolly good day or night out, in a great friendly atmosphere where beer assumes the position it was always meant to assume. It is an accompaniment to fun. It isn't the fun itself.  Thankfully almost all of our customers see that and simply go to enjoy themselves.  Watching and observing, I saw huge numbers of people doing just that. Back to that pub analogy. Everyone came, had a good drink and a great time and went home happy. Job done!

So who's moaning this year? Well Simon Williams is. In his blog he describes it as "lazy, out-moded and tired looking."  The organisers have simply "plonked everything down in the same place" and brought in "lowest common denominator" food suppliers. How all the 50,000 plus that attended must have been disappointed. Except of course they weren't, as 99% of these people drink and enjoy themselves just like 99% of the population do and the GBBF suits them just fine. Like pubs CAMRA has to cater for the majority of drinkers. Simon's somewhat sneering tone continues throughout, though I do agree with his observation that CAMRA needs to make its hall decoration and festival theme somewhat more contemporary, so at least he made one valid observation to justify his press pass.  Looking at the comments on his blog (mine didn't appear) read what Des De Moor says for a more thoughtful and considered appreciation of the the issue of beer choice and the festival itself -and Des isn't that complimentary to CAMRA. (Funnily enough Des liked the theme, which shows how difficult all this is!)

Jumping on the same CAMRA bashing bandwagon is another press pass holder, Martyn Cornell who agrees with everything Simon says. In fact, so overcome by agreement is Martyn that he says somewhat astonishingly "I don’t think I’ve ever read a blogpost I agreed with more than Simon Williams of CAMRGB’s take on the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia last week". Perhaps Martyn doesn't agree with that much he reads then, but it's still some claim. He like Simon goes on to compare GBBF with London Beer City Beer Festival (apples and oranges if ever there was).  He says "At the LCBF, in contrast, the beers are almost without exception challenging and exciting, the stalls are staffed by people from the breweries involved who are delighted to chat."  This is a hugely geeky thing to say. Now here's a thing. I'd say most people don't go out drinking to be challenged by beer, or have a wish to discuss the beer's philosophy and upbringing with the brewer. They go out to enjoy beer as part of a social occasion and just want a bloody beer, maybe with a taster or two first.  Comparing the two festivals in this way, as like for like,  is disingenuous. I could go on but you get my drift.  While I can accept Des's well thought out and constructive criticism, this sort of lazy stereoptyping, as fellow blogger, Jeff Pickthall would say, "Boils my piss." However the most telling remark of  all to my mind was buried within the comments in Martyn's blog. It was this:

Karen Eliot on said:

"But doesn’t this take it for granted that the purpose of a beer festival is to present people with a challenge? The GBBF is deservedly popular as a jolly day out, the beer needs to be good but it doesn’t have to be ‘interesting’.The CAMRA / Craft divide seems to be less about method of dispense these days as ways of drinking, with one mode – characterised by small measures, high ABV, high prices, an unusual attentiveness on the part of the drinker and an emphasis of novelty over consistency and intensity over drinkability - assumed by its proponents to be superior."

Doesn't that make sense? There's the craft / cask divide summed up nicely.  Jolly days out versus challenging novelty. I'll add that to my own observation that beer should be an accompaniment to fun, not the point of the day out. Let's just enjoy a beer festival for what it is, not what it isn't.  

There's a certain irony too that the sneerers found the best bit of GBBF bumping into people they knew, while the best bit of LCBF was being challenged by the beer.

My comment didn't appear on Martyn's blog either. No conspiracy theory. just the dreaded Wordpress I assume.

And Simon. The two worlds aren't meant to collide. They should be taken for what they are, not forced into a daft comparison.  People that think GBBF hasn't changed have obviously not been going as long as I have. As for the more comtemporary festivals, they tend to do much the same a CAMRA. They take a formula that suits them and then tweak it. Babies and bathwater! 

Also many beer geeks and writers were there at GBBF. I spoke to them. Don't remember many glum faces.   Nor was the food at all bad with a choice and variety outweighing anything you'll usually get at "alternative" beer festivals and eminently suitable for those drinking a fair amount of beer.  I even heard tell that pulled pork was available!!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

Back in April 2011 I tipped Buxton Brewery for great things. Since then they have crept slowly but surely up the ladder of British brewing and have in fact increased the pace of recognition and gained the approval of many drinkers.  I particularly like it when I come across them expectantly at the bar and always order them when I see them.  Seems though I won't see much of them in the future. Well not in cask conditioned form anyway.

A rumour has been going the rounds for a little while that Buxton were to cease production of cask beer in favour of keykeg and bottles and yesterday it became apparent that apart from the Brewery Tap and selected (unstated) "special events" that cask beer production, which has already been scaled down, will cease from September. Bad news for cask drinkers who like a pint of their beers from a handpump.

Buxton go on to state on their Facebook Page the reasons for doing so:
  • Overwhelming customer demand for other formats - bottle and keg.
  • Customer feedback.
  • Quality control.
  • Cask losses and theft.
  • A depressed cask market place flooded with poor to average cask beer, sold cheap.
Dissecting this a little I conclude that the "demand" for other formats is more profitable and that they are being "forced" out of some markets because of the flood of cheap beer from breweries that aren't nearly as good, but which sell at a much lower price. Is this the inevitable result of too many breweries seeking too few outlets and a disregard for quality over price? It certainly looks like it.  There can be little doubt that with over 1400 breweries seeking a market, that some will cut not only prices, but quality corners to get on the bar.  There may well be more of this in various scenarios yet to come, as surely the number of breweries is approaching unsustainability, at least in certain areas? Nonetheless this is the market and many breweries compete successfully in this area and service demands for beer in any format.

The issue of cask theft, like the poor has always been with us, though again many other breweries seem to cope with this and while I for one won't argue about quality control,  it seems to me a bit flimsy, in that Buxton by definition and examination of their own reasons for ceasing cask, surely won't be selling it down to a price in outlets that exist on that business model and where a quality pint isn't guaranteed? 

Buxton go on to say:

"We love cask beer, and the great traditions of British brewing that surround it. It's where we started, with Buxton SPA in 2008, which we still brew and is a great beer to drink on cask. Our wish is to continue presenting beer in cask, but in a way that we can have 100% control over it." 

Well I guess if you want 100% control over cask then yes, just sell it in your own pubs. Or pub in this case, but of course that raises two fingers to those that have loyally supped Buxton beers on handpump these last years.  They'll have to put up with a much different product, served in a much different way at a much higher price.  Or hop on a train to Buxton I suppose? If you really love cask and think that highly of it, then you'd find another way, maybe by selling only to well chosen outlets and to a supply chain that will ensure that cask losses are kept to a minimum.  I don't know where they've been selling it that it ends up so poor. That doesn't quite hang together for me.  Now of course I'm a cask beer bar through and through, so I would be unhappy about this of course, but I rather doubt that I'm the only one. Loss of these fine traditional beers is unlikely to be met with universal approval.  Thankfully not all of the nearly 1400 brewers brew bad beer, so there will be plenty of decent replacements, even if sometimes loss of other beers is recalled with regret. In the end of course the financial aspects of their business are down to Buxton and I would never blame a business for going down the "it makes more money route."  I'd just be a lot happier if they simply said "Keykeg and bottles are more profitable and are easier for us. Sorry".  Expressing crocodile tears over abandoning cask helps no-one really.

Is there not too, a certain irony that in retaining cask beer at the Brewery Tap, no doubt that those that brew it and those that made the decision will still be happily supping cask beer after work? Seems a little like rubbing noses in it.

At least I was right in predicting success. Pity it had to end up like this and oddly unfitting surely that the Buxton statement is illustrated by a photo of a handump dispensing Buxton Cask Beer.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Dog and Truck

I have written about this East End Boozer before and I finally got back to another visit a year and half after my last visit.  What's the matter with me? I'd forgotten how good it was obviously.

On my day off from the Great British Beer Festival we'd decided to give a new (to me) pub near Liverpool St Station a try. Because of  E's work we had to wait until nearly three pm before setting out and inevitably as we left the flat it started to rain.  Heavily. With considerable reluctance E agreed to sprint round the corner to the Dog and Truck, a couple of minutes from our front door.  She's been there for nearly 17 years and despite having visited almost every boozer for miles around - well I have dragged her to them including many long since closed -  she somehow didn't fancy it.

If you read my previous piece (and you'd best really) you'll see I liked it. It hadn't changed a bit since my last visit thankfully and despite its very old fashioned seventies look, it was warm and welcoming. A table of retired gents sat supping beer and exchanging jolly reminiscences, a fairly young lad, obviously taking a Poet's Day view of Friday was idly throwing underweight darts at the dart board and a couple of lads stood at the bar drinking pints of lager. It took me back a fair bit. The beers on offer were Greene King IPA, Black Sheep Bitter and Harvey's Sussex Bitter. I chose the Harvey's and it was excellent. Bright as a button, fully conditioned and served at the correct temperature. Excellent. The barmaid was friendly and when I called back for a second pint I remarked on how good the beer was. She promised to let the landlord know.  E, ever suspicious of London cask beer was enjoying her halves of Staropramen.

We sat for a while nattering and the darts player offered me a game. Now I used to play a lot of darts over thirty years ago, so I couldn't resist. The darts were far too light and I was hammered. Twice.  That took me back a bit too.

The Dog and Truck is at 72 Back Church Lane, London E1 1LX. It really is worth a visit and it will be on my list when I'm next in London. E said she'll come too!

I've looked ot my old darts. I'll bring them next time too. And the Harvey's was much better than my rotten photo suggests.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

What Happens When You Complain About Beer?

 I go to London a lot and have been doing so for the 16 years or so we have owned a flat there.  Before that I spent around nine months in London managing the removal of  IT systems from Euston Tower and relocating them in Lytham St Annes and Leeds.  I drink beer there and have done so for a long time. I know a fair bit about the beer scene, both now and when I first ventured there. Bit of background that.

Now being a blogger and writer, I sometimes write, when it happens, about bad beer in London.  Now there are some that think I have an unfortunate down on London and that I just complain for the hell of it. Why would I? When I'm in London I'm just out for a drink, usually with my better half.  I rather like to visit, among other types,  the classic London pub with a beautiful interior and loads of customers spilling out onto the pavement. It is a "thing" about London I rather like and there I'm just a customer paying (top dollar) for my beer. I'm not really looking for bad beer to write about, because quite frankly if I was, I'd be writing about little else. I'm not talking here particularly about one or two of the top pubs where you have a much better chance, but of the pubs a normal beer drinker might visit. The pubs are jumping and beer is flowing freely from the handpumps.  Having spoken about warm temperatures being the enemy of cask beer, the other main enemy is lack of turnover. That causes staling and souring.  Now in the pubs I'm visiting turnover of beer is certainly not a problem, at least during the week. The beer though is often flabby, warm and lacking the zing that properly conditioned cask beer needs to have.   What's a beer drinker to do?

Recently I have been advised by a well known beer writer, in a somewhat testy exchange of views, to complain. It is my duty apparently and my failure to complain is the reason why pubs are being killed.  What tosh. The pubs I'm complaining about are going like a fair even if the beer is crap. Of course I've complained but it gets you nowhere.  My Mrs calls me a serial complainer, so unless the beer is absolutely cloudy and muddy*, I don't bother embarrassing her and frustrating myself. It changes nothing. Here's a few scenarios from memory:

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm:
Barperson: I don't know I don't drink the stuff

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm / flat:
Barperson: Everyone else is drinking it /nobody else has complained

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm:
Barperson: Would you like something else?

Me: I'm sorry but this replacement beer is still far too warm:
Barperson: What do you want me to do then?

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm:
Manager: Ah yes. The cooler's broken (a favourite that)

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm:
Manager: It's a hot day

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm:
Manager: Oh sorry about that
Me: I see you have a Cask Marque plaque outside, I'll report this to them.
Manager: Suit yourself.

The point is that in good pubs the beer won't be warm and flat and the staff will know that and be concerned if it is.  This isn't about them, it is about the vast number that don't do it properly. What's the use of complaining if a replacement beer comes from the same warm cellar and the same uninsulated beer lines and your complaint results in no change? None.That's what. The pubs are run by people who are transient, know nothing about cask beer and frankly don't care. They are selling lots of it to a transient and couldn't be bothered arguing clientèle. They are probably underpaid and overworked. Why should they bother? The beer shifts anyway.  (Some places that should know better don't do much better. More of that another time).

When I started working in a pub many years ago, my boss, one of the old school, taught me many things about the pub trade and serving customers. I've mentioned some of them in this blog before, but one that sticks particularly in my mind is this "If a customer complains about the beer, just change it without question - he'll tell everyone that if you have a problem in my pub, they'll sort it out immediately. . That's worth money to me."  Now of course he knew there was nothing wrong with the beer, but his point was that it was good business for him reputationally.  The customer would get a new pint he felt better about and tell all his friends how great the service was. Pubs were a very competitive business then and he wanted an edge.  How does that apply in London and in the scenarios mentioned, all of which are absolutely true? It doesn't.

One other thing I'd mention again from my old times and also from running a pub cellar, many beer festival cellars and from working in a pub. The last person to find out there's something wrong should be the customer. The beer should be checked before service and importantly, during service.

(The other main enemy of cask beer not already discussed is cleanliness in both cellar and beer lines.)

*I tweet such photos and usually name names. 

Next: The Keyboard Warrior in his pride. Cheery Beery? Trust me. I'm only just warming up.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Hot Stuff

I've been banging on about cask beer quality as long as I have been writing this blog.  It is a bit of an obsession of mine as I love great cask beer and feel frustrated enough to scream internally when it is not.  The lack of quality in cask beer played a huge part in the rise of keg in the 1960s and keg and smooth beer in the years beyond.  It may well have a place in the rise of craft keg, but that's not the theme of this post. Do however feel free to allege it or deny it in commenting.

The real focus of my ire though is temperature, as it is that above all which affects the condition of beer once it is in the cellar. I've been writing about that since Day One, so love the subject or hate it, I'm at least consistent and while I make many criticisms of too warm beer, I am equally keen to praise the good when I find it. So I'll remind you what I said on that fateful first day of blogging on 26 November 2007:

"Too warm a serving temperature and too little condition are the enemy of cask beer. The latter two statements are also beer FACTS as they have been proved to be true scientifically. Warm temperatures cause dissolved C02 to return to atmosphere and too little condition will have the same flattening effect on beer. Don't believe me? Read "Beer and the Science of Brewing by Charles Bamforth. I have a signed and dedicated copy. Another beer fact!"

Now I could have said that a little better, but the main point is that warm beer will always give you lack of condition and explains why, as it warms up even more after serving, the beer, which tasted reasonable at first sip, frankly, dies on its arse as you go along.  It is important that the drinker and more importantly, the vendor,understands and bears in mind that a warm beer will not only get warmer, but will much more quickly lose its condition. That my friends is basic physics and why getting the cellar temperature and, importantly, temperature at point of dispense, correct. This is a one way street. There is no way back as temperature rises.  Those of you who know me as a cellarman at beer festivals will know that I am equally obsessive there. My reputation is on the line and I don't have a temperature controlled cellar to rely on, which is the reason that many of you will have had to keep your coat on where I'm in charge of the beer. Sorry about that, but hopefully the beer was good.

Now why am I giving this background?  Well I have received a bit of outrage from some about the fact that I dare to challenge warm beer and name names. I've covered this subject before, so I urge you to read this piece from August 2011.  I'll also cover where complaining gets you in my next article.

You might also want to glance through this which is a search of my blog for the term warm beer and because reading my old stuff will be good for you!

I'll also be writing about a pub in London with great quality beer which, oddly is within a 5 minute (or less) walk of our London flat.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

What Would You Choose?

As part of the year long celebration of CAMRA's Rochdale, Oldham and Bury Branch (ROB)  40th anniversary, and to add to the veritable cornucopia of fun so far, we have another three functions which hopefully will provide a bit of interest and attract members.  In conjunction with JD Wetherspoon's Area Managers and the managers of the three pubs concerned, we have agreed that ROB will choose six of the beers to be sold  in a JDW in each of the three boroughs, on three given nights.  We can choose from the entire JDW list which has over 450 breweries on it. They will even endeavour to find beers, if chosen, from outside that list.  It has to be said that JDW have been amazingly supportive of us in this endeavour.

How are we going about it? Well, at last night's Branch Meeting, we had a draw to select six winners for the Rochdale event.  The idea is that each will select three beers in a first second and third choice, the theory being at least one choice can be sourced for each person. I didn't win a chance to choose, but I do have another two goes at it. The choices were revealed and as you'd expect, at least half of them, I'd never heard of.  Given that there are so many breweries and beers that's hardly surprising to me at least, but you'd be amazed how aghast many people are when talking to me about beer, that I've never heard of a particular beer or brewery they admired while in Budley Salterton or wherever.  But I digress.

If you'd won the chance to select beers, what would have been your one, two, three?

The beers must be currently commercially brewed and be cask conditioned of course.  I doubt if my first choice, Batham's Bitter could have been sourced, but you never know.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Another Thing the Pub is Best For

One of our Sunday table from the Tandle Hill Tavern has died. We knew it was coming and so did he.  Yesterday after his funeral we met, not at the Tavern, but at the nearby Ship, thus allowing the landlord of the THT to join us to see the lad off in a style he'd have liked. We had a piss up.

It just wouldn't have been the same or befitting in a house or hotel function room.  He was a pub man and only the pub would do.

Funerals are big business for pubs in this area and, I suppose in others. It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Do We Like That One?

I'm not a drinker of own brand beers really. I kind of think they are likely to be not very good with one or two exceptions.  These exceptions are usually where a very good brewery has been commissioned to produce a particular kind of beer as part of a range.  But what about those low end "cooking lagers" which aren't brands, but are set up to compete with "brands"?  The nice people at Aldi sent me some beers for me to find out for myself.  A pretty unusual task for this writer, but I thought it might be fun and that I might learn something.

Now I'm a fan of Aldi.  I like many of their things, though like all supermarkets, you have to pick and choose. I have bought beer from them in the past, more of which later, but not their canned offerings,  competing with the big boys on taste and bettering  them on price.  On a sunny Saturday afternoon, me and E decided to give them a whirl. I set them out in order of strength and one at a time, off we went.

First up was Galahad Lager. "Crisp and Refreshing" is the claim for this four percenter. The beer itself pours a nice clear gold with a lasting white head. E picked out the metallic nose straight away. High carbonation and a thin body followed with a touch of wheat spiciness and a slight lemony taste. The verdict? You could do worse actually and it does what it says on the tin. Crisp and refreshing? Yes indeed.

No range it seems these days would be complete without a French 25cl stubby bottle. Brasserie Premium is just such an animal and displays all the usual faults of the breed. All taste and character has been brewed and filtered out to leave a thin, brasso like fizzy liquid. Buy on price only.  At 4.5% Lowenstein gives every impression of being brewed in Germany, down to the rheinheitsgebot conformation, but it is brewed yet again in France. All barley this time and you can smell it on the toasty nose, but it is let down by thinness,  lack of a hop presence or any depth or body from the malt.

Last up is St Etienne which is set to compete with Stella. So brewed in Belgium then? Sorry, no. France again.  I read up on this one on the web and it seems it used to be brewed in Belgium, but now isn't. Commentators have noted the tail off in quality.  The beer manages to be both sharp and sweet simultaneously. It has a bit of a wet dog nose, no hop presence and sort of dies in your mouth.  Pretty horrid really and not as good as the Galahad.  E chucked hers into the hedge after a few sips.

Now I pointed out above that I used to buy beer from Aldi. That beer was Wernesgruener Pils, a real classy German Pils, alas no longer stocked in the UK.  I'd recommend that Aldi find a decent German import again in 33cl bottles, or re-stock Wernesgruener. Branded German beer is cheap as chips to buy and even with UK duty added, well worth the effort.  Those of us who aspire to something better would certainly appreciate it. Those that just want a cheap quaffer could do a lot worse than buying the Galahad.

Oh and maybe don't have all your own brand beer brewed down to a price in France. 

I do know that from time to time Aldi does have branded German lagers in stock, but these tend to be offers in half litres.  

Friday, 24 July 2015

Take Three Beers

It was the CAMRA ROB fortieth birthday bash (yet another) last night. This time it was a curry - a ruby for a ruby. Geddit? We assembled for pre-curry drinks at the Regal Moon. My first choice as it always it when I see it on the bar is Hawshead Windermere Pale, full flavoured, hoppy and a mere 3.5%. If there is a better 3.5% beer in the country, I've yet to taste it.* It was a great start to what would be a great evening.

Next up was a beer about which much has been written and which at its best is brilliant, but which often disappoints. Jaipur India Pale Ale.  Now I tend to try Jaipur when I see it and can say that I usually feel good about it about half the time. I suspect that is little to do with the brewer and a lot to do with pubs serving it before it is really ready.  I have a habit of texting @ThornbridgeDom with reports, but last night I was too busy enjoying the occasion to do so. It was Jaipur at its best. Clear as a bell, precise flavours and surprising drinkability for its 5.9% strength. I bashed two down.

When we repaired to the brilliant Asia Curry House in Rochdale, there was little by way of choice, so I drank Cobra as you do in such places. Actually once it had lost a little of its intense carbonation, it wasn't a bad drink at all, and it gave the shiraz I also had a good run for its money as a curry washer downer.

So there you have it. Three pale beers and each holding its own in its own way. Beer. You just can't beat it can you?

*Actually there is another 3.5% beer even better though harder to come by. It is Iti an all New Zealand hopped beer from, well you might have guessed, the brilliant Hawkshead.  Brewing beer from water, malt, yeast and hops still works best and will never go out of fashion.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Even More Murky News

I read in Jeff Bell's blog that Kernel are ceasing to be part of the Bermonsey Beer Mile, as they cannot cope with the hordes that descend on them, though they are continuing to sell their bottles directly from the brewery.  Not surprising as the whole Bermonsey Beer Mile thing has got out of hand.  When we used to go - and it is convenient for us so we went quite often at the beginning - but latterly we missed out Kernel as it was always packed and anyway, their expensive murky bottles and draft don't hugely appeal to me, or indeed, E.  Nor it seems to some of Jeff's commenters, one of whom describes their customers as "imbeciles".

Nowadays we stick to Southwark Brewing at one end and Fourpure at the other. It makes more sense just to enjoy the walk between the two and neither rip you off on price, or sell you beer that looks like electric soup. 

Kernel are seeking another solution for on sales.  Not surprising really as it must be quite lucrative for them and hard cash is always difficult to replace.   Ironically this comes as the Piccadilly Beer Mile in Manchester officially becomes a thing.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

More Murky

I was out in Manchester on Saturday night. Unusual for me.  An American mate of mine was in town with his girlfriend, so I made my way across town to the Knott Bar, a place I know, but due to its distance from my bus route, not one I go to very often.

After a few pints, I changed my drink to Magic Rock Rapture. I like their beers but was surprised to find it opaque and muddy, almost like the last pint out of a cask.  A barman who hadn't served me noticed me examining it and said "Is that the Magic Rock?"  I replied in the affirmative. "Yes" he said, "they've stopped fining their beers and we are getting complaints. I'll change it if you like." I liked, adding that it just didn't taste right at all.  Now I don't know whether this change to no longer fining beers is true or not, but I have looked after Magic Rock beers before and they always dropped bright. Has this changed really happened or did I just get a bad pint?  Back to the same old problem. The certainty is being swept away. You just don't know any more. Either way, this murky thing has raised its head yet again.  The only saving grace was the barman handling the situation with skill and changing my pint happily.

That is by no means certain if we see more and more unfined beer served without a warning.

My Yankee chum also ordered a bottle of Rochefort 10.  It was my round and set me back £7!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Back to a Grim and Unwelcome Reality

Readers will probably know I don't like murky beer and since Rob Pickering first coined the term, I've become an avid fan of the descriptor "London Murky", though it equally applies to Manchester - or for that matter, Anywhere Murky.

On my return to London from our Spanish holiday, we were both knackered. Handy for our London flat is our local JDW, the Goodman Fields, so we headed along for a quick meal. Our skinny steaks were delicious - surprisingly so perhaps - and the place was rammed. I remember when it opened and for some years after, it used to be empty, so Timbo saw its potential, now clearly fulfilled. I ordered a pint of By the Horns Stiff Upper Lip, though it isn't a beer I'm at all familiar with. Bloody thing was cloudy.  Now here's the problem. How do I know if it is meant to be cloudy, or if it on the other hand, has been slung together by some numpty who doesn't now how to brew beer. Or, possibly, put on too early by a dopey cellarman before it has dropped bright. I don't and can't know of course is the answer.  Now you may say "What does that matter if it tastes all right?" Well it won't taste all right to me and it is me that is buying it.  It will likely taste of yeast and protein trub, because that's what causes it.  Now of course it is a matter of personal taste whether you like this kind of  flavour, but I don't. I like clear, clean, precise flavours in my beer. To my mind if brewers wish to sell the unsuspecting public beer, they should at least have the decency to warn us and hence the pubs that sell it, that it might be cloudy (hazy in murkyspeak). Then at least you have a choice.

When this first became a "thing" like many I'm sure, I thought to myself, "It won't last", but in fact it has. It has actually become more common, widened and deepened.   It is particularly common in London and not only there. It is slowly undermining public confidence in cask beer.

It is also very, very depressing.

I did get in touch with the brewery who said "It is meant to be fined".   They also said something else but that's for another post.

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival 2016 will be at the amazing venue of Manchester Central.  It's been a long haul but after many months of searching, negotiating, rejecting and dismissing, Greater Manchester CAMRA Branches have finally come back to our first choice venue for Manchester Beer and Cider Festival.  Since (at the insistence of the main tenants Team GB) we were kicked out of the Velodrome, we have been looking for a new venue.  One of the things that many people, even beer festival goers, just don't understand is how difficult it is to find a large venue in a big city at the time, duration of hire that we need and at a price that we can afford.  Manchester Central has always been where we wanted to be. Formerly known as GMex, this former railway station, now a huge conference and exhibition centre, has proved elusive, but thanks to some hard negotiations and the fantastic flexibility shown by the venue, agreement has been reached.

Now the hard work will really begin as we have a huge space to fill. It's all on one level, bang in the centre of town with bus, tram and rail links right beside it. We can drive our kit straight in, we will have an amazing number of chairs and tables and of course a fantastic selection of beer. I'm not giving away any secrets (I hope) in saying that we are aiming to take full advantage of the recent CAMRA AGM decision on keykeg which allows us to serve cask conditioned beer from those containers. Watch out for a lot of innovation and a lot of new breweries.  You really must be there.

So here's the official press release, but watch out for more info here and on our website

Six months of meetings and negotiations has seen the organisers secure their first choice venue which will allow them to retain all the features which attracted over 11,000 drinkers to the 2015 festival and is expected to attract even more at its new central home. The festival will feature a massive choice of over 500 beers, ciders and perries across a range of bars. Work is already under way on selecting the beers with established favourites including Marble Beers, Hawkshead Brewery and Brightside Beers already on board alongside relative newcomers to the local beer scene including Cryptic Ales and Seven Brothers.

 Festival Organiser Graham Donning said "We are very excited to be bringing the festival right into the heart of the city. With direct access from the newly improved Deansgate-Castlefield Metrolink station and Deansgate rail station, we couldn't have a better location for our customers who flock from across the region and indeed from all over the country to attend." When asked about the process of selecting a new venue he added "The last few months have been very busy behind the scenes as we sought the perfect venue. Myself and my colleagues have visited numerous venues across the city and held countless meetings to discuss available dates, logistics, budgets and all the other dull details which the drinkers never see. We are delighted that we have been able to secure an agreement with what was our first choice venue. "

Although only three years old, the Manchester Beer & Cider Festival has established itself as one of the top beer festivals in the UK, with one of the largest ranges of beers and cider. Up to 13,000 visitors are expected to travel from all over the country and beyond to attend the festival which compliments Manchester's growing international reputation as a centre for craft beer. Hundreds of volunteers will spend four days setting up what will become Manchester's largest pub serving over 50,000 pints over the four day event.

 Tickets for the event are scheduled to go on sale on Tuesday 1st September via the festival website at

Oh and I'm Deputy Organiser again, so it's bound to be good. Get the dates in your diaries now and spread the word please. 

Prices will be very reasonable compared to privately run festivalS and we will have a gobsmacking choice of beer, cider and perry.  The Foreign Beer Bars, not mentioned above will be brilliant. Just come along and see, travel to the venue is easy. .

Monday, 20 July 2015

Venta Socorro

While beer may play an increasing part in the lives of the urbanites of large Spanish cities, in the countryside it is more utilitarian than that, being a small drink of a quarter of a litre to have as a quick refresher, or just as an accompaniment to sit with while chatting.  In Gaucin, a white village perched high in the hills above Gibraltar, bottles of (usually) Cruzcampo were the normal drink of choice amongst Spaniards, while us Brits, when asking for a beer, were automatically given draft in thirds or half litres.

We didn't go to Venta Socorro much. It was underneath the village on the road leading to Ronda and while there was a set of tables, watching the traffic was about the best you could do, though the views upwards across the hills were splendid - and it kept odd hours. It did though have the local cake shop adjacent and was on a good spot at the end of our afternoon walks round the village in searing heat.  It wasn't always busy.

As we approached one afternoon though things were different. On the first table, there was a well dressed old gent with a cup of coffee and a crossword. The next table was empty and we sat down, looking on with interest at the five or six workmen, dusky from the sun, but tinged white with cement and dust getting stuck into the booze.  The old gent ignored us, but cheery "Holas" were shouted by the workers.  They'd obviously had a few, but their drink of choice was gin and tonic.  Now I like a gin, but we ordered tubos (33cl) and enjoyed looking on as the lads grew increasingly inebriated. As the conversation and banter flew back and forth a more gins went down red lane the drinkers grew more animated.  The old gent didn't look up at all, he just carried on with his business. After we'd had a couple of beers the crossworder got up and with a cheery flick of his paper as a way of saying goodbye to all, he was off. We followed a few minutes later and as we climbed back into the village, we could still hear the shouted conversations of the gin drinkers below and round the corner..

While it may not have been beer, I reflected that really you could imagine a similar scene in almost any local pub back home.

I didn't take a photo of the bar, but this painting by Jack McKenzie shows the place and is used in accordance with the terms on his blog.  Cheers Jack.  The coke bottle isn't there any more and the village behind has grown,  but the scene remains essentially the same.

Monday, 29 June 2015

The Great and the Good

No, not a run-down of bloggers and their foibles- I'll save that until another time - but a visit, on Saturday evening,  to my Branch area by the CAMRA National Executive and Regional Directors, who are collectively known as the NERDS. See? Even at the top, CAMRA does tongue in cheek.  Sortof.
After (a dry*) meeting in the Lancashire Fusiliers Museum in Bury they'd hot coached it to Rochdale where the National Chairman no less was going to assist me in presenting two Pub of the Year Awards to the Baum.  I don't exactly need help after 20 odd years of doing this and saying a few words, but hey, when the Great Chief is in town it would be rude not to. Besides Colin is a splendid fellow. It was also a chance for the NERDS to visit this recently former National Pub of the Year, which many hadn't been to.

They leapt or limped off the bus like a broad section of Viz stereotypes and sweeping all before them hit the bar and ordered pints. It was a mixed scene. Not so many beards, in fact hardly any and there was even a fair sprinkling of women amongst them.  They were a cheery bunch and added to the general buzz on what was a sunny early evening in Rochdale - in itself worth putting out the flags for.  We went outside for the presentation and photos. The Baum has a large and very nice beer garden.  I said a few words, Colin said a few words, Simon from the Baum said a few words and returned to his duties inside.

The NERDS left for their next engagement and we returned to the serious business of supping. It had all been very pleasant really, like most CAMRA events.

 *When I say dry, I mean they drank no alcohol during the meeting. And yes it was dry too.  Apparently.   I'm off on my hols now. See you all in a couple of weeks and on Twitter.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

More Sun and More Beer

After a lovely walk in the sunshine through some of my childhood haunts including Levengrove Park, which is more or less unchanged since I was a boy and still kept very well, I crossed the old bridge back into Dumbarton and headed for our new local Wetherspoon which has the bonus of a beer garden. This is further "bonused" as it were, by being 90% non smoking. 

I was hot, the beer garden was hot, the sun was hot, so lager had to be the beer of choice, but I set myself apart from nearly everyone else by not ordering Tennents, which I observed, perhaps in an understated way, is rather popular in these parts. Being mid afternoon, it wasn't too busy outside, but there was a good enough crowd.  I sat, somewhat soporifically with a great view of the Rock and River Leven (see photo), being lulled into a state of torpor by choruses of "Aye" which is not only Scottish for "Yes" but has a wider meaning really. A bit like "genau" in German it is used where "exactly" would fit. There was a lot of agreement that afternoon.

Ah yes, the beer. It was Innis and Gunn Lager. Quite malty, but not over-carbonated, it was just the job. So I had two.

Pretty busy looking glass though.

Dumbarton is where the Cutty Sark was built by Scott and Linton and completed by rival Wm. Denny when they went bust. Wm. Denny and another shipbuilder John MacMillan gave the land and the money for Levengrove Park.The park cost Denny and MacMillan £20,000 to purchase and develop in 1883.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Bass in the Sun

You don't encounter Draught Bass that often these days in my experience. I know of a couple of places where it is sold, but I wouldn't go there just to seek the beer out as such. It wasn't always so. I used to make many a pilgrimage to the White Star in Liverpool in the early eighties, where the Bass, from Burton Union  sets was worth seeking out. The pub also sold Worthington and Bass Brew X as I recall, but I digress.

On a gorgeous summer's day last week, I was meeting a friend in Helensburgh, a town I know well from my youth in the West of Scotland. The Commodore Hotel is an imposing white building at the far end of this  neat little riverside town. It has a magnificent beer garden and wonderful views across the Clyde to Greenock one one side and the Gareloch on the other. It has changed considerably since the days when me and my plooky chums from Dumbarton used to infest it on a Sunday night in the vain hope of attracting girls. It certainly didn't sell real ale then, but it does now and is considerably more tarted up. Cask Marque accredited too, so I ordered a pint of Harviestoun's Bitter and Twisted with confidence and took it outside to savour the view.  It was cloudy - not the weather - but the beer. I knew it shouldn't be and sipped it cautiously. It tasted fine. Hmm. It was too good a day to bother taking it up with the barstaff, so I just got on with it.  A few minutes later, on entering the bar once more to purchase a glass of wine for my companion, the barman who had been friendly and chatty, asked me what I thought of the beer. "It's a touch cloudy" I said, "but tastes fine". His face clouded like my beer. "It shouldn't be. Have something else". I demurred, he insisted,  I chose Draught Bass and he went off to check the cask.
Outside it was hot and my half finished pint was starting to clear a bit. It had been a chill haze, albeit a quite severe one. Ah well.  The barman had done the right thing and I had a free pint. That's the way it goes sometimes.  As we sat chatting and watching a submarine, surrounded by escort vessels, slowly enter the navigation channel and make its way at snail's pace to HM Naval Base Faslane, I sipped my Bass. It was rich and malty, but really rather good. Oddly it seemed to suit the hot weather and as the afternoon slipped by, more Bass slipped down nicely.

It was pleasing to me that a beer with such a great past could still show its class and compete with a modern golden ale. Who'd have thought it?  Not me I admit, but it did.

The photo shows my pint before it cleared, which it did, though it took some time.  I also wrote about Draught Bass here.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

This Is Lager?

It isn't often that I disagree with the Beer Nut when he describes and recommends a beer, above all because I rate his beer tasting notes as second to none and therefore his recommendations as ones to be taken very seriously indeed. As I neither have his dedication nor inclination, I'm generally happy to enjoy his tastings vicariously and of course, being a lazy git I'd rather sup beer than write tasting notes. So very unusually and with a caveat, I'm going to tentatively disagree with the Beer Nut over this post about BrewDog's This. Is. Lager. (TIL).  The caveat is that the Beer Nut describes the bottled version in his post and I have been drinking the draught version.

Now given my poor views of the state of cask beer in London,  I tend to drink a heck of a lot more lager there. And a lot more gin too.  Drinking cask beer in London (an aside in this post) is far to often the triumph of hope over experience, with its attendant coming down to earth with a bump.  This brings me back to TIL. I was very pleased when BrewDog introduced it and looked forward to it when I heard it was coming to JDW. But it is so variable.  All too few times the beer is clean, hoppy, full bodied, mouthfilling and refreshing and all too many times,  metallic, ridiculously over-carbonated, brasso like and weedy.  I asked E whose palate is excellent and who likes lager nearly as much as I do, to describe it. She summed it up thus: "It's usually too harsh. I used to like it, but I don't now". How can this be?

I offer two explanations. First the old BrewDog problem of inconsistency of product is one possibility and this may or may not be the case. I just don't know. The second and possibly more likely one, is that I'm drinking it in the wrong place. I drink it in Wetherspoons. Why should that be an issue I wondered?  I turned to a friend of mine who manages a leading JDW for his thoughts.  "It doesn't turn over as quickly as it needs to to be fresh and consistent" he said.  "And most people just don't like it."  So is that the explanation?  One piece of evidence for this, in this neck of the woods, came on Saturday in the Art Picture House in Bury.  This Is Lager was being offered (or was it remaindered?) at £2 a pint. E had a half and didn't have any more. She didn't like it.  I tasted it and found it thin and unappealing. Going back to the Beer Nut, I'm not quite so tentative when I say I am somewhat taken aback when he says "Put it in a grown-up serving size and you'd have a rival for Pilsner Urquell"

I disagree. On draught at least, for me and in my opinion, This. Is.Lager doesn't have the same complexity and consistency as PU. Moreover, to me, it just hasn't got the sheer quality of PU. Maybe though I'll have to find a bottle one day to see how that stands up.

Perhaps someone that regularly drinks it in BD pub could give their views? On the plus side, and thinking on, at £1.99 a pint, it is most certainly "Craft Beer for the People"!

I note too that BN had a few eyebrow raised comments about his views and some support.  That's interesting.  Maybe he just got a very good bottle of it?

Friday, 29 May 2015

Manchester Brew Expo

I haven't read much about this event in blogs and was expecting the Manchester bloggerati to save me a job, but looks like I'll need to help shoulder that burden.

What is it I hear you ask? Well it's a collaboration between some of the newer and maybe trendier Manchester brewers to "celebrate our brewing community". And why not? While London is getting many of the plaudits, up here in Manchester we have been getting on with it for years and produce, dare I say it, beers that are the equal of the best London breweries and in fact, much better in many, many cases. There were two events - one for breweries near Piccadilly Station and one for those in what was called the Green Quarter - a term I have never heard of - but turns out to be the area near Victoria Station. So that's all good. I bought into the Saturday one which was the Piccadilly gig. A tenner got you a drink at five breweries, a map of brewery locations, a badge to wear and a fetching pint glass to add to the too many I already have. Still, even if it did mean lugging it about, it meant drinking out of a decent glass. That's good too.  The price was excellent value as it included, should you wish, brewery tours, tastings and the like which had to be pre-booked. Well done on that front.

I started at the new Cloudwater Brewery which I was keen to see. Now I've been to countless breweries and they can pall after a bit, but I am a sucker for stainless steel and I'd seen the photos of this bespoke plant.  In a very large warehouse type unit it certainly looked the part and I joined a party that was being given the spiel by one of the brewers, Paul Jones and enjoyed what was an informative and interesting discussion which included sampling some beers straight from conditioning tanks.  Quite a novel feature and while I liked some beers, I wasn't so keen on others. In particular the sours didn't do too much for me, but maybe with age in a bit of oak that might well change.  I did really enjoy the Märzen, brewed in collaboration with Camden, which had the mouthfeel and colour of the style with a very clever touch of hopping to lift it to a much higher level. I really appreciated too the chance to talk with Paul afterwards. As well as being a thoroughly nice fellow. He has some fine ideas about brewing.  The whole place exudes professionalism and it is done with charm and appeal. I liked it.

After a few (too many) more Märzens and a chat to Manchester Beer Royalty in the form of Beer4John, I was joined by E and we set off on the fairly long trek to Ardwick and Squawk Brewery. We liked it there - oddly homely - with an unusual assortment of mismatched second hand sofas and chairs, it was a comfortable (if very quiet setting) in which to enjoy our beer. Cask and keg on offer here and the beer was very good.  Breweries came thick and fast then with Privateer where I enjoyed cask Dark Revenge, a railway related discussion with the brewer and a loll outside in the sun with its shades of Bermondsey Beer Mile -  but again very quiet in terms of customers, Alphabet which was much busier with Expo Explorers awaiting the "Meet the Brewer" and tasting event.  Keg only these I recall and not really to my taste, though I did enjoy the atmosphere here, with plenty of room and street food.   Finally and very near Piccadilly Station was Track (cask and keg here) where we again bumped into Mr Clarke propping up the bar. I can't tell you which beers I had in the the last two as when I'm enjoying myself, my notebook, as usual, didn't leave my pocket - one of the many reasons I am one of the least reliable reporters of beery events around.  Also, I may or may not have had one too many by then. I'm not saying

All in all a good day out. Superb value for money especially if you signed up for tours and tastings and if they do it again, count me in. I'll be sure to fire up my notebook too.

Oddly apart from a few CAMRA types, mainly at the first and last breweries, I met hardly anyone I know. It was though a pleasure to see so many enjoying the beers and talking and learning about the process.

As you see from the photo London Murky is present in Manchester too. Fortunately only in one brewery.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Big Brother is Watching Everyone

We often see the Health Lobby (whoever they may be) producing blood curdling statistics about alcohol and how it is killing us all.  The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development have been at it too. This time the target is Germany who as we know have had an economy blighted by alcohol from time immemorial and are an economic basket case. Oh. Wait a minute. They aren't. 

Seems though that while Germans have cut down in the last few years  to a figure of 11 litres of alcohol per head – 1980's figure was 16.5 litres of pure alcohol – they're still exposing themselves to a lot of health risks by overindulging.  So a pattern emerges that we are all familiar with.  The trend is down but there is still a call to do something about it. In this case the recommendation is to put the price up as there is "a lot of slack in Germany's tax and regulatory framework". The report goes on to talk about mythical potential lives saved (45,000 in Germany), but we all know these kind of stats have to be taken with a very large pinch of salt. There is an admission that to increase prices and restrict availability would affect the innocent as well as the guilty (and this is a worldwide recommendation) and that "This is not a question that economics can answer, each country will have to weigh the evidence in their own circumstances.” 

Well forgive me, but this is an economic question as well as a social one.  It seems though that there is a problem in Germany. Intervention by doctors at an early stage would cost $228 million dollars more than continuing with existing policies which have seen the large reductions in consumption.

Pick the bones out of that.

If you really feel depressed you can read the full report hereIt is only 240 pages long.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Down the Hatch

Among the stuff kindly sent to me last night and referred to here, I was sent this poster of the Saddleworth Beer Festival.1985  Hand designed and quite nice really. Notice the drain on the left hand side of the road. I quote my benefactor about this particular festival.

"The Saddleworth poster has a drawing of the front of the building as you approach up the street, however the significant part of the drawing  for those in the know, was the grid at the side of the pavement on the left. This related to an incident after the Sunday lunch time drinking up session the previous year when a young lady had got rather drunk in the two hour session and instead of using the toilets at the entrance/exit had decided to sit down on the pavement outside and have a piss in the grid. As there is a panoramic view from the window in the hall, this was witnessed by several of the members who were clearing up."

Things weren't always easy in the old days you know.

I have loads more of this old toffee. It'll serve you right if I post it.

Real Lager Back in the Day

Boak and Bailey have an interesting article on the issue of the CAMRA view of lager many years ago. They are right to point out at the start of it that it is more than one of simply regarding lager as "fizzy piss."

Last night I received the attached scan from our Regional Treasurer who was involved with Bury Beer Festival back in 1980.  The list of beers is interesting and it is is gratifying to see that of the 12 breweries (an amazingly modest number by today's standards) no less than 5 remain in production.  That however is not the main point of me reproducing the original programme.  If you look down to Lees there is a lager offered for sale. With an explanation.

Mudgie is always banging on about the poor quality of the lagers produced by regional breweries and he is, in the main right. These were really ales - Kolsch like - in that they were warm fermented by top fermenting (ale) yeast and then cold conditioned before pasteurisation and kegging.  Some were truly awful.  Lees had Tulip Lager and while now, in a modern lager brewery, they produce excellent lagers, it wasn't always the case.

My contact does not say if the thirsty hordes, no doubt including CAMRA members, in a fit of nihilistic doctrinal purity, refused to drink it, though somehow I doubt it. Beer Festivals were still a bit rare in those days.

Click on the image to enlarge. I was also sent an amusing tale which I'll publish soon.


We are always being told by the anti drink lobby of  "alcohol fuelled violence", but I have remarked here and in comments hither and thither that I can't remember the last time I saw a fight in a pub.  Well I can now. Sort of.

On my usual Wednesday out at the Regal Moon in Rochdale last week I was vaguely aware of a young woman sitting with an older man in shorts. I was waiting for the rest of the lads and, as you do, I scanned round to see what's what. They were chatting amiably and I wondered for a second if he was her father.  Then when my friends arrived, I forgot all about her and everyone else in the pub, but did notice her and the older guy moving tables as they joined another two men at a table in front of us.  That was that until an hour or so later.  I hadn't noticed them moving yet again, but a sudden shout arose to our right and I turned to see aforementioned guy falling backwards to measure his length on the floor.  The Duty Manager rushed over and within seconds the guy was heading for the door.  It transpires that when a row arose, he and the girl stood up and the girl laid him out with a single punch. She left through the other door.

An unusual incident I think you'll agree. I'm still guessing though that it will be a long time before I "see" a fight in a pub again.

No. I have no idea what this was all about and I didn't see the actual punch or know why she felt it necessary.  I'm passing no judgements here at all. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Cantillon Brewery

Despite having been to Brussels quite a few times, I've never been to Cantillon, mostly because E hadn't fancied going. She doesn't like sour beer.  This time we are with others who are well up for it, so off we go.  We arrive reasonably early when there is just a handful of people inside the brewery which looks pretty damn unassuming from the outside. Inside we pay a modest €7, have our nationalities noted in a ledger and are given an informative leaflet and a family member takes the three of us (the rest arrive later) round the lower reaches of the brewery. Now I have read elsewhere that is is fusty, dusty and cobwebby, which I have always doubted.  It isn't. It is spotless as any brewery should be, but just rather old, dimly lit and made largely of wood.  It is intensely atmospheric.

We are shown a very elderly mash tun which wasn't the original, being acquired in 1936. I ask my intelligent question "Did the Germans not steal any of the copper during the war?"  Now this isn't as daft as it seems, as they were a light fingered lot the Germans, during occupation. They didn't it seems, though our guide doesn't know why not.  Maybe the sense of tradition fazed the occupier? Or the almost church-like reverence the place exudes? Who knows, especially as there is a fair bit of copper to be had.

After that we are left to wander around. We look at the cool ship, empty and gleaming. This is key to the whole business and where the wild yeasts do their stuff. I remember my second intelligent question and ask it when I have the chance "Does the fermentation vary by much in its quality and taste?"  Surprisingly it is very consistent I'm told. These wild yeasts seemingly know what is expected of them. We wander round, following directional signs, looking at huge oak casks and return to the bar and shop.  Our €7 entitles us to two samples  of around 15cl.  First up is a cask 18 month old (young) lambic which is flat as a witch's tit with quite a few jaggy edges. E hates it, so I have two. It needs more age and frankly I prefer gueze anyway for its more refined character.  The shop, by now boosted by quite an influx of new customers, is going like a fair. I reckon it makes more money than the €7 admission. The prices for the beer are very fair but I didn't intend to lug bottles back, so passed, which I kind of regret now.  Our main group arrives and swells the shop's coffers further - well the clothing part of it. I'd always wanted a Cantillon T shirt, but in my size they only have two types of brown and green in stock. E, not so subtly puts me off both.  Apparently neither would suit me. I must go back and get one sometime.

Next we sample a bottled kriek which is a tremendous beer, with the cherries and natural carbonation lifting the beer and giving a very satisfying and balanced taste. Again I get E's.  As we wait for the other, I buy some more kriek by the glass. This is a mere €2.50 and the glass is filled to the brim by a smiling gent who explains "When you pay, you get a glass as full as I can fill it."  An excellent policy.  I also have a taste of cask Iris which unusually has no wheat within, just barley.  Not a great experience really. It may well be lifted by carbonation, but it was just flat and to me, Sarson's like.

Cantillon is an experience not to be missed if you are a serious beer drinker. Even if you aren't it is living history.  Go there if you can.

It seems that 70% of the visitors to Cantillon are not Belgian. That's why the collect this info.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Ça Me Goûte

I was in Belgium at the weekend. Brussels to be precise. Belgium is a nice place with nice Belgian people. They speak better French in Brussels than the French do - well more slowly at least - so you can actually make out the words that one vaguely recollects from that Higher Exam paper (I got a B) around forty five years ago. They also appreciate you conversing in French which is more than the French do. They don't tut at your linguistic attempts.  Nor do they charge you around €10 for 25cl of brassoesque beer in an empty cafe that is empty because nobody in their right mind will pay their prices.  The Belgians au contraire brew jolly nice beer at very reasonable prices in bustling pubs and bars. I like Belgium and I like the Belgians. (Actually in truth I quite like France - it's just the French I have a down on, probably caused by the two weeks of non stop rain I had cycling there many years ago and being grotesquely overcharged by a rugby playing bar owner on my last and most recent visit.)

Oh and back to my slightly xenophobic theme, I was nearly pick-pocketed by one of the Moroccan guests of Belgium who, under the guise of asking directions (ho ho), tried to dip my back pocket.  As I was expecting such a ploy, he got nothing but some invective. It crossed my mind to give the little shit a smack, but I dismissed it instantly on the assumption that many of his chums would be, shall we say, watching the outcome of his felony with interest. (And of course because I is very old and would certainly have come off second best.) That aside, we had a great time. I renewed my love of Orval, drank lots of gueze and lambic, ate some bunny rabbits, had a very peculiar Eritrean meal (don't ask) had the opportunity (which I didn't take up) to have profiteroles and chocolate sauce with (or as) my breakfast, walked bloody miles and generally enjoyed myself immensely in some great pubs with great company.

And Eurostar is just brilliant. Far better than flying and you can take your own booze, though I only did 50% of the time.

The title phrase is Belgian French for I like it. It only really refers to food, but hey. It's my blog. 

Next, Cantillon  Brewery and more.

Thursday, 7 May 2015


Like my good friend Jeff, I've been busy lately, hence the silence.  I'm off to London in a few minutes, but I just thought I'd let you know that Oldham Beer Festival was a success and the Mayor will make lots of money for his charities.  I met him too and a nice fella he is.  I also got my photo in the Oldham Chronicle (not for the first time) and was complimented several times on my beer quality.  That's all good.

The winner of the popular vote for beer of the festival was Flaori Maori from Ramsbottom Craft - well deserved too as it was good.  I also enjoyed from the same brewery, my own Chocolate Chilli Stout which did well in the voting.  I believe the runner up was Roosters Baby Faced Assassin.

The beers went down well and most were pretty good. I enjoyed the majority of them but will mention a few that I thought really good. Both Hardknott beers, Infra Red and Lux Borealis were excellent.  I think Lux may have been third in the voting, but don't quote me on that.  Portobello Northern Line Stout was good and Redemption Pale Ale was quite enjoyable, as was Track Mazuma.  I drank a fair bit of Lees MPA too and that stood up well.

Sorry this is a bit rushed, but tomorrow I'm off to Brussels and will no doubt report back.

I drank a fair bit of left over perry on Sunday at a family party. Good stuff and no hangover.  And we cleared the hall in two hours on Sunday. Many hands do make light work!

Photo shows my sample of Chocolate Chilli Stout from Ramsbottom Craft Brewery

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Oldham Beer Festival

It's nearly that time of year again where we present some beers to the general public at the 27th Oldham Beer Festival. I've been involved in most of them and will be curating the beer for your delectation.

The list is awesome, featuring some of the best and most progressive breweries in the UK. Fancy any Arbor? We have it. Hardknott? You betcha. Redemption? "Certainly Sir." "Blackjack Madam? Of course." "A pint? Just as you wish." Something beginning with "P"? "Easy peasy. We have Pictish, Portobello and Privateer." "What about local breweries? Well we have the fantastic Wilson Potter Brewing a special ruby beer to celebrate CAMRA Rochdale, Oldham and Bury's 40th Anniversary or Seven Brothers, Tickety Brew, Track and Millstone." New breweries? Yep. What about Martland Mill from Wigan? or Revolutions from West Yorkshire?" "What? You just fancy a pint of John Willies? Of course. The new seasonal will be on and we have the Champion Winter Strong Ale, Moonraker on cask."

From further afield come Saltaire and Roosters from West and North Yorkshire respectively and even XT from Buckinghamshire.  We musn't forget our own local stars, Outstanding, Silver St, Deeply Vale, Irwell Works, Greenfield, Brightside and Hay Rake.  While hopefully none of the beers will disappoint and there should be something for everyone, I'll pick out a few I'm looking forward to.  Hardknott's Lux Borealis and Infra Red, Saltaire Triple Chocoholic, Arbor Blue Sky Drinking all appeal and of course one brewery and beer I haven't mention is the one I brewed with Ramsbottom Craft, Chocolate Chilli Stout, which will certainly be on. We'll also have the wonderful Flaori Maori.  Rooster's Baby Faced Assassin is also likely to charm.

If you fancy Cider and Perry, ours is, chosen by the former Cider Manager of GBBF who will also present them and answer all your apple and pear based drink questions.  Oh and foreign beer. We'll have that too in a well chosen bottle selection.  We even have fruit wines which are a great seller at this little do.

The info is all in the poster within this article. It will be a great do for good causes and there is plenty of seating.  So come along, sup some beer, cider or perry and do say hello to me.

There are two tongue in cheek words contained within this blog post. See if you can spot them.

Nott At All Bad

One last post about Nottingham and the CAMRA Members Weekend, this time about that often overlooked subject beer and pubs.

Nottingham is a bit of a throwback.  Only its greatest fans would call it beautiful, as it seems an odd mixture of old and tatty and new and nondescript.  But it is a throwback in another way. It has a pub on nearly every corner it seems, even in the centre. That moves it up a notch in my esteem.  Our Nottingham CAMRA colleagues had produced a very comprehensive guide to the pubs and while as always some were better than others, they were a pretty good lot really.

Hot off the train we started at two of the best.  Fellows, Morton and Clayton, near the railway station, is the kind of pub you really like to start off in when you are in an unfamiliar city. Several distinct drinking areas, a lovely atrium cascading light into the rear and a good feel to it. A rather mainstream choice of beers - think Doom Bar, London Pride,Landlord and Black Sheep is augmented by a local beer or two. We enjoyed sparkled pints of Nottingham Extra Pale Ale and banter from the very chatty barmaid.  Almost next door is the Canal House, which features, somewhat uniquely I'll hazard, a full size canal boat within, which you can gaze down on as you sup your pint. Converted from a large warehouse, it was strikingly good and as owned by Castle Rock Brewery, we had excellent beer and as always in this group, excellent service from the cheery staff.  A great start.  Beer was properly sparkled as God intended, more of which later.

Around our hotel clustered another fine bunch of pubs. We liked all of them to varying degrees with a special mention going to the Crafty Crow - modern and studenty, but not grungey - the Roebuck which showed off how Wetherspoons can make the most of a building and perhaps most stunning of all, the Malt Cross, a former Victorian Music Hall with a high arched roof, a gallery and lots of wrought iron. On a Saturday night it was busy with youngsters on their way to a club (judging by the skimpiness of their attire).  It had a great atmosphere and friendly staff,  but the beer could have been better looked after. Too warm and not well enough conditioned, it was served without a sparkler, but crashed into the glass to create a head. Minus points for that.

Near the Conference Hall was another fine clutch of pubs.  The Hand and Heart impressed with a great range of well kept local beers (we avoided those on a stillage) and excellent service, the Ropewalk didn't impress though,  showing the tatty side of student drinking.  The wonderfully named Sir John Borlaise Warren had excellent beer, lovely cheese rolls and the kind of barmaid that truly enhanced the drinking experience by great charm and a wonderful knowledge of the names given to bread rolls in different parts of the country (cobs in Nottingham don't you know).  The Falcon and Blue Monkey  both also gave great pleasure, but the Blue Monkey had that bad habit of removing the sparkler to (allegedly) speed up service. This was one of the few pubs that didn't really give that warm a welcome, but the Blue Monkey Brewery Beer was very good indeed. We finished off on Sunday by repeating our visit to Fellows, Morton and Clayton and that was Nottingham done.  The pubs had put on a great show.

Looking back, the pubs invariably had good beer, were plentiful, varied in type and close together. But really it was the great service and charming bar-staff that really shone.  It was noticeably good nearly everywhere and it does make a difference.

I wasn't asked by barstaff "You alright there?" once. That helped too.  I wonder where Nottingham sits in my sparkler map. Just in I reckon.

We also had quite impressive stops in the Sheffield Tap and the Piccadilly Tap on the way home.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Charlie Bamforth

By way of either a little light relief or as education, the guest speaker spot at the CAMRA's Annual Conference is eagerly awaited by most of us that attend this august gathering. This year I was particularly thrilled when I found it to be Charles Bamforth, Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at UC Davis University of California.  He is also  British and has much experience of brewing here, mostly as a Senior Quality Assurance Manager at Bass Brewing.

Now I have known of Charlie for many years and was in fact given a book of his by a good American friend of mine as long ago as 1999.  That book, Tap Into The Art and Science of Brewing is my technical bible. I know from industry sources and my friend (Jaime Jurado, Director of Brewing Operations at Abita Brewing Co and formerly a brewer at Truman's in Brick Lane, London) that Charlie is one of the leading experts in CO2 in beer and in what bubbles do and don't do. He knows his stuff.  I rarely if ever get too involved in any technical debates in my blog or elsewhere, as you tend to be a hostage to fortune in such things and I sometimes at least don't feel secure enough to go into technical matter too deeply, but if I do, I check out the "bible" before doing so.  You can imagine then I was delighted to have the chance to hear Charlie speak.

He obviously has a practised act, honed to a very sharp point by use and his very funny and amusing speech was delivered with timing that a professional comedian would have been proud of.  He took the mickey out of wine and its pretentiousness,  had a very positive view of cask beer which he declared to be without equal when done well and generally anecdoted his way through a very entertaining half hour. He also (to my surprise in some ways) expressed a dislike for nitrogenated beer. It was an interesting speech as well as a very entertaining one. There was time for questions at the end before he whizzed off and I was lucky enough to catch the Chairman's eye and be allowed to ask one.  My chosen subject was about deliberate turbidity in beer. London Murky in other words.  Essentially his answer was that while a little haziness might be forgiven, there is no excuse for beers that look like "chicken soup."

Good enough for me. If Charlie is agin it, I'm on his side. If you dispute this, write to Charlie, not me. He'll put a(kindly) flea in your ear I'm sure.

Jaime is a bit of a whizz at the old dispense too. I remember being invited to Porterhouse in London by him when he had sorted out some fobbing issues for them.

Regretfully Charlie was gone immediately after his speech, so I didn't get a chance to talk to him.  Great shame that.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Not Such Dinosaurs After All?

Well that was a more interesting weekend than I thought.  The recent CAMRA Members Weekend was much more far reaching than I predicted it might be, with a decided nod to the future and a much more forward look for CAMRA's involvement in the beer world.

First of all we can say with certainty that the backward facing motions were defeated, while progressive motions were passed, but underneath it all and underpinning it, was a noticeable mood change. CAMRA is looking to the future again and that can only be good. Let's look at some detail.  Motions to remove our involvement from generic beer campaigns and concentrate solely on real ale and to leave the Cyclops scheme were roundly defeated. Cyclops is an easy-to-use set of descriptors to explain what a beer will look, smell and taste like.  The motion specifically was unhappy of its extension to non real ales and frankly, that's what doomed it, despite the speaker identifying many faults with it. As for generic beer campaigns, it is pretty fair to say the antis got quite a kicking. The conference wasn't at all in the mood to go along with isolating CAMRA from the wider beer movement.

Our new Chief Executive Tim Page also spoke well and gave us a "heads up" that as an outsider so to speak, he was looking at what CAMRA does a lot more neutrally and had a few ideas so far. He didn't expand too much, pointing out rightly, that he was still learning, but one thing that interested me and will likely interest many readers, is that he was particularly keen to look at CAMRA Democracy. That can only be good. On the last day we also passed a motion to allow the addition of fruits, vegetables and spices to cider and that is among the cider drinkers quite a fundamental change. So fundamental in fact that I wonder if we might see a call for a separate organisation to continue the purist line on this one. I spoke on a number of motions, particularly on motions 11 and 12 (against) and like to think I played my part in putting the positive case for the future. 

Lastly and not leastly, we agreed that where it meets CAMRA criteria for real ale, that keykegs are an acceptable container for cask beer. This might not be as far reaching as some may think, as there is a long way to go in identifying and labelling beers that will be acceptable, but the onus is now on firmly brewers to meet this challenge and rely less on gassing the beers up on filling.

I'll talk more about the meeting and Nottingham pubs in subsequent posts, but I reckon that's enough to go on for now.   What do you reckon?

I did also have a couple of chats about beer with the Festival Cellarman I fell out with. We settled our differences amicably though I think I possibly have a more progressive view of cask dispense than him.  He did all right though in a difficult venue.

I should add that the National Chairman rightly pointed out that the application of external gas that is in contact with the beer is still a no-no as far as dispense is concerned.

Friday, 17 April 2015


Tomorrow I'm off to Nottingham for the CAMRA Members Weekend and AGM.  I'm quite looking forward to it, especially as I've laid off the demon drink in preparation for it. Nottingham may not be the bonniest city in the world, but it doesn't lack pubs, so while the motions for debate don't hugely excite, I'm looking forward to it.

Mind you, I didn't get off to the best of starts on Wednesday when I managed to offend the Cellar Manager of the AGM Beerex on Twitter with what I thought was a fairly innocent remark, but with a bit of turning the other cheek, I think I'll survive.  Back to the main event, I'll be looking to speak on one or two motions, particularly the following:

Motion 5

This Conference recognises that the Campaign for Real Ale believes in choice and that denigrating whatever people choose to drink is counterproductive and can alienate existing and potential members. Therefore, it instructs all branches to desist from “anti campaigns” against other drinks.
Proposed by Marketing and Communications Committee

Motion 11

This Conference instructs the National Executive not to enter into any promotions or campaigns that promote all beers and not real ale specifically.
Proposed by Steve Bury, Seconded by Phil Defriez

Motion 12

This Conference instructs the National Executive to withdraw CAMRA from the Cyclops scheme as it has expanded to all beers and is not fit for purpose.
Proposed by South Hertfordshire Branch

Motion 15

This Conference instructs the National Executive to investigate a labelling scheme for naturally conditioned Key Keg beer, which would allow customers to identify which beers, at the point of sale, conform with the CAMRA criteria for real ale.

Proposed by Melissa Reed, Seconded by Allan Conner

There's one or two others, but as these are about internal CAMRA stuff, I won't mention them here. Just to avoid doubt, I'll be hoping to speak for Motion 5, against Motions11 and 12 and will wait and see what Motion 15 is driving at. It's more fun when you get up and speak, so should make life a bit more interesting.

I'll let you know how it all goes.

The best bit will be seeing old friends of course. It usually is, but I'll enjoy the beer too. I think Nottingham is sparkler territory.