Thursday, 31 December 2009

My Wish List for 2010


Well, I said it's a list, so I'll list them. They aren't really in any particular order, except, probably, the first one:

On Beer:
  • Cask Ale quality and quality control. This needs to be upped massively in most micro breweries and in a hell of a lot of pubs. There is too much beer that should never have left the brewery and too much that shouldn't either be put on sale, or remain on sale
On Industry:
  • the beer industry needs to start speaking with one voice before it all goes (even more) tits up. Pete Brown mentions this a lot and I agree with him. I don't personally think the BBPA is the answer any more though. They are so tainted by their PubCo connections that they lack credibility
On Family Brewers:
  • Family Brewers have a unique position in the UK. They own pubs and breweries and need to make the most of that simple fact. No-one expects them to change from bread and butter brewing, but they need to be bolder, at least on occasion. Too many samey brown beers and a "we know best" attitude from some, is wasting opportunity. They need to be careful that beer life and fashion doesn't pass them by and consign them to the dustbin of history. In short, they need to wake up
On CAMRA:
  • CAMRA needs a complete "purpose review". It is becoming clear that nationally it is a lobby group, while locally it campaigns for pubs and beer. That needs to be looked at. The fact that no matter what it does, it can't please everyone shouldn't stop an independent look at its purpose in a changing UK beer world with resurgent cask consumption. It needn't be expensive, but it does need to be neutral in authorship and it needs to be done. Too many are sniping at CAMRA and while a lot of it is just lazy stereotyping, some of that sniping has justification. CAMRA needs to respond to the concerns. It is so much bigger now. It needs to change for that reason alone
On Bloggers:
  • Not writing about the 95% of beer drinking is as myopic as not writing about cutting edge stuff. Arithmetically more so. Some too, need to get out and about a bit more, particularly to the pub; they need to raise their heads up and look around them. So I'd like to see broader blogging
  • I do worry that there is a developing blogging clique. There are a few signs of that already. Blogging should (at least at times), be fearless and opinionated, not introspective, "me" and consensual. Swapping exotic beers is fun of course and it is a great idea to bring people together, but we need more than that to push the beer message outwards. Independent thinking is needed. Praise needs to be tempered by criticism where appropriate. It can get a little too "I had this lovely (extreme) beer" and "aren't Brew Dog/ Thornbridge great" for my taste
  • The best beer writers (Pete Brown, Protzy, ATJ etc.) are beer people in the old fashioned sense of the words. They build up their beer knowledge of what makes beer drinkers tick, from the inside, from understanding people as well as beer. From nattering at the bar, from watching how it all clicks together, from travelling and visiting pubs and breweries. And countries. Most (but by no means all) bloggers are home drinkers and really need to get out more. There I've said it again.*
On Twitter:
  • Twitter less and comment and write on blogs more. Comments are needed to encourage bloggers. No comments = no point in a lot of ways. Surely there are enough things on blogs worthy of comment?
On Pubs:
  • Visit them
On Me:
  • Hope fully I will continue to blog as long as it interests me and my readers. I will call it as I see it, like it or lump it. I'll get it wrong, but hopefully, it will be worth reading, at least sometimes
A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all my readers.

* As an observation, look at Impy Malting. She is building up her British beer knowledge from the bottom and though not British herself, has a keen sense of the pub and how it fits into our society. Her most acute observations about beer don't stem from sitting in her living room with a bottle of Double IPA, but by getting out there amongst it. It doesn't always work out for her, but she doesn't have scales over her eyes. (I only wish she'd let me comment on her blog, but for some reason, I can't. Go on Impy - explain)

A Surprising Winner



Our beer tasting went well. A shiveringly cold mile walk up the rutted lane to the pub was rewarded by the eager boys being ready for the event, a cheerful landlady with glasses, beer ready to go and a roaring fire. A warm up pint of mild to lubricate the old innards and we were off.

We started on the Potton and Everards Tiger, the latter provided by the landlady who hails from Leicester and is a former Everards licensee. The Potton was mid brown, inoffensive and easy drinking. Middle of the road, or rather, middle of a very conservative road. The Everards was thought to toffeeish and not hoppy enough, the landlady chipping in that it is better on cask. It was IPAs next; first up a ten year old bottle conditioned Bridge Port from Portland Oregon. It had been kept cool and in the dark for all of these years and opened with a satisfying hiss and a whiff of hops. All agreed the hops were somewhat subdued though the bitterness was there. It wasn't stale or oxidised and it was good. Next was Jaipur which got an all round thumbs up. It was delicious and a revelation to those that hadn't had it. Punk IPA was thought harsh and one dimensional in comparison by most, though I liked it, but not as much as the Jaipur. Meantime IPA again divided opinions with the majority, me included, feeling that it somehow missed the mark, but it was an interesting beer, being an attempt to reproduce an older style of beer, rather than a modern interpretation. Clearly though and interestingly, it was the modern Jaipur that struck a note of approval.

Stouts next, though we agreed to leave Tokyo to the end on account of its strength. Whittington's Black Cat Stout was liked by all. Tasty and full bodied, though I'd have liked a more hoppy finish. Meantime Chocolate (Porter) split opinion. Its intense chocolate reminded one drinker of a stout to which an infeasible measure of drinking chocolate had been added. One or two loved it. The sensation was though the Bridge Port Black Strap Stout. Not bottle conditioned, it was intensely black, smooth, bitter, treacley, hoppy and belied its ten years in the dark; we all wished for more. It was a unanimous "yes".

At last we reached the one I'd been really waiting for. My five year old Orval. It poured clear, had an orangey nose and a deep orange background, little brett character, but just enough to lift it and a wonderful perfumey lavender note throughout. It was lovely. We all without exception liked it. Outstanding Barley Wine at 7.4% was powerful, intensely hoppy and again an opinion divider, but just getting a positive nod.

Schlossbrauerei Doppel Hopfen provided the palate cleanser before the Tokyo. Good it was too, with a typical South German Pilsner profile lifted by a good dose of noble hops. Likeable and very drinkable. Tokyo poured with an off white head. It was black as the ace of spades and had an explosive alcohol kick, with intense liquorice and roast malt flavours, as if the whole thing had been reduced like a cooking stock. There is a lot going on here, but in truth nobody liked it. It was just too much, too intense, too strong and difficult to drink and to this author at least, drinkability is the name of the game in beer.

We had a vote at the and for fun and the one, two, three, was:

Bridgeport Black Strap Stout; Jaipur / Orval

Mike our vote counter said that really, the Orval and Jaipur were neck in neck, so a joint second was agreed. I should mention the only beer we hated, though it isn't mentioned above. Leyden Forever Bury! Bottom of the poll.

So, in conclusion, it wasn't scientific or professional, but it was a lot of fun. Well done Bridge Port and Orval. Old beers can be delicious and of course Jaipur was just great, even bottled, as I'd only ever had it on cask previously. I was personally pleased that the Black Strap won, as it is brewed by Karl Ockert the founding brewer of Bridge Port who was once kind enough to give me and E a private tour of the brewery. I'll drop him a line I think, to see what he makes of it.

I still have two more bottles of that Orval. Lucky me.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Tasting Beers


Well we all do that don't we? Tomorrow I'm conducting a fun tasting of beers at the pub. It's a chance to put some of the beers I never get round to drinking at home to good use. It's just for my mates and there will be around a dozen beers. One of the boys is chipping in a Brew Dog Tokyo. The landlady will be joining us and providing the third of a pint tasting glasses and will see what bottles she has. There won't be any scoring, but it should be fun at least. For those interested, here is the provisional line up:

Brew Dog Punk: IPA and Tokyo
Bridgeport (US): IPA and Stout (These are old so we'll see)
Meantime:IPA and Chocolate Porter
Outstanding: Barley Wine
Orval (Belgium): A five year old sample
Potton: Shambles Bitter
Schloss Brauerei (Germany): Doppel Hopfen (Thanks Nick)
Thornbridge: Jaipur IPA
Whittington: Black Cat Stout

Friday, 25 December 2009

Bloody Pete Brown



Guess what I got for Christmas from the lovely E? A hat trick of Pete Brown books. I was going to take a photo of them surrounded by the wrapping paper, but E, in a rare fit of tidiness, has chucked it all away - I mean recycled it.

So instead of wasting my time drinking beer and watching crap TV, I need to get stuck into some reading. Life's a bugger at times.

Happy Christmas to all my readers, even Pete Brown.

My proper present was a SatNav.


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Dancing Bloggers

Due to overwhelming demand - well Dredgey, I am forced to appear in this latest capture of bloggers at play. Exclusive - name all the bloggers and win....... cock all.

Update Feb 2010: The dancing bloggers are now time expired. More next year!

Bloggers in the Snow

It's snowing heavily here at the moment, but it seems the blogging lads don't mind at all:

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Monday, 21 December 2009

The Beer Blogger Awards 2009

Mark Dredge asked on Pencil and Spoon for bloggers to name their "awards" under the following categories. I thought, despite my mumblings about such stuff, I'd not be a miserable old git and give it a go. So here we are:

Best UK Draught Beer
: Marble Pint. Honourable mentions to: Phoenix Arizona and Lees Brewer's Dark.

Best UK Bottled Beer: No idea at all.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Brauerei Roppelt, Stieberlimbach, Franconia; Keller Bier. Lager perfection.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Girardin Gueuze, but most gueuze would get my vote, as it is just such a change and contrast to my normal drinks

Best Overall Beer: Marble Pint. As good as it gets really. Bitter, hoppy, decent body, right colour, cask conditioned. What's not to like?

Best Bottle Label or Pump Clip: No idea.

Best UK Brewery: Marble. It just has to be. They are on blob at the moment; pale or dark, they can do it and do it really well. Honourable mentions to Phoenix for consistently great beers and Mallinsons for brewing excellent examples of my favourite beer style - pale and hoppy.

Best Overseas Brewery: Brauerei Roppelt. To experience their keller beer is to see how good and how drinkable bottom fermented beer can be.

Pub/Bar of the Year: The Baum Rochdale. Just a great and welcoming pub with fantastic staff and superbly kept and varied beer. Honourable mentions to the THT of course and Zum Uerige, Dusseldorf, the best pub in Germany in my humble opinion. I never tire of it. But in truth there are a lot of great pubs if you know where to look.

Beer Festival of the Year: GBBF. What could be better?

Supermarket of the Year: No idea at all.

Independent Retailer of the Year: As above.

Online Retailer of the Year: As above.

Best Beer Book: GBG 2009. Only as I use it a lot and I haven't got my mitts on Hops and Glory yet.

Best Beer Blog: Mine of course, but I do like Cooking Lager for a laugh. Best other "serious" beer blog has to be Pete Brown's. A proper beer man him (and that counts for a hell of a lot in my book) and it shows in his writing. Honourable mentions go to Impy Malting's deliciously observational blog. (Why can't I comment on it?) and Boak and Bailey''s thoughtful stuff, which always interests.

Best Beer Twitterer: It's all a bit silly really.

Best Online Interactive Brewery: Neither know nor care. Sorry.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Lees Brewer's Dark and Smokey Bacon crisps.

Open Category: You Choose: Oddest Beer Moment: Visiting Brauerei Hebendanz in Forchheim. It is just utterly weird! See my blog entry for details. Biggest wish (1): that my fellow bloggers would get out into the pub more. Biggest wish (2): that the pound would start kicking the euro's arse. Fat chance of that one.

Next Year I’d Most Like To... Be around to drink good beer wherever I can find it

Whiteout


We didn't make it to our remote pub yesterday. Our Sunday table was bereft of us. E and I set off in hope of getting there though. An effort had to be made. We walked the mile or so to Midd in deep snow and snow showers and got a 17 bus, the first for a long time according to the impatiently waiting queue. The traffic was gridlocked. Rochdale Metro had not it seemed, gritted the roads. Snow had fallen on already icy roads and they were treacherous in this hilly town of ours. Cars slithered and wheels were spinning impotently. The bus took 20 mins to go 300 yards. In the meantime phone calls were received from the boys. The lane was very dangerous; Colin had gone on his arse twice while walking his dog. John had fallen too. Dave's missus had decided it was too dodgy to take him. We were stranded in Middleton. In short, the game was over for today as far as the THT was concerned. I texted the landlady to have the attendance book duly noted.

Feeling slightly cheated, we baled out of the bus, me grimacing at paying £7 for the privilege of a 300 yard journey and repaired to Middleton Cricket Club for soothing pints of Lees Bitter, then down to the Old Boar's Head for more of the same. We enjoyed the beer, but missed the familiarity of our pub, the welcoming roaring fire, the conviviality of our friends and the usual banter and conversation that we'd have had. That's why we go there, why our local is so much part of our lives. Without it, Sunday just wasn't the same.

Later we walked home, back up the hill in more snow. We just missed two 17's leaving the bus station at exactly the same time. Insult added to injury.

The photo shows a well wrapped up E outside the Cricket Club

Friday, 18 December 2009

More of the Same


The dodgy Christmas beer list continues with a texted contribution from Tyson, which woke me up at 00.43 this morning. Cheers Mate. He advises thus: "2 more 4 ur list. Blakemere xmas cracker shld read xmas crapper and u wld hav 2b a pudding 2 enjoy old bear xmas pudding"

So that's Blakemere and Old Bear added to the list of dishonour. I can chip in some more too. Allgates Samhain was certainly not an ordinary beer, but it was very difficult to drink. Goodness knows what was in it, bramble stems or raw cranberries maybe? Either way its sheer harshness didn't appeal to me. Three B's Santa's Skinful was a very nice beer, but as Christmassy as a barmitzvah, while Hawkshead Jingle Fells, a blend of Brodie's and Red, was excellent in every way, but its claim to taste like "Liquid Christmas Pudding" is, shall we say, stretching it a bit. And the bloody stuff ran out after one delicious but non Christmassy pint.

There was one jewel in the crown though. One of my local breweries, Greenfield, had Rudolph's Tipple. Dark, five per cent and subtly tinged with cake spices, it hit all the right notes. Seasonal, warming and delicious. Well done Peter and the lads - you are one of the few.

PS. A comment has just arrived from Tyson. Wonder if he's forgotten that text?

"Blakemere Xmas Cracker-it wasn't. And Old Bear Xmas Pudding-you'd have to be a pudding to enjoy this copper coloured xmas disaster. Basically two dodgy beers from two dodgy breweries."

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Back to Geekery


When I left the Gasmen, I fancied a look in to Micro Bar. I was in luck. Apart from the two Boggart offerings, my first Steel City Beer awaited me. Well come on down! Worcestershire Sourced was 4.6%, pale and exceedingly hoppy, as you'd expect from the serious hop heads that produce it. A good solid Marris Otter body with a touch of wheat and a lot of big C hops (Worcester grown Cascades and Magnum) would about describe it, but sadly, it just tripped over into a slight soapiness for this imbiber. Still, nothing to put me off trying them again and if the beer had been a touch colder, it might not even have been noticeable. A great big hoppy effort, well worth seeking out.

Then to the Marble Arch where I spotted Ginger 6 on the bar. Not one to start with, so I had the superb Chocolate Porter ( or is it Chocolate Marble?) and a half of the stout. They were both really well made beers, with the Chocolate being in much better condition and therefore edging it. So, Ginger 6 to finish with? Alas no. It was, like a thief in the night, gone. He who hesitates is usually lost, but maybe not, as in this case there will be other days.

I reckon Marble must be up there as the current best cask ale brewer in the UK currently. There. I've said it.

Back in the Past




I spent a couple of hours drinking Joseph Holt's beers with retired Gas Board men yesterday. My mate Steve has an ex gasman's pissup every Christmas and occasionally, I pop in to see the old codgers, who all like their ale. The choice of pub is fixed now, It is the Ape and Apple, a rather nice old fashioned (though it isn't that old) Holt's tied house in John Dalton Street. After some rather haphazard Christmas shopping and finding my way out of the Arndale with great difficulty, I met up with them. Most were drinking mild and all were standing up, as befits men of their drinking seniority. They are of an ilk where you sup your beer on your hind legs, a position favoured by most of the customers there.

It was a bit of a throwback in many ways and if you want to get the feel for how drinking was in the seventies and eighties, I suggest you go there. No music, just laughter and banter, mild and bitter flying out from the wickets and a couple of truly excellent (and pretty) barmaids handling it all with consummate ease. A pleasant couple of hours were spent and I left with reluctance having switched as you do, from the excellent cask mild to the very good bitter after a few.

It was one of these occasions where you weren't being a beer geek, just a guy drinking straightforward good beer with pleasant company, in a great boozer. Trust me, that's still worth doing.

On the way to the bog I spotted this rather old fashioned, or sexist, or whatever advert for Holt's lager. I thought I'd share it with you.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Most Definitely in the Christmas Spirit



I haven't written much about our pub for a while. It just ticks on being happily good, but I want to share this with you. We have a few old regulars who used to serve in the Lancashire Fusiliers and the pub supports them and the Royal British Legion in the usual way in the build up to Remembrance Sunday, by selling poppies and providing a free Sunday Lunch to the old servicemen when they return from the Cenotaph.

This year the landlady wanted to do something extra. The usual festive Christmas tree is up, but this year, instead of the normal baubles and tinsel, it is decorated solely by poppies. These are the big ones and are signed by the purchaser who then pins them to the tree. Minimum donation is a pound. The photo shows a small section of the tree, which positively bristles with poppies. I think this is rather fine and clearly, judging by the number of poppies, so do the customers.

Sometimes the term "place in the community" is used in a vague way to describe how a pub fits into its locality. I reckon this illustrates it perfectly.

More Non Christmas, Christmas Beers


I think it is becoming the norm rather than the exception. I have come across the following without even trying. All are ordinary brown beers with the only seasonal thing being the pump clip.

Named and shamed are: Cotleigh Red Nose Reinbeer, Hydes 3 Sheikhs, Green Mill Sleighed, Lees Christmas Cracker.

There will be more I've no doubt and of course feel free to add to the list as you come across them.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Bah Humbug!


I've only had two Christmas beers so far. OK, I haven't been really trying and I promise to do better, but both have been ordinary mid brown beers of (by co-incidence) 4.8%. It doesn't augur well.

Now is it just me or am I wrong to expect a Christmas beer, specially issued for the season, to have something, well, special about it? Wouldn't you think that at a time when everyone wants to treat themselves a bit, the brewer would pull all the stops out? If they don't believe in the premise, why bother going through the motions? What do I expect? Well, something different. Maybe a mildly spiced old ale, or one with a little fruit of some sort in it - bitter orange would be good. Maybe even something dark and toasty? Something stronger and warming definitely, but not just a bog standard premium, mid brown bitter of no character or seasonality.

This isn't the first time I've raised this point, but it is still worth saying I think. Put some bloody thought and effort in please brewers. Stretch yourself and your imagination. It's only once a year after all.

I first complained about this in the early days of my blog, two years ago. Post number 21 in fact. It still makes a good read!

Monday, 7 December 2009

Woods and Trees


I was struck by something Mark Dredge said in his blog the other day and I've been thinking about it off and on since. It was a throwaway line in a discussion about beer glass sizes and I think it reflects something that I am rapidly becoming aware of and which dominates the thinking of the new wave of younger bloggers. It was mentioned as a "given", a statement of fact. The line was this: "The nature of British beer is evolving and I think the vessels it is served in needs to evolve too." The question that arises in my mind is "How true is that statement?" No, not the one about different glass sizes, but the first part about the nature of British beer evolving. In what way is it evolving, if it is to any great extent?

I guess those that think there is a sea change, would put forward Thornbridge and Brew Dog as evidence that a different, more innovative (that word again) way of doing things is emerging - evolving perhaps?. Brew Dog is certainly a case in point, though I'd venture Thornbridge are in Brew Dog terms a little more conventional, while in overall terms, still nudging the more adventurous end of the spectrum. What about Marble, Outstanding or Pictish? Maybe Steel City or Mallinsons? There may be backers for a small number of others, but after that you start to struggle a bit. In numerical terms and even in influence, the evidence just isn't really there. Most of the brewers I mention are conventional enough. They are just lots better at making good beer and it is usually that which makes them stand out.

"Aha" say you, "what about all these lovely strong bottled beers that are emerging?" Nothing new there I'm afraid. It is the return to bottling that has brought these stronger beers back, not an evolution or revolution in brewing. The rush to home drinking has recreated a market that always existed, but in a slightly different form. Once all breweries produced a barley wine and a strong or old beer, in recent times, usually as a chaser to more standard strength beers. Christmas versions weren't uncommon either. Change the name from Blogg's Old to Blogg's Imperial Stout, bump up the abv and you've still only tweaked and renamed a strong beer, not created an evolutionary brewing step. Perception may be changing for some (more of that later), but it isn't really new.

So how could this this evolving British beer scene be defined? The biggest change in British brewing in recent years (apart from hundreds of samey micros of course) has arguably been the emergence of "golden ales" and with them, the more generous use of hops, as well as the increasing use of foreign hop varieties. To a limited extent too there is a resurgence in strong dark beers, though the quality of some of these are doubtful. (You can hide brewing faults and recipe disasters much easier in a dark beer and then sit back and smirk as the geeks call it complex or challenging.) Nonetheless those do provide welcome variety, but they are far from new in either concept or actuality. Of course if you read Ron Pattinson's blog, you will know that in so many ways, beers like Imperial Stouts, are recreations of a lost brewing world; not innovation or evolution, but an adapted reclaim of the past; a lot of it too from within living memory. Those who try to be a little different, aren't doing much more than exploiting a niche, but a niche is what it is. What is different though is an expanded take home market, though that is still firmly mired in cheap lager. To make the evolution (if it exists) more firmly verifiable, that would have to change seismically too. Given the actual rarity in percentage terms and lack of general availability of these "new" beers, it won't be any time soon.

So is British beer evolving to the extent that some claim, nay, assume? I rather doubt it. Too many seem to be looking at the British beer scene through the wrong end of the telescope, charmed and enchanted by what seems to be new and exciting. Drinking strange new beers matured in odd barrels, visiting progressive free houses and beer festivals can result in extrapolating that atypical experience and the enthusiasm it generates into something it probably isn't. We should welcome the new niches that are being created (or rediscovered), but it shouldn't blind us to reality. Enthusiasm and bonhomie are marvellous. They can propel us forward. A shared outlook, buoyed up by beer, while infectious and enjoyable, can however mislead and cause feet to be less firmly placed on the ground than otherwise they might be. Though niches will certainly expand, British brewing remains solidly middle of the road and it is likely to continue that way for a long time to come.

This just scratches the surface of what is likely to be a very deep mine. Views welcome of course.

The bottles in the photo are all over 20 years old to illustrate my point.

A Seasonal Gift



I know a lot of beer geeks go into paroxysms of hyperbole over Lees Harvest Ale, the once a year brewed strong ale (11.5%) made with the first of the new season's malted barley. It isn't widely available and is usually much sought after, particularly in the US, where some variants are also made available. Previous vintages (of which I have quite a few) are collectors items, as they all remain drinkable for many years

On a visit to the brewery last week, I was presented with something a little different - a Harvest Ale Christmas Pudding, made exclusively as gifts to Lees customers (and some others), in strictly limited numbers. This will add a touch of beery one upmanship to our Christmas Lunch and I will be fascinated to see if the taste will shine through. Should it be accompanied by a (shared) bottle of the same I wonder?

I'll let you know how it turns out of course.

I was also given a preview of Lees Christmas Cracker, a 4.8% beer, well hopped with First Gold and Styrian Goldings, but not dark surprisingly.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Not Beer for Once!




Did I ever mention that I love Cadbury's Tiffin? No longer made here for at least 30 years, maybe more, but still made in Ireland, it is an occasional treat for me when I can get my hands on some. In return for picking her up from the airport a few weeks ago, I now have a supply from Eileen's mum. I notice a new wrapper and "Tiffin" isn't in such big letters. Is that worrying?

Lovely aren't they? I'm saving them for Christmas as a present for myself.

They have proper foil and a waxed paper wrapper. None of your shrink wrapped bollocks.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Bad News for the Sniffy Brigade


Timbo Martin has announced JDW will open another 250 pubs in the next ten years,taking the total to around 1000. He will create 10,000 jobs in doing so.

That'll be more for some to to avoid, but it isn't bad news for cask ale at all.

Getting Old


I've just realised. This blog has now entered its third year. Its birthday was on the 26th November, so I am still able to say the blog's birthday was this week.

It's come a long way from these hesitant beginnings!

Monday, 30 November 2009

Wha's Like Us?


Here's tae us,
Wha's like us?
Damn few!
Aye and they're aw deid!


Happy St Andrew's Day to all my readers!

Thornbridge Straight Five


It isn't often you see five Thornbridge beers on handpump at the same time - at least not in my experience. Me and the lovely E called into the Waterhouse for a sharpener before meeting friends for dinner just along the road and then heading off to see comedian Dave Spikey.

I fought my way to the bar and to my surprise, there they were; Kipling, Pioneer, Jaipur, St Petersburg and a new Christmassy beer, Hark. Now we only had an hour, so where to start? It had to be Jaipur. This was rich, hoppy, floral, resinous and as always, it had a distinct hazy cast, which didn't make a jot of difference to the taste. Kipling though was full of sharp edges and to both of us, tasted harsh and unbalanced. I was glad it was just a half. St Petersburg was stunningly good, rich, fruity, malty, with warming alcohol and a coffee and hops finish. Hark had cake spices in and was surprisingly to me at least, pale. It was spicy and interesting, but not particularly moreish. And that was it, time was up. I don't know why this JDW was showcasing Thornbridge, but it was nice to see and as they had another four or five pumps dispensing other beers, there was something for everyone..

We did call back for more after Mr Spikey, but such was the crush at the bar, that we couldn't even see the handpumps, so retreated next door to the City Arms for a very decent pint of Copper Dragon Golden Pippin. No hardship there!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Poll Result

In a huge response (190 votes) the results of my poll on smoking in pubs were:

Should never have been introduced and should be repealed
58 (30%)
Should have been in introduced in a modified form to allow smoking in some areas
34 (17%)
Is a progressive and positive thing
56 (29%)
Is regrettable, but inevitable and we should accept it and move on
3 (1%)
Has ruined pubs and changed them for the worse
8 (4%)
Is a dead subject which we shouldn't even be discussing
31 (16%

The poll was interesting in that the smoking brigade, mostly anonymously, popped out of the woodwork to vote. Another interesting feature was the dodgy and bloody boring stats that were hauled out to defend the cause. One thing was clear from the smokers. They wish to conflate the smoking ban with a general health push against drinking; you can decide for yourself on that one. Most who didn't smoke, it appears, couldn't care less about smoking, but just didn't want to stink of the stuff. That aspect was scarcely addressed by the pro-smoking brigade. I could go on, but won't.

So if you count answers 1 and 5 as "anti", they polled a respectable 34%. If you count answers 3, 4 and 6 as "pro" ban, that is a total of 46%. The middle ground of a modified ban polled only 18%, so it seems we are all pretty entrenched in our positions. I notice it doesn't add up to 100%. Seems 3% is lost in the rounding.

My conclusion? Smokers were the ones losing their "rights", but even now they don't favour the compromise solution. Seems they weren't and aren't prepared to compromise even retrospectively. Non smokers aren't either, but they don't have to.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Jennings to Brew Elsewhere




Flood hit Jennings will move production to other breweries within the Marston's Group until the brewery re-opens in January. Jennings head brewer Jeremy Pettman said: “We’ve decided to move brewing of some of our beers to our other breweries to ensure that our customers are not let down. "They will be produced under the supervision of myself and other Jennings staff. We’ll be working hard to get as close to the flavours of our Cumbrian beers as possible. “As soon as the brewery re-opens, production of all our beers will be moved back to Cockermouth.”

I have mixed views on this. While I can see that they don't want the Jennings name to vanish for a while, it opens up all sorts of unpleasant options for the future brewing of Jennings beers. And flavour match in a week or two? I don't really think that's likely. Maybe it would just have been better to keep them gagging for it for a couple of months?

A nice touch though is that Marstons will donate 10p of every pint of Jennings sold to the Cumbria Recovery Fund

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Premium Prices

video


I think it was Woolpack Dave that suggested that cask is a premium, hand crafted product
- or words to that effect - and as such should command a premium price. I am pretty sure it was Curmudgeon that suggested to Dave that until we always have premium quality, expecting the punter to pay top dollar was being a bit previous. Cask at its best is brilliant and at its worst, is bloody awful. Too often it is a losing ticket in a lottery.

When we arrived back in E1 from Brussels I fancied a good old British pint to refresh me. The pub chosen for once will not be named as I am just illustrating a point. In a highly rated GBG pub, this is the pint I was served. Inviting isn't it? Flat as a pancake and warm. If you look at it though, you'll see it is clear as a bell and it certainly didn't taste off, but it was pretty hard to drink. Something had happened to the beer between brewery and pub I'd say. This was a well known beer from a respected brewery. I know they don't send out beer that won't condition.

Until a pub can guarantee consistency, charging over the odds for cask just isn't on. If your beer is always good - and it can be if you know your stuff - go ahead and charge a premium. The customer will feel less cheated than paying "normal" prices for a poor pint.

Swirling by E, drunken babble by office workers.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

New Poll

Inspired by a discussion over on Curmudgeon's Blog, I have devised my second ever poll on this blog, this time on the subject of smoking in pubs. It is a subject that perhaps should be dead, but won't lie down. Or has ruined our pubs and caused untold misery. Or points between

I have tried to make it as reasonable as possible and cover all the main views. Have your say.

Lookalikes





Has anyone noticed the astonishing likeness of British TV chef Nigel Slater to our own dear Sausage. I wonder if they are by any chance related?

Either way, a handsome pair I think you'll agree.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Brussels


We had a good time there. We emerged from the tunnel into bright sunlight and that's the way it stayed until it got dark. I almost entirely stuck to gueuze and enjoyed particularly two of the pubs recommended by John Clarke. Poechenellekelder was a late visit and was bustling and cheerful, with great staff and a well chosen list. Pricey and smoky though. We both loved Fleur en Papier Dore where we had our first drink. A protected interior of astonishing variety, once the haunt of the impressionist school and the originator of Tintin, we were lucky enough to have the owner come over to explain its history. Absolutely delightful and no smoking too. A find and to me, Girardin Gueuze was my beer of the day, though I did enjoy all the ones I tried, with De Cam, Cantillon and Oud Beersel just being pipped by the Girardin.

We also called into the new Oude Moeder Lambic which is very impressive,friendly and modern, though I think that they could do something better in presenting their beer list, as it isn't really clear what beers are on handpump - six of them - and what ones by, I assume, CO2.  You'd also have to have waist size under 36" to sit comfortably at the tables. Even skinny Belgians were looking rather squashed. Thanks for that one Laurent, but you and I would have to sit at the bar! 

Great pubs, a great place and lovely weather. The obligatory leisurely moules and frites lunch plus E buying the obligatory chocolates, completed a good day. We walked back to the badly signposted station, but were thwarted in our intention to have a last beer in Le Laboureur, a beery outpost in this very North African area of the city, but it looks not only closed, but permanently so. We found a nondescript bar and a Duvel completed the day. I'd almost forgotten what I lovely beer this is, but it really is top class.

Brussels is a great day out with smashing pubs, it is easily and enjoyably walkable, has great food and lots of shops to gaze into. It isn't cheap with a gueuze usually about €5.50 - €6, but then again, these are sipping not swigging beers.

Photo to follow.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Offski


I'm off to London at 13.55 and tomorrow it's my day trip to Brussels.I'm fully armed with the info I need from my earlier post on the subject, so thanks to all, particularly John Clarke.

Not sure what beery delights I'll be having at the weekend, but I have Friday free to wander about. It's going to rain though. London is always warm, so warm and wet. Bah!

There are rumours that Tyson might be around on Friday. I'll text the bugger.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The "L" Word


My attention has been drawn to an article written about beer, by Oliver Thring, a food blogger. It appears in the On Line Guardian and if I may say so, misses at least a bit of the point when he asks the question, "Handcrafted lagers are making a comeback despite opposition from the real ale lobby. Is Camra right to dismiss these beers, or is it just snobbery?.

On the main assertion, does CAMRA "dismiss these beers?" and does it oppose them? I rather think not. The leap of logic, present in so much of the stuff written about CAMRA, usually concerns what CAMRA should do, rather than what it does do, and, the mistaken assumption that CAMRA is an umbrella organisation for beer. It quite simply isn't. CAMRA's role, as defined by its constitution, is to promote and defend the interests of cask conditioned ale. CAMRA's Iain Loe, puts it maybe a bit more bluntly than I would, when he says "We appreciate high-quality products, and we wish good luck to these brewers. But if you want to build relationships, don't come to us and say 'We started producing beer in the last five minutes and now you have to change everything you believe in' - it's a mixture of naivety and arrogance."

Thring then goes on to conflate cask and non cask lager, quoting in the piece blogger Mark Dredge, in his praise of Harviestoun (a cask lager producer) and finishes by asking if we should be given the opportunity to enjoy these "distinctive and interesting beers", as if their availability was somehow conditional on CAMRA approval.  Beer writer Pete Brown chipped in commenting " I was judging at a CAMRA beer festival recently and there were three cask lagers on - conforming to CAMRA's dispense rules. They were classed as 'speciality beers'. Yeah, that's right - lager, that unusual, hard-to-come-by niche beer.".  Doesn't that sound reasonable until you examine it more closely? CAMRA, unlike organisations such as the American BJCP   with its 23 different beer styles, has only a limited number of  categories of beer. (Ten since you ask). There isn't one for cask lager,  though  I don't see why they wouldn't be classified as "golden ales", but whatever they are, there isn't a lager category, as there isn't enough of it around to justify such a category. Simples?

My belief is that lager, in both its cask and non cask forms, is a welcome choice when I see it in the pub. What is really important is to wean people on to quality beer, whether lager or ale, but that's another story and a very difficult thing to do in this country where pile it high and sell it cheap distorts the quality/price equation. The emerging small lager brewers are likely to remain a niche for the foreseeable future - that is the role of small producers in this country, like it or lump it.  To ask CAMRA to somehow give them a leg up by changing all they believe in, is not only naive, but an ask too far. They must stand or fall by their own ability to penetrate a market which is likely to be indifferent to them. An inconvenient truth?  Maybe, but the market will decide.

CAMRA is far too often an easy target for those who wish things beery that are, weren't so.  Words and attitudes by a few are distortedly  taken to be representative as a whole. I am sometimes drawn to defend them, not just by my membership, but by a sense of fairness - of redressing the balance.  In this case, it is simply that the case against doesn't stack up.

The founding of LOBI ( Lagers of the British Isles) would seem to acknowledge that there is a need for an organisation to represent new wave lager brewers , though I read a comment elsewhere by John Clarke that "Interestingly I understand that Taddington Brewery, producer of arguably the UK's finest lager, have declined to join LOBI".

Monday, 16 November 2009

Past Times


The Morning Advertiser has the news that Wetherspoons is buying five pubs from Punch Taverns. I read the list without expecting to know any of them, but I was wrong. One is the Childwall Fiveways Hotel in Liverpool. I know it,or rather, knew it rather well. Set back from a massive road junction - no prizes for guessing how many roads converge there - The Fiveways was one of the nearest pubs to where I worked in a Social Security office in South Liverpool over twenty years ago. It was usually the pay-day venue for lunchtime beer, for the simple reason that most banks were nearby, back in times when cash machines were a rarity, lunchtime drinking wasn't frowned upon and pay-day couldn't come quickly enough.

In those days Higsons of Liverpool owned it and many pints of Higgies Bitter were supped, while claimants sweated it out in the waiting room, waiting for claims to be assessed and their giros issued. It was also a stopping off point on the way home once in a while too, though usually we preferred the better beer choice at Wavertree, a few bus stops down the road.  Now it will be a JDW outlet by January next year, but to me, it will always be the fifties style pub it was when I first went in it. Splendidly old fashioned, redolent of polished wood, red handpumps, parquet floors and my beloved Higson's Bitter.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

A Few Quick Things


I have been busy for a few days, but one or two things to mention in this great beer drinking world I live in. On Thursday I took my National Certificate for Personal Licence Holders exam. I don't know the result yet, but know from discussion I have got two wrong. Doh! Afterwards we went to the Black Lion in Salford for a pint. A relatively new opening, or rather re-opening, it is a really nice corner pub, run by the same people that run the nearby New Oxford. Like the New Oxford, it offers a good range of beers, despite in this case, an Enterprise tie. Unfortunately the beer we tried, Phoenix Arizona wasn't at its best, so we beat a retreat to the Angel, now divested of its gastropub status and just a proper pub again. We didn't enjoy Williams Brothers Gold. Its description of golden and hoppy only met the criteria on the"golden" bit. It was sweet beyond belief. Given that we had walked a couple of miles all in and had not had a good pint yet, we cut our losses and went to the Marble. Glorious pints of Pint restored our faith in cask ale, but there was a sting in the tail. I finished on Dobber and it was poor and unrecognisable as the great beer it is. Even the best can have an off day!


I mentioned also that Lees Bitter had disappointed recently. Those lovely chaps at the brewery have sorted it. Alerted by a text from my mate John who had sampled half a dozen in the THT to make certain of the return to form, I went to the Old Boar's Head and the Lancashire Fold. Both were providing bitter in top form, so much so that when I bumped into Lees Second Brewer I didn't mention it, though I did tackle him about boring beer. He put a flea in my ear as he always does when I bang on about hops, but we parted friends!

Soon I'm off to the THT to check things out.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Beers of Others



It is sometimes too easy to look at the beer world from our lofty and geeky towers and demand new, or better, bigger, bolder, stronger, faster, more type beers and overlook that we are in a decided minority. As one who knocks boring brown beers constantly, you might wonder if I've any windows left in this glass house, but then I get out and about a fair bit and have my feet firmly enough on the ground, to know that most people that drink beer, simply don't see it my way.

I was reminded of this in two ways yesterday, firstly in Wetherspoons, where I nipped in to see what was on in their festival. I had my fingers crossed for one I hadn't had and while on my way, visualised Thornbridge Pioneer on the bar, in the vain hope, that mind over matter could make it so. It wasn't. Instead I had excellent bitter and dry Purity Gold, Lees Supernova, which packed in liquorice and chocolate flavours in a full bodied - yes full bodied - 3.5% variation of their mild and a half of Mordue Porter which was coffeeish and very decent.  But I digress.  There were a few customers experimenting with the guest ales, but most, despite the relative cheapness of the festival beers at £1.49 a pint, stuck to good old much more expensive, John Smith's Smooth.  I overheard one table of drinkers say that they'd be glad when the festival is over, so that can get back to ordinary beer.  Now this isn't an affluent area by and large, but these people were choosing to pay more for (what is to me and probably you) an inferior beer.  Where pennies count for a lot, the attraction of interesting cask beer was at best, limited.

The second incident was in a local Lees pub where the bitter was, most unLeeslike. The miserable drinkers were complaining about this.  (I get approached a lot in this way - being the local CAMRA guru in a small town - people think I can do something about it). It isn't a good thing when a brewery's main product isn't up to snuff.  You neglect your core products at your peril. To do so will lose you more trade than almost anything else, as those who know and love the beer, the gallon men, will simply have one and go home grumbling.

Cask beer these days is a bit of a niche product, albeit an expanding niche. Most of the expansion though, in volume terms at least, is in the cooking bitter that can be dismissed as "ordinary, dull and brown". I like to see brewers push the boat out as much as the next person, but it is these mainstream beers that keep the mash tuns filled. While brewers should be more bold in their product line, particularly when they do occasional or seasonal beers, it would be foolish for them to abandon boring brown. There. I've said it.  I don't have to like it, but I know it makes sense.

This post scratches the surface of an issue ( what beers should brewers be brewing) that intrigues me.  I know it is written from (as usual) the pub going point of view, but I'd be interested to know what others think.

Of course my preferred niche is the specialist cask ale pub where little of this applies, but I drink more Lees Bitter than anything else.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Bloggers Turn on Brew Dog


Blog commentator John Clarke, wrote some time ago - on my blog I think - that "I get the sense they (Brew Dog) may be starting to believe their own publicity. "

Following their latest foray into self publicity, reported brilliantly and with passion by Pete Brown here, they have been furiously back pedalling to try and regain support - or as they would have it, explain their position. I am not going to say much more about it, as it is all said on Pete's blog and even on the ultra loyal Pencil and Spoon blog, that they have overstepped the mark.

Maybe the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity is being heartily disproved here, but will lessons be learned? Somehow I doubt it.

Back to beer, I'd also like to hear James of BD say something somewhere about his cask ale policies.

Micro Brewers Kind of Disappoint



When I did my judging last week I was pleased in the first round to be tasting "Bitters and Pale Ales (Up to 4.0% ABV)". I didn't fancy the other cask category of "Strong Ales (Over 5.6% ABV)". My table was hardly expert, with a local wine merchant who spat all his beer into a bucket, a nice, young, cask ale loving lass who'd won her place in a Barrow Evening Mail contest and the boyfriend of one of the SIBA women who were providing general assistance and bringing us the beer. We tasted eleven beers and oddly enough, this motley collection more or less agreed on everything. What do I conclude from that? Well, I suppose, that when beers are good, bad or just indifferent and you are approaching them with an open mind, even if not to your taste, most people will recognise what is good and what is not. When you are doing comparative tastings, it all becomes reasonably obvious, though of course there were differences of opinion.

Were the beers all good? No. Some were poor, most were decent enough, but most were disappointingly and predictably samey. There was two stand outs in our list. Both were golden, complex, well bodied and hoppy. The modern face of bitter beer?  Maybe. Going back to previous posts there was little "innovation". It was a boring old roll call of Fuggles, Goldings, Northdown and Styrians and mostly brown beers.

Now I know micros need to have a "cooking bitter" and that a well made mainstream beer will sell, but I do wonder why, in a competition, they didn't put forward something more characterful? There does seem to be a general reluctance to push the boundaries here.

I also judged strong bottled ales. Not my forte really, but I was lucky enough to sit beside Cask Marque's inspector for East London where my flat is. He was able to confirm that the London malaise of warm beer is being pushed aside and that all over the capital, cellars are being re-equipped with decent refrigeration and that standards generally are rising. That's good news isn't it?

The Hawkshead Brewery is state of the art and the Beer Hall where we did the judging is a lovely modern venue. Hawkshead Organic Stout - drunk for pleasure -was superb. I also met Jeff Pickthall properly and you know, he's a nice fellow.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Here Comes the Judge!


Tomorrow I'm off for a little light judging in the Society of Independent Brewers (North) Beer Competition 2009 to be held at Hawkshead Brewery in the Lake District.

The categories to be judged at this half of the event (it is now too big to do it all in one venue) are:

Bitters and Pale Ales (Up to 4.0% ABV)

Strong Ales (Over 5.6% ABV)

Bottled Beers (in 4 categories)

It promises to be an interesting day out and one which I looking forward to.  I'll report back.

Brew Dog At It Again?


I read with dreary, fatalistic resignation that James Watt, the High Priest of  Brew Dog, claims that CAMRA is the devil incarnate - "I blame CAMRA for single-handedly holding back innovation in British brewing says he in an American on line magazine, Full Pint. Com. 

Knocking CAMRA in this way was only a matter of time.  (His relationship with CAMRA in Scotland is one of mutual distrust as I understand it, with not all the wrong coming from CAMRA.) Putting that aside there is a little context within his comments which softens these remarks somewhat, in that he mentions CAMRA's emphasis on "focusing on too few beer styles". Fair point maybe, but really when you stand this on its head, too few beer styles originate from British Brewers. If you don't have innovation in brewing, you can't really pick up on these styles and comment or support them can you?  So really if you think about it logically, Mr Watt is actually complaining about the lack of imagination and vision, not of CAMRA, but of British brewing - of  his fellow British brewers really, though no doubt he'd argue that CAMRA encourages their staidness.  Rather more strikingly, James is complaining about the very gap in the market he is exploiting so successfully and on which he bases his future expansion plans.  Like his brewing, his reasoning is rather innovative when you examine it more closely. 

Now it has to be said that sometimes CAMRA doesn't help itself.  Image has always been a problem as we all know and CAMRA sometimes seems to tread the wrong line. Roger Protz recently wrote about how golden ales shouldn't be pushing "traditional" brown beers out, both on the bar and in competitions, but to my mind, the main innovation in British brewing is at that "pale"end of the spectrum, not in the brown session market. I doubt if Roger meant to come across as a stick in the mud - and reading his excellently favourable article in "Beer"about oak aged beers, he gave no such impression - but it allowed the anti CAMRA brigade to have another swipe. Another point and one I have made before, is that basically Brew Dog are a bottled beer brewer who do the odd cask (and do the odd cask very well). CAMRA members are pub goers by and large, so James is blaming an orange for not looking like an apple, to some extent at least. It would be nice to see James pushing the cask aspect of his business a little more come to think of it.

Going back to innovation, British brewers by and large are the most staid and conservative bunch you could ever meet - with of course, honourable exceptions.  (Try persuading a Regional Brewer to do anything different and you'll be met with hostility and usually condescension).  Even micro brewers, on the whole are brewing incredibly dull mainstream beers, again with honourable exceptions.  The real need for innovation comes at brewing level and one thing I think CAMRA should do much more of is to campaign seriously for that.  

CAMRA has been a bit too easy on traditional ale brewers in this country and at both local and national level, we should try and correct that. There is indeed too much emphasis on "boring 4% beers, with boring hops".  So come on brewers. Give the public 4% beers, but please give us choice too. Innovation isn't and shouldn't be the sole domain of  smart young things.  The market is changing and needs to be grabbed and reshaped.  CAMRA needs to embrace and promote both tradition and innovation.

And finally Brew Dog is establishing its niche and I doubt really if James wants too many other brewers to steal his clothes by out innovating him.  He wouldn't want to become mainstream, so maybe he should be careful that what he wishes for doesn't become "too" true.


See? I'm caught up in BrewDog whether I aim to be or not. Their stuff works on me too. They are part of the brewing and blogging scene now.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A Couple of New Beers

We had a CAMRA meeting last night and it gave me the opportunity to try two beers I've never had. First was Saltaire Republika, a strawberry infused blonde beer which was surprisingly good, with a whiff of fresh strawberry on the nose and a good bitter finish with strawberry again evident. Interesting and different, but I dare say it will appeal to some more than others.

More promising, as they always are, was a new beer from Mallinson's of Huddersfield. St George's Square is pale, full bodied, spicy, with a long bitter finish. It was really excellent and was my beer of choice for the rest of the evening. The Baum, our hosts and our current Pub of the Year lived up to its reputation. The beer was on top form and as a bonus, though some won't approve no doubt, they offer 40p off a pint to CAMRA members.

Both Saltaire and Mallinson's are tremendous breweries. Seek them out.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Whatever Happened to Dave Hastings?


Anyone remember him? He came, he insulted, he left and now his blog has gone from the blogosphere. 

Was he a spoof?

North Yorkshire

I spent the weekend there with my CAMRA chums and of course, Eileen.  A quick run down of impressions will suffice I think.  The pub scene is relatively thriving. The usual rule applies in that good pubs were really busy and crap ones weren't - not that we spent any time in crap ones - but we did look see a few times.  The cafe bar scene is big there, with modern IKEA furnished places abounding, but as well as food and foreign beers (a must), well chosen cask ales completed the picture. Ripon was big on these, as was Knaresbourgh.  Cask beer was uniformly in good condition, though with a few surprises. John Smith's cask was widely available, as was Theakstons and Black Sheep.

The JDW in Thirsk, where we stayed, was excellent with brisk and friendly service and good beers from the JDW festival list. My usual luck with North Yorkshire weather held. That is, it pissed down, so much so that we just stayed in JDW all night, until we drank them out of the excellent Grumpy, brewed by Port Brewery's Tomme Arthur at Shepherd Neame.  This was resinous, bitter and hoppy with the amarillo hops shining through. No caramel malts to ruin it either. Delicious.

Best pubs were old favourites, Blind Jack's in Knaresborough - heaving on a Saturday lunchtime and The One Eyed Rat in Ripon which had a German beer festival on.  Both are old favourites and "don't miss" destinations.  Best beers? The aforementioned Grumpy, closely followed by Saltaire Bavarian Gold.

The One Eyed Rat was full of us CAMRA types, a visiting (posh) rugby team from Darlington and locals. It was an eclectic mix and the friendliest scene imaginable.  All mixed easily. That's one sign of a good pub. The quality of the offering is another.

Beautiful Bewdley

It seems a bit like ancient history now, but it was only last week, so I better mention Bewdley before my memories fade altogether.

I hadn't been there before, but it is immediately attractive with the Severn flowing through it and lovely old buildings lining its banks - apart that is, from a grim office block on the far bank which should never have been given planing permission. We stayed in the JDW George, a rambling old coaching house. My room was in the rafters and was immensely attractive, though a steep climb up lots of stairs. We tried a couple of the beers in the bar. Not impressive at all was Galbraith's Luncheon Ale from New Zealand (brewed at Everards) as it just seemed a middle of the road brown bitter, but we were happy to find in form Purity Pure Gold, so all was not lost. The young staff here were attentive, cheerful and quick, so credit where it is due.

We spent most of the day on the Severn Valley Railway, so that no-one had to drive and as it was all steam that day, enjoyed the experience, including being pulled by the new Tornado,the first steam loco to be built for donkey's years.  Kidderminster was, by and large,  a forgettable dump, though with a very pleasant railway buffet, restored to GWR splendour and including very decent beer.  Then the long haul to Bridgenorth where we camped out in the buffet there, an old haunt.  Beer was again splendid, apart from a disgusting near the end of cask Northumberland Fuggles Gold.  We complained to no avail and had to buy replacements.  "It is meant to taste like that" being the response.  We left for our train and returned unexpectedly as our train was delayed, to find the Fuggles Gold off and the lines being cleaned. Naughty.

No great pub crawl in the evening. Just three highly recommended pubs, the delightfully busy Mug House for more Purity and Hereford IPA, the Waggon and Horses with Wye Valley Butty Bach and more and the Woodcolliers Arms for a nightcap of real cider from Westons.

Bewdley as an absolute delight . Go there if you can.

The photos show my mate Steve experiencing the Fuggles Gold and a view of Bewdley with the Mug House in the background.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Mediocre Beer and a Nargis Kebab


Worcester has seven pubs in the Good Beer Guide, so it's going to be a bonzer place beer wise for a wander round isn't it?  Well, not on this showing actually.  Firstly we didn't encounter a single beer in what you'd describe as tip top condition.  Most were sort of OK, but lacked that sure touch of cellarmanship that marks out really good cask ale.

First up was the Plough, where Purity Gold was the beer of choice. Now this is a splendid beer, but here it was ordinary.  The Postal Order,one of the better JDWs,  had only Ruddles on offer, as they were getting ready or the Beer Festival. OK tomorrow there would have been brewers and CAMRA talking about beer, tastings and plenty of choice, but the night before? Nothing.  We decided that it just wasn't our night and went to the Dragon Inn having had a pint in another GBG pub, whose name, even after checking the GBG, escapes me.  (It might have been The Swan?).  It was that sort of night.  The Dragon Inn wasn't a bad pub, though hardly the friendliest ever and the beers were decidedly ordinary presentation wise, though no complaints about choice, with Millstone, Cannon Royal and  Little Ale Cart Bailie Nichol Jarvie.  This beer, named after the locomotive, not the whisky, was hoppy and bitter, but sort of died in the glass.  Others did enjoy the Millstone, but this to us, was coals to Newcastle.

We bailed out to Abdul's Curry House. This was a class act which everyone enjoyed.  My nargis kebab starter was interesting and I'd have it again.  We walked back to our digs, fu' as puggies from the food,* despite the moaning of one of our party about taxis. OK he has just had a knee replacement, but taxis for a couple of miles?

Fu' as a puggy means very drunk or full (having overeaten). In our case it was the latter

Morrissey's Foxed Off



Our CAMRA Branch has a trip to North Yorkshire on Saturday and Sunday. We were due to visit the Punch Bowl Inn, owned by the Morrissey/Fox team and featured on Channel 4, but our Dear Leader tells me it is closed. Somehow I have missed this, but it seems the dynamic duo have handed the keys back in. First the on site brewery went and then the pub. There is some interesting stuff on it in The Publican, but it seems all was not sweetness and light with the locals who felt excluded.

Seems too MF are now looking for other free houses in the Yorkshire area. Maybe they'll have learned enough lessons to make it work next time!

Sedgeley and Halesowen


The Wembley Weekend (see below) is always chosen carefully to maximise the potential of finding decent beer in a variety of good pubs. It doesn't always work out that way, such are the vagaries of cask ale, differing tastes and the quality or otherwise of the local beers we encounter. Worcester and Bewdley looked promising though.

Our first stop - and don't worry this isn't going to be a list of pubs, but a recall of highs and lows - was the excellent little Black Country local, the Bull's Head in Sedgeley. Bustling and busy on a Tuesday lunchtime, the welcome was warm as we exchanged banter with the locals, trying very hard to follow a dialect that was a thick as the crusty cobs we ate. We enjoyed the place a lot and listened to the tale of the local Wetherspoon's being firebombed earlier in the week, with some amazement.  (The Bull's Head is opening at 9 a.m, to compensate the thirsty.) Holden's Mild was a dark delight, though the bitter is too sweet for my taste. The Golden Glow and the Dragon's Blood were both deliciously hoppy and balanced, with the Dragon's Blood being surprisingly pale, though I am sure no-one really knows a dragon's blood's true colour.  Three and a half pints of mild plus four giant cobs - see photo - were just over a tenner.  Value and then some.

Surprisingly our next call, the classic Beacon Hotel, home of Sarah Hughes beers and an old friend to us, was poor. Again busy for a Tuesday lunchtime, the beer was on a low, with the Amber tasting infected and the famous Sarah Hughes Dark being nearly as bad.  We struggled through our beer and beat a hasty retreat. A great pub though and surely just an off day?

Our final pre - Worcester call was another great pub which didn't disappoint.  The Waggon and Horses in Halesowen is a corner street local with fourteen handpumps, foreign beers galore on the bar, four cask ciders, as well as a carefully chosen list of foreign bottles. What's not to like?  The two young lads serving us were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and had obvious pride in what they were doing. They were helpful without being patronising and talked us through what they had on sale and what was on particularly good form. Beers from Nottingham, Oakham and White Lion didn't disappoint. Real Black Country pork scratchings were a perfect if tooth jarring accompaniment. We left with reluctance.


Next was Worcester where the picture changed. For the worse unfortunately.

The giant cobs, filled and I mean filled, with good quality cheddar or ham were £1.20 each!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

A Few Days Away


Once a year I go off for a few beers with three other mates. I won't bore you with the details of why, but it is known as the Wembley Weekend, though we don't go to Wembley, and now we're all retired, it isn't a weekend.

So Worcester and Bewdley, here I come. There seems to be some terrific pubs in those areas, so it should be good. Watch out for the odd tweet. I'll mention beery highlights on my return.

PS. I'm the youngest. Not often I can say that these days.

Monday, 26 October 2009

The Good Face of the Pub



We lost a couple of our Sunday regulars at the pub yesterday.
Dave and Gwen who have been going there each Sunday, more or less, for the last twenty years, have decided to move to Wensleydale, where Gwen originates and where she still has relatives. They maintain a caravan there, so it's familiar to them.

So there was a little celebration yesterday. The Sunday regulars were out in force including a few old faces, returning for the occasion. Sandwiches were provided by the landlady and a framed print of the pub, signed by all the Sunday crew, was presented by me, on behalf of the regulars, to Dave and Gwen. It was an honour to be asked to do so and to say a few words on behalf of everyone. Of course I recalled old times and faces, I mentioned that the pub just won't be the same without them, as it is the comforting familiarity of seeing the same faces, of passing a few words at the bar with each other, of the ease with which we can talk of this and that in our cosy little world, that makes it such a good place to spend a Sunday. You really can forget your cares for a while.

Dave replied, saying that truly, the thought of leaving the THT behind was a major factor in deciding whether or not to move. He said that it had been hard to think of times without the company of all their friends at the pub. It had been a close call. He went on to praise the unique nature of our pub and to thank everyone for the happy times they had spent there. It was an emotional occasion. We were saying goodbye to two of our own. We all felt a sense of loss.

When you hear so much negativity about the pub trade, it is good to remember that there are thousands of decent pubs, with splendid regulars, whose lives are enhanced by their pub visits and by the people they meet there. I feel lucky and privileged to be one of them. I am sure that Dave and Gwen will find a new pub to go to and that they'll settle in to their new lives well, but I know that from time to time, they'll think of their old friends in our pub and we'll look over to their usual corner and picture them there.

When E and I left, much later than we intended, Gwen and Dave were still there, with some of their usual crew, having a last one for the road. I hope the picture got back down the lane safely!

Pictured are Dave, Gwen and the Landlady (centre).

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Slosberg Connection


I've been following the Brew Dog "share float" stuff with great interest and not a little incomprehension. I haven't coughed up £230 for what seems to be a  chimera; no not the fire eating monster, or the antibody, but the "fanciful mental illusion or fabrication."

There is much to admire about Brew Dog. The cocking of snooks at the authorities, the viral advertising, the excellent attitude to beer and what it should be like and most importantly what it shouldn't be like and, of course, their cutting edge beers. And they are Scottish; not from the posh part of Edinburgh, or Glasgow wide boys, but from Fraserburgh  for God's sake. What's not to like? Nothing of course.

What is ground breaking, (some may say odd) is the way they are using their viral advertising to lure supporters in to buy their share issue, "Equity for Punks". It is clever, it is interesting, it isn't sold as an investment, more a sort of "give us some money now and we'll be nice to you and maybe give it back to you sometime in an unspecified future" kind of way. It is open, it doesn't make false promises and all is therefore well. Or is it?

The reaction of some bloggers and followers of blogs is along the lines of mass - well not mass - maybe "selective" would be better - hysteria. Sort of "You are nice guys, I love your beer, here's my money". It is either noble or foolhardy, but maybe tilting at windmills in such cynical times isn't such a bad thing, though it seems to this writer that these shy Scots have the chutzpah of Del Boy. In an unassuming way of course.

Has anyone asked the obvious question which is " Why does the brewery need to be ten times bigger? Will that make the beer better? Will it increase innovation? I have an analogy. Anyone remember Pete's Wicked Ale? Pete Slosberg was the Brew Dog of his day in the US. He broke moulds, he innovated, he became the second biggest craft brewer in the US, then in 1998 he sold the lot to the giant Gambrinus Company who make his beer in a non innovative way, in whatever brewery they care to. I dare say its still pretty good beer, but you take my point. It isn't innovative or cutting edge anymore. It is though big and Pete has presumably got lots of money out of it.

Not that this need apply to Brew Dog of course, but I'm just saying, that's all.  Strangely though even I'm slightly infected. There is a tiny bit of me that wants to chip in too. Seems I've also been touched by the virus, but I'll resist.


Much is made by Brew Dog of their new shareholders, but I've never heard of Skyy Vodka and if they've got a billion from selling it..............?


PubCos Off the Hook - For Now.


The Office of Fair Trading has ruled out action against the PubCos on the grounds that their current activities and the tie they impose, doesn't act against consumer interests.. They said  it had "not found evidence that supply ties are resulting in competition problems that are having an adverse impact on consumers".

CAMRA, who had raised the complaint expressed disappointment, but will ask the Government to take action following the scathing Business and Enterprise Committee Report. There is more than one  way to skin this cat it seems.

While disappointing, this is hardly surprising, given the narrow  remit of the OFT, though it could well be argued that the effect on consumers is somewhat more oblique than stated by both CAMRA and the OFT.  Reading the report, it seems to me the OFT has been a bit keen to get this one done, dusted and forgotten.

The Morning Advertiser has the story and you can download the report which is quite interesting.

Breaking News: The BEC will re-convene before Christmas to consider its position.