Sunday, 27 February 2011


Kentish Town and its environs are pretty much unknown territory to me, but not so to E who worked there for a bit. Looking at the ads in North London CAMRA's newsletter, revealed a pretty easy looking pub crawl taking in three decent looking boozers, the Southampton Arms, the Pineapple and the Junction. The latter had the advantage of being the local CAMRA Pub of the Year.

The 214 from Finsbury Square drops you at the door of the Southampton Arms - and I mean at the door - literally. Inside there is a long narrow, basic, old fashioned pub, with benches and a few chairs and tables and a long wooden bar. It's the sort of place that reminds me how many pubs used to be and it is none the worse for that. It was bustling with an eclectic mix of locals and a great choice of beer, fantastic pork pies and hot pork rolls; no telly, no intrusive music either and friendly bar staff. A pub for people. What's not to like? We both loved it. The beers were on top form too. I particularly enjoyed the Windsor and Eaton Conqueror Black IPA, while E purred happily over Hophead. All the beers tried were in tip top form, cool and bursting with condition. Someone knows their cellar business here. The staff were great, the landlord, Peter a fine fellow, the pork pie as good as any I've had. Any complaints? Only the barrel glasses, but that's a personal thing. We left with great reluctance. This is a stand out pub.

A short walk takes you to the Junction, a large, imposing ex Courage pub.  This is mainly food oriented, but a wonderful place inside. Large windows, lots of interesting features and a good atmosphere and friendly staff.  The beer was boringly brown though, with three identikit beers on offer - Black Sheep Bitter, Betty Stoggs and the ubiquitous Sambrook Wandle.  The beer was served in excellent condition, but the similarity and ordinariness was not what we were after, so it was a short visit. Still, it was a smashing place and perhaps on another day, we'd have had a more inspiring choice.

Next was the Pineapple which E had visited before when she worked in the area.  I've read that this is cliquey, but it just seemed to me to be a smashing locals pub which had a lot going for it. The beer range was again a bit brown (this is a recurring London theme) but again in very good condition. The locals at the bar made conversation and were proud of their pub. Rightly so. We enjoyed our visit, but frankly, the Southampton Arms had spoiled us, so our top tip would be to do this crawl in reverse order.

Back in Central London, we made for the Harp, but such was the throng inside that it would not have been comfortable.  Maybe not possible in fact, so we retreated to the Chandos to reflect on an interesting day.  The Old Brewery Bitter made a malty change and was in great form. This isn't a bad pub at all and it was nice to get change from a fiver!

The beer in the Pineapple was Camden Bitter which didn't impress I'm afraid. Sorry Jasper.

Saturday, 26 February 2011


Here's a question. Anyone care to explain to me why (British) craft keg beer is nearly always sold at a more expensive price than cask, even when the gravities are roughly the same?

Just wondering.

Mason and Taylor

The day started promisingly, but late. I took a stroll back to the Dean Swift for another drop of Kernel Citra. The same friendly barman greeted me and asked what I thought of the temperature, explaining that there had been cellar problems. It was just still that touch too warm, but tasty. The pub was busy with lunchtime drinkers and was very jolly, though why the music was quite so deafening is a mystery, though in fairness the mostly young customers seemed quite content to yell above it, which made for a livelier atmosphere than one might otherwise have anticipated at a quarter to two in the afternoon.

Then a walk to the Rake for a couple of quick halves and a quick chat to Glyn the manager,who was preparing for his Welsh Beer Festival. No problems with temperature or condition here, but I wasn't taken with the over sweet Williams Brothers Tayberry, nor with Dark Star M&M, which had rather too much peated malt for my taste, though if you like smoked beer, you'd have lapped this up.

I have heard good things about the improved beer range at the nearby Horniman at Heys, which is rather a nice place to have a drink.  Modern, but with plenty of distinct drinking areas and the happy buzz of a dozen languages, I was greeted by a veritable array of handpumps, but was immediately attracted to two. Thornbridge Jaipur needs no further introduction and my half was fine, as was my White Shield, though unusually I'd say the beers complexity is shown off better in bottle.  The cask version to my palate seems just a touch yeasty.

I like going to a new pub. That sense of mystery and anticipation never leaves me. I love looking at the dynamics of a place, at how it operates and what makes it tick.  Thus I looked forward to our visit to Mason and Taylor, just a touch off Brick Lane and again, an easy walk from our gaff. Set on a busy corner on Bethnall Green Road, this offers a somewhat Janus like appearance, with a rather sophisticated looking exterior and a far more modern and eclectic interior.  Inside it is rather narrow and fairly dimly lit, with large picture windows looking out on the street, a decent sized bar and a downstairs area which we didn't visit - the place was too busy for wandering about. The customers were mostly young - think mid twenties - and trendy. Not as trendy looking as the staff though, who were at first, until you worked out who was waiting on and who was a customer, pretty indistinguishable from the customers, but absolutely brilliant in their friendliness and helpfulness. The place was busy, busy when we walked in around 8 p.m., with a good mix of diners and drinkers, but a table was immediately found for us, we were asked if we were eating and if we wanted table service, or just wanted to order at the bar.  We were attentively asked from time to time if we needed more drinks and generally made to feel welcome. Fantastic.

What of the beer? Plenty to go at and a good mix of keg and cask. Keg features Brooklyn Brewery, Camden, Westmalle, Chimay and more, all at pretty hefty prices. Cask offerings were Dark Star Hophead and (astonishingly) Pictish Little Gem on handpump, with Brodie's Citra on a cask on the bar - never a wise thing in my view and all the less so for a 3.1% beer. Bottles abound, with something for everyone and not too badly priced in the main. It was hard to discern what the favoured drinks were given the crowd at the bar.   We tried the Hophead and the Pictish which were average and lacked the edge that perfect cask conditioning gives and were, predictably, slightly too warm.

Overall, even though we bumped up the average age of the crowd by quite a bit, we'll be back. We liked it. but will visit a bit earlier in the day and week to get a different perspective on the place.

Friday, 25 February 2011

London Drinker

That's me most of this week and this weekend, so I hope to get round a few of  the new wave of boozers, some of which I've been to before and some which I haven't. Now regular readers will know I have what might be termed as a healthy pessimism about drinking in London. Some in fact, might call it downright predjudice, but I do remind readers that this caution is from bitter experience, pun most definitely intended. But things are improving, so maybe that will change?

The Dean Swift is a mere 15 minutes walk over the river from our London abode and nestles behind some of the new stuff that is Shad Thames. It's a neat little boozer that crams a lot into what isn't a big space. I liked it straight away. Various posh keg beers are offered along with three (on this occasion) cask ales. I had the rare Kernel Citra which was good, though maybe a touch warm and slightly over vented. We ate there too and thoroughly enjoyed it. The place buzzes, has excellent staff - very chatty and extremely welcoming - and is well worth another go.In fact I'll be very surprised if I'm not in there again over the weekend. Next up was an old haunt, the JDW Pommeler's Rest. I quite like the bar here which is very pubby and usually has a good range. Tonight was no different with beers from Westerham, Sambrooks and Thornbridge.  The Jaipur was on form and at cellar temperature, but the old JDW fault of agonisingly slow service is very evident here. 

Next a mistake. Against E's advice I insisted we walk the 50 yards to the Draft House. This is a very likeable modern place with a great feel to it.  The food looked marvellous too, the barman was helpful and willing, but sadly the cask beer was poor and expensive. That's the third time that's happened and I am giving up on it, which is a shame as I can walk there in no time at all. If they don't want to put the effort into cask, then don't sell it. The  "I told you so" from E was fair enough in the circumstances.

Yesterday I went to see Jeff Bell at his gaff. I warmed up with a quick visit to the JDW Crosse Keys. I like the sheer grandeur of this place, it's great for people watching and 18 handpumps would give enough choice for most you'd think.  Not if your bag is pale and hoppy it wouldn't.  Next the Castle in Furnival St, which I also like, though the beer choice was again unremittingly brown and black.  Milestone Lion's Pride was decent enough, but uninspiring. Then, glory be, a new discovery. It has been noted elsewhere that Nicolsons are upping their game. The Sir Christpher Hatton had a nice feel to it despite being just below pavement level and had a barmaid who didn't bat an eyelid when I asked for my Jaipur to be sparkled. "I've been trained in that" quoth she. Well done indeed and a fine pint to boot.  Training eh? Who'd a thunk it?

In the Gunmakers Jeff was ebullient as ever and the time flew by, sustained by excellent pints of Purity Mad Goose. This is a perfect supping beer, with biscuity Maris Otter malt, lifted by spicy wheat and a gentle touch of noble hop, finishing with a good degree of bitterness from the Willamettes and Cascade hops. I love this pub and this is in no small part down to Jeff. The beer is always spot on too.

So a mixed couple of days, good and bad, but mostly rather good. Things are indeed looking up. Today I was thinking of a walk to Mason and Taylor on Bethnal Green Rd or a bus to the Jolly Butchers, but neither are open until four!

Jeff did tell me one very interesting thing. The Purity ales will now always be served with a sparkler. The brewery like it that way. Good.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

World's Best Lager

You can forget all your fancy continental lagers, your carefully brewed to exacting spec rheinheitsgebot German pilsners and helles, put the leading UK lager Carling firmly back in its can and reach for the best. That is if you live in Greater Manchester. So what is this wonderful specimen of the brewer's art? Why none other than Holt's Crystal Lager.

Yes Joey's finest fizz beat off strong challenges from all over the world to take the gold gong in the international keg lager 2.9 to 4.7 abv category at the prestigious Brewing Industry International Awards. Holt's Chief Executive Richard Kershaw said (cuttingly) "Our Crystal lager won over the judges in a blind tasting and beat off competition from beers around the world, including Carling, Fosters and Carlsberg. The gold medal proves that taste and quality are more important than brand advertising.

So there you have it. The world's best lout. Official. Mind you, you'll have to find a Joey Holt's pub to sup it in.

Sorry about the shitty photo, but that's Holt's for you.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

As You Were at JDW?

A little bird tells me that Greene King IPA will shortly replace Ruddles Best on their bars, presumably with the happy agreement of GK.

I know most of you, like me won't be bothered either way, but I just thought I'd let you know.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Hard Work - In More Ways than One

Yesterday morning I spent several hours doing some work for CAMRA. Not at all unusual that, for me and countless others. In my case it was starting to write our members mail-out, which I do at least once a month. It keeps us all in touch and hopefully motivates members to get more involved. (We'd like that.) I also spent some time considering our next branch newsletter, which goes out to the public at large and then I filled in the first of four pub surveys for next years Good Beer Guide, having driven (at my own expense) the 12 or so miles to the pub concerned the previous day. That day I had also met a local newspaper editor to offer support to a "Save Our Pubs" campaign he is running. Then I sent off some updates to HQ about breweries in my area. Afterwards I got the bus to Rochdale to do another pub survey (£4.10 fare if you are interested) and after the survey spent some time discussing with a local landlord, a Real Ale Pub Trail he is planning, before having a few well deserved pints.

I do this, like countless others, because it is a hobby, a labour of love, a mission for good beer if you like. It is often a thankless task, but usually you feel it worthwhile until you read comments like this. Then you feel flattened. Knowing a fair bit about what goes into the choosing of the CAMRA National Pub of the Year and the effort the branch officials and members will have put in to ensure that their selection is truly one that is a genuine Pub of the Year contender, it is a tad galling to see that their efforts aren't only unappreciated, but are casually denigrated, though I'm sure they'll just laugh it off. (We all know we aren't the most photogenic creatures in the world.) It is is particularly annoying though, when in this case, the local CAMRA branch whose pictures were found to be so repellent, had clearly had done their work well, as their nomination, the Harp, was met with universal approval as a deserved winner. I have to add that this includes praise from the person that wrote the piece.* Truly a case of the messenger being thought more important than the message.

The thing is that CAMRA does need young people to be active and to present the fresh and appealing pictures that are so desired by some, but more importantly to replace us tired old codgers as we drop off the perch. We all know this and we do try hard to attract young people with varying degrees of success, but the truth of it is that it is quite difficult as there are so many other exciting things for them to do these days. Certainly far more than when I first joined CAMRA. Nonetheless, as all voluntary organisations know, you still need people with experience and as importantly, with time to do the thankless tasks that ensure we have a Good Beer Guide, beer festivals, interesting local newsletters and so on. People like me that are retired and still have a bit to offer, have that time, so surely it isn't that odd that we should be doing most of the work? Do most people really expect something that different?

I brooded on this off and on throughout the day yesterday and was still feeling disgruntled when I returned home full of beer, but you know what? I read this piece here by a different young blogger with the title "Giving something back" describing how she as a young female CAMRA member is helping lighten the load of us old folks by doing her bit. Quite a lot of bits actually. So well done Shea and those like you. You have restored my faith and I will have a much lighter step today when I survey my final two pubs.

Giving something back eh? My beer hero(ine) of the week. I owe her a drink. In fact you all do.

I hope Shea won't mind me illustrating this with a photo nicked from her blog.

* This isn't a pop at any individual either. The writer of the original piece represents a genuine school of thought and a major concern about CAMRA and how it appears. This is a counter to it.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Different Quality - Same Problem

There is much talked these days about the "new wave" of craft brewing and brewers and how keg beer isn't like the bad old days when CAMRA was formed in response to its pervasiveness. This new wave of beers we are assured hasn't got the old faults of the keg of yore, where cheap and nasty ingredients were thrown together and pasteurised to within in inch of their existence and zombie like, brought back to life with copious amounts of CO2 and served cold to disguise their sheer nastiness. "Oh no" we are advised, "it's all different now", with carefully brewed, unpasteurised beer, lovingly dispensed without the previous faults. Well I have news Folks. Not exactly so.

When the keg of the sixties and 70's was served, it was undoubtedly vile, but rarely ice cold. Refrigerated dispense has come a long way since then though and now, it seems that there is little being done to serve these beers other than very cold indeed. CO2 dispense for ale also came very discredited along the way, being replaced by mixed gases and sold as smoothflow.The new wave though is proudly dispensed it seems by CO2. Lots of C02 if my recent experiences have been anything to go by.

On Friday in Glasgow in pissing rain I trekked to the Blackfriars. After a pint of (well kept but indifferent) cask I thought I'd try Brew Dog 5 am Saint. Here's what I tweeted "5 am Saint freezing cold and hugely gassy but the hops are there under a massive carbonic bite". My previous experience of Kipling in the Euston Tap was similar. People argue that CAMRA should move on, but you know, the same old problems exist in a new format. Too cold and too gassy. It is instructive to this writer at least, that the siren calls for more keg come mostly from young bottled beer drinkers who grab chilled exotics from their fridge and from some brewers that push them not as an alternative, but a replacement for the same cask product for reasons best known to themselves. ( I can speculate but that's for another post.) Now that's fine and dandy if you want your beer chilled to around 4C and gassed to three atmospheres, but don't promote it as a fantastic new development. They are there for the same old reasons as brewery conditioned beer (keg) has always been. Longevity and ease of "handling".

Don't get me wrong. Choice is good and I for one am happy to see "decent" British keg beer on a bar as an extension of choice and if it gets young people into pubs. Call it entry level beer for bottled beer drinkers if you like. If people enjoy them and it suits certain (mostly young) drinkers better, well and good and good luck to those that produce them, but please don't try and tell me for example, that keg Jaipur is better than cask . I'll stick to cask wherever possible and promote that. At its best, with all its subtleties and faults, it's just a better way to drink beer.

And one other thing I will continue to bang on about and highlight, is bad beer, bad serving practice, bad service and poor cellarmanship. These more than anything are the enemy of good beer and pubs, not a few fizzy kegs on the bar.

The little quote at the top of this posting is from Brew Dog whose cask beer is actually rather better than their keg.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Leeds and the Ark Royal

I was let loose in Leeds City Centre for three hours on Saturday while E had her hair done, so of course I used the time usefully to view the cultural sights. If you know Leeds like I do, that doesn't take at all long. Is Marks and Spencer cultural? I don't know, but passing it made me able to pop in and sort out our tea (supper for Southern Jessies), though I did supplement that with some purchases from Leeds Market, which is certainly both historic and cultural.

Pre M&S and on the way to Mr Foley's, I saw a crowd down a side street and heard military music. Deflected from my liquid intentions, I walked down in time to see a Marines Band setting off, pursued by a hundred and odd Royal Navy sailors with bayonets fixed. A quick spring ahead to check their caps revealed HMS Ark Royal thereon. It seems the Ark Royal has a major connection with Leeds, but in any event I was gratified to be able to applaud our lads and lasses on their last official outing as a ship's company. The good people of Leeds were similarly and very enthusiastically inclined.

But man does not live by naval nostalgia alone, so into nearby Mr Foley's I sped. Two halves were procured. The excellent Summer Wine Gambit had so much poise and elegance built into it and a smack of hops that demanded more. So I had another half. Regrettably Offbeat Scrumptious wasn't. It may well be, to quote the pumpclip, "Brewed by a Chick" but it was chock full of phenols and good only for the sink.

Much better was Brew Dog Trashy Blonde in Whitelocks, a former haunt of mine, though there was a slightly tense moment as I declined to have it placed in a Bulmer's Cider glass. That sorted, it perhaps wasn't as hoppy as I recall, but nonetheless a good drink, which in my humble opinion would have gained nothing from kegging and lost a lot. After my market trip, it had to be the nearby Duck and Drake. This used to be my local in Leeds until replaced by the Palace due to it going downhill so much. I had read on the interweb it was better now, but it seemed to me - and I'm not that fussy frankly - a bit of a dump. I didn't have a drink. So to my meeting place with E, the Palace. A bit of a dark selection here with Family Brewers dominating. I went for the only pale beer on the bar, Rooster's Special. Now I used to love Roosters, but I have had the feeling that they have slid downhill somewhat. Certainly little doubt about it on this lacklustre showing. Not for the first time I'm sorry to say. I tried two others, halves of course and enjoyed Elgoods Copper Feelgood which was excellently old fashioned and bitter. Hook Norton Jackpot though was bland to the point of tastelessness.

On that note I slipped out to be waiting patiently outside when
the newly coiffured E appeared to whisk me back over the Pennines. It does give the right impression and impressions count for a lot, though I doubt if E was fooled.

Monday, 14 February 2011


Apart from two visits to the Sheffield Tap (see below) I also thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Hillsborough Hotel, handily placed on the tram route. The highlight there was the Hillsborough Pale, which in my view was one of the best pints of the year so far. Slightly reminiscent of Marble Pint, but a bit more rounded and less harshly bitter, it was hard to move on from. Sadly, Brooklyn Bridge was disappointingly bland on this sampling. The pub itself is a cracker too and with Hillsborough Pale at £2.20 a pint, it was certainly value for money. Good food and fantastic service from the matronly barmaids who knew their stuff, rounded it all off nicely.

I was a bit disappointed with the Wellington though. None of the beers were sparkled and the Little Ale Cart beers I tried seemed just a touch off the boil - in fact one had to be changed. Things didn't look up either with Steel City's Černý Bez - Dva, which seemed to have missing the thing they are most famous for - hops. The lack of a sparkler did little for it either. None of the beers were by any means bad, but all lacked that little bit extra that you come to expect from these two breweries.

Still that spoiled nothing, as even the best don't hit it off all of the time.

Sheffield's tram network is excellent and unlike Manchester's which is mostly a light railway, a proper tram system.

Flagship Pubs (2)

I grew up to the shrill of the steam whistle and the unmistakable chuff-chuffing as mighty engines took the strain a mere 30 or so feet from my bedroom. As a child I could open my window and look down on the throbbing black beasts directly below me. I breathed in the steam, I watched the sparks fly and vicariously I drove these trains. I knew the engine drivers and they knew me, at least by waving. I lived in a station house, directly above the down line. Railways are in my blood. I come from a railway family. As a result, railway stations, journeys and refreshment rooms are always exciting to me.

So, it was with eager anticipation we met with our CAMRA crowd to visit Sheffield and of course, the Sheffield Tap. Now Sheffield itself, approached from the north at least, is an oddity. From Manchester Piccadilly the train wends through the third main line in the UK, the Central Mainline. The scenery through South Cheshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire is spectacular with towering hills on each side and sheep grazing peacefully. This is rugged hill farming territory and it covers most of the 40 odd miles to Sheffield, which suddenly and unexpected appears from nowhere. A big city just shouts "Boo" and is there.

Sheffield Station has had a modern makeover like many and looks fantastic. It may not have steam, but you still get the same thrill of being in a big station, a focal point, a place where people travel with hope and one with a bonus. That bonus is the Sheffield Tap, directly on Platform 1a. We poured in as one and found places to sit while looking round. It has been described before in various places and possibly to my mind a little inaccurately. I'd thought it would be small, but even without the second room, it isn't. The layout is thoughtful and it has that most welcoming of things, a long bar. Thornbridge beers dominate and that's fine with me. The parade of pumpclips revealed rather a lot I hadn't heard of, never mind tried. I tried a couple of the guests which were both good, but hardly memorable, but really I was teasing myself. Thornbridge is rightly the start of this show. Chiron was the beer, a beautiful balance of malt and hops, with citrussy tangerine, peach and juicy malt. Another great beer from a great brewer. Of course Kipling and Jaipur had to be sampled too and pulled through a tight sparkler and in perfect nick, this was a dangerous situation. So many great beers in great form. Perfect. It really was a pleasure to see so many Thornbridge beers all at once.

So is it good? An unequivocal "yes". The staff are attentive and chatty, the place buzzes and has the excitement of the transitory mixed with the permanent. In addition to the many handpumps (I didn't count them) there is a great bottle selection (though with the cask and foreign draft selection including the wonderful Bernard range, why would you bother?) And its on a station, so what's not to like?

Finally is it a pub or a bar? Not that it matters in the end, but it is a pub. Most certainly.

We got there around 12.20. Needless to say, Tyson was already there with his acolytes. Another tradition.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Molson Coors Continues Cask Push

I've no time to comment really, as I'm off to Glasgow until Friday in a few minutes, but Molson Coors is certainly going for it cask wise.

Sixteen cask ales are launched over the year and if you want the whole story, the good old MA has it here.

The beers are:

• Stones Nice Try & M&B Blueberry — on sale until 26 March

• Stones Hedge Hunter & Worthington's Spring Shield — 17 March to 16 April

• Hancock’s Lamb Chop — 14 April to 21 May

• M&B Strawberry & Stones Back Hander — 19 May to 25 June

• Worthington's Summer Shield & Stones In the Bunker — 23 June to 23 July

• Hancock’s Lawn Mower — 21 July to 20 August

• Hancock’s Penned In & M&B Plum — 18 August to 24 September

• Worthington's Autumn Shield & Hancock’s Counting Sheep — 22 September to 22 October

• M&B Chocolate Orange & Worthington's Winter Shield — 20 October to 31 December


Monday, 7 February 2011

Manchester's New Kid on the Block

There is much said in the blogosphere about the new wave of beer bars that are springing up here and there. I'm talking the like of the Euston Tap, Sheffield Tap etc. Well Manchester has one now and last Thursday I set out to see what it had to offer in the company of Tyson the Beerhound.

One thing our destination does offer is a latish four pm opening, so being of thirsty mind and body, we warmed up with few elsewhere. The Angel kicked us off well with some straightforward Pictish Alchemists Gold, while Tyson slurped down a Prospect Mild, but of course he'd been out the night before. Is it me or are both Brewer's Gold and Alchemist Ale a tad sweeter than of yore? Manchester also offers a range of new bars selling a mixed bag of beers. Some even sell cask. One such is Odd, handily placed on the way to our new destination. We struck more than lucky here, with perfect pints of Dark Star Hophead, very much enhanced by sparkling. We had two, so good was the beer and then a quick trip to Common, sister bar of our ultimate destination. Common is a bit grungy, but Tyson liked it well enough, though I reckon that's more from it being a handy late night venue for him than anything else. I was a bit less keen, maybe because my attempt to try Brew Dog's Zeitgeist was foiled, as it was "off."

And so to our destination Port Street Beer House, not more than a hop and skip from Piccadilly. On two drinking levels, with big ground floor windows looking out onto what is a pretty uninspiring back street view, this is a well appointed, modern, subtly lit, rather sophisticated bar, which was attracting a good mix of types. Handpumped and keg draught beers sit comfortably side by side and there are beer fridges with well chosen and interesting contents which are pretty reasonably priced if you pick and choose wisely. We immediately spotted Brew Dog's Alpha Dog on handpump, but were advised by the friendly barman to have a taste first. Good job we did, as its savouriness was severely off putting, as if a few beef stock cubes had been lobbed in the late boil, then a few more for good luck. Not great. Much better was Thornbridge Stout (it has a fancy name which I can't remember) and for comparison purposes, more Hophead.

Upstairs is a rather attractive room for more drinking and further up on the final level are the rather nice toilets. So any complaints? Only one, and that may just have been a one off. The place was cold, but it was a cold night. Nonetheless this is an excellent and very welcome addition to the Manchester beer scene. I'm impressed and looking forward to taking the lovely E there.

I'd like to say we sensibly finished up after a couple of beers and went home for a quiet Horlicks and an early night. But we didn't.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Cask Re-enters the Mainstream?

What a momentous day yesterday was. Or wasn't. We had two announcements. First of all AB-InBev continued down their blind alley with the launch of Stella Cidre. If you didn't laugh, you'd cry. The cider bubble may not have completely burst yet, though there is at least an indication that the "over ice" segment is declining in an overcrowded market. While there is plenty legs yet in the traditional market and the market for real perry is a growing one, where does Stella Cidre fit? Will punters move to Stella on brand cachet? Doubtful if we look at Stella Black and Stella 4. Whichever way you look at it, seems like another plunge downmarket for the brand. You almost feel sorry for the hapless beggars. Pete Brown sums it up well.

The other announcement that had the over excited wetting their pants, was the takeover of Sharps by Molson-Coors. Sharps is an interesting case, grown from a small micro in 1994, to a 90,000+ barrel a year regional. This is almost all on the back of Doom Bar, a modest tasting brown beer which dominates in the South West and increasingly in London. I don't know if the brewery was still owned by Bill Sharp, the founder but when you look at the business, there was a company (90%) of output is Doom Bar, ripe for the picking and ripe for those investors who wanted to cash in.

What are the wider implications though? It is clear that unlike most of the international brewing giants, Molson-Coors have come to see a future of some sort in producing cask beer. Their investment in the William Worthington Brewery at Burton is evidence of this and they clearly see Doom Bar as a good fit for national roll out. I'd guess its likely quarry is Deuchars IPA, Courage Best, Greene King IPA and the like and will be a reassuring name at the bar, which will offend few and give an easy introduction to cask ale for the cautious. But there has to be a note of caution. The record of such things isn't a good one. If you'd like a salutary lesson from history about local beers expanding widely, I'd ask you to recall, Ruddles, Boddingtons and Theakstons. All three suffered almost terminally under the dead hand of international brewers. Is this different? Well possibly. Sharps may be Cornish, but they own no pubs, have no long history and can roll along nicely under new ownership. Nobody is going to be that upset about it. It will be business as usual, but on a bigger scale I suspect.

Of course it could be argued that the biggest asset acquired in the deal is Stuart Howe the Sharps Head Brewer. (Stuart Howe and Sharps nice modern brewery for less than the price of Andy Carroll - a snip, a bargain.) If Stuart is allowed to continue his development of very interesting beers that could then have the resources of Coors behind them, then this would seem to be money well spent. Coors may just have spotted an opportunity here to steal a march on not only their international rivals, but some of the Smart Alec's of British Brewing. They have created a wonderful opportunity for themselves, not only in cask beer, but in craft beer (or speciality beer) too.

The potential is there, so let's hope that despite history, they play this hand well.