Monday, 30 July 2012

Ring in the New

My local is getting a new landlady. The current incumbent has given it a good shot, but has decided it isn't for her. We've known for ages and the pub has been struggling, as inevitably enthusiasm has waned, particularly as the licensee has a new job. The uncertainty about the future of pubs is is a common enough phenomenon I suppose and at least, though it has taken ages, we are getting someone to take over. Not everyone is that lucky in these days of closures. We are all glad and just want to get back on track beerwise and for a period of stability to commence. There has been a few issues in the period of change, or rather, waiting for change to happen. Beer quality has sometimes been poor, so much so, that yesterday a mass evacuation to the Ship was undertaken. There, there was much relieved supping of quality beer, mostly on cask, but in my case it was Bohemia Regent, which has become a firm favourite.

The date of the handover has been agreed and the new lady - for it is a she - will take over from the 13th August. I've already met her and she tells me she likes her cask ale, so to cement her into that, I gave her a CAMRA membership form.

We have no idea what her plans for the pub are yet, but a liking for cask beer is a very good start.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Henry Bell

It is one of the finer things that Wetherspoons do. Naming their pubs after local landmarks, historical figures and other such things that is. I like that. It gives a local focus which otherwise is missing in such large pubs. Usually these are accompanied within by interesting memorabilia or paraphernalia appertaining to the choice of name. Some might even say that it is the only individuality that they have and they probably have a point.

One of JDW's latest openings is the Henry Bell in Helensburgh.  Now I have to admit, I lived within eight miles of the new pub's location without ever having heard of Henry Bell.  John Logie Baird, the inventor of television was a Helensburgh man of course. We were all taught that at school - drummed into us along with the rather long list of things we Scots invented -  but nothing of  Henry Bell.  You'd have thought that they'd have called it the John Logie Baird then wouldn't you? Unfortunately, some other PubCo has beaten them to it. Oddly enough, it is just across the road.  So Henry Bell, Provost, steam engineer, spa and hotel owner and shipbuilder it is. Henry Bell commisioned the first commercial steamship in the world, the Comet and though you won't find it in the pub, there is a beery connection. In 1820 the Comet was wrecked in strong currents near Oban. Its engine was salvaged and went on to serve in a brewery in Greenock.

Now you'll possibly be aware that JDW do their new pubs rather differently these days. No wood and velour and naff corporate signage any more, but clean chrome, glass, slate and tile is the order of the day and dare I say it, the Henry Bell looks classy. A small frontage leads to a long pub with an interesting bar along the left wall, several different kinds of furniture and to the rear, a larger oblong room, full of light, with an outside drinking area off to the right. Where there is wood it is very dark indeed. You can even watch them cooking the meals should you be so inclined.  The Gents, wonder of wonders, is on the ground floor. For once it's the lassies that have to trek upstairs for a "comfort break." Oddly, there is much more about Helensburgh on the walls than Henry Bell and a wall full of old televisions would seem to imply a frustrated sense of what might have been.

Of course the main reason for any pub existing has to be beer and cask beer at that. In Scotland it is still a rare beast outside the big populations, but here we have six beers on. Interesting ones too including a house beer and pleasingly mostly from Scottish Breweries.  Luckily, a couple were from Fyne Ales, including the delightful Jarl, which was in tip top condition. My old Mum liked it a lot, but then again, she doesn't get out much.  One other delightful thing about Scottish JDWs is that they have a subtley different menu, with cod being replaced by the superior haddock and delicacies such as Cullen Skink, lentil soup and haggis on offer. They even have scotch pies, but I doubt if they are deep fried. Perhaps on request?

In Scotland I'd say you'll probably judge JDW a little less harshly than you might in England. Outside main Scottish cities, you have mostly somewhat couthy local bars and little real ale.  JDW really is something different. Helensburgh, having a rather large Royal Navy base on its doorstep, is probably not a typical Scottish town and there were quite a few English accents to be heard, but hopefully our dear submariners will find it an excellent addition to the local pub scene when they return from a long patrol.

If I lived there, so would I.

Staffing didn't seem to be a problem, but was the usual JDW mix of slapdash and willingness to please. Attention to detail such as clearing up tables was poor. The haddock was lovely though.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Riotous Assembly and an English Antidote

Port St Beer House is one of these places that you find the trendy young things of Manchester.  But the neatly trimmed beards - more or less de rigeur among twenty somethings -  the buxom Laura Ashleyed lasses, elbowing their way to the bar and the general upward mobility of it all may not be Shrimpy's in Kings Cross - heck it may not even be BrewDog - but it does all provide a comfortable and safe, non shaven headed environment to drink in and unlike BrewDog, there is something decent for the discerning drinker to consume.  There is very well kept cask beer.

I go there less often than I should do and it isn't just the fact that the toilet is up three flights of stairs like the North face of the Eiger.  When I nipped up for a pee, well nipped isn't the word, there was a fellow imbiber gasping for breath. "There should be bloody resuscitation equipment up here" quoth he.  "Thought I was going to have a ***king heart attack."  Needless to say, he was one of the non hip crowd that leavens the place somewhat.  I was here though not to listen to such gay repartee, but to check out Hardknott Dave's launch of draught (keg) Rhetoric Ed.I,  a "Star Anise Infused Quasi-Bombastic Belgique Quad" and the English Experiment (keykeg), a collaboration with Fullers John Keeling using unusual English hops. It was good to meet the Hardknott crew again and after a general chat, I joined the throng as Dave leapt up on an upturned beer crate and gave us all the spiel.  That done, the highlighted beers were unveiled on the bar and the supping, sniffing, swirling and general nattering about the beer began.

Now I have to say Rhetoric wasn't my cup of tea.  It was maroon dark, intensely aromatic, with star anise dominant, but a liquorice taste was evident too, as well as many spices, no doubt thrown up by the yeasts. Each seemed to me to be getting on with each other less than harmoniously.  To me it needed more time for the ingredients to gel and get along. It was a riotous assembly of a beer and certainly a talking point.  The English Experiment, was a different kettle of hops entirely. As you might imagine with John Keeling on board, it is far more mainstream.  Don't take that to mean boring. In this case, it most certainly wasn't.  The hops used, Archer, Baron, Bishop and Landlady are all experimental and these seemed to get along with each other famously, to reveal a beer that was a splendid traditional, strong pale ale of some poise and elegance. Once you'd knocked some of the gas out of it and warmed it up in your hand that is. The hoppy finish was resinous and lasting, though in my view cask conditioning would have benefited it, as the subtleties of the beer would be better allowed to shine through - a point Dave agreed with.

These informal nights are a great way to launch a beer and PSBH do it all rather well. I'm a bit of a fan of the place actually.  As for the beers, well they were so different, but none the worse for that. They got people talking and while I didn't care for Rhetoric, I'm sure plenty of others did. That's a good thing, as otherwise we'd all be drinking standard industrial lager.

And that would be a bad thing.

I also enjoyed cask beers from Thornbridge and others. Thornbridge need a special mention as they seem to get cask beers, no matter the style,  just right. Except Jaipur of course, though my half was a slight improvement.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Into the Kitchen

In case you hadn't noticed, I am all in favour of Family Brewers stepping outside their comfort zone and doing something different. We still have quite a few of them, mostly it has to be said noted for safeness in beer, rather than being at the cutting edge. We don't have as many as Germany mind you and though Germany is an entirely different place beer wise, it is one where you can certainly learn salutatory lessons about the dangers of sameness and conformity in brewing.

So what's this leading up to? Last week, my lass agreed to join me in a little beer tasting. E likes what she likes and tends - and I don't think I do her a disservice here - to put things into a "good" or "shite" bracket, with the odd "It's OK I suppose" chucked in. She likes pale and hoppy, dislikes overly malty beers and like me, believes "clean" is what a beer has to be. She has a very good palate and is a leading expert in the vagaries of Marble Manchester Bitter. When she switches to Pint, then you know with the certainty of the coffin lid closing, that it isn't on top blob. She knows her own mind beer wise and has supped many a beer with me over the years. I value her views.

The beers for this little soiree were from Wadworth. Their new Kitchen series in fact, which we first encountered at the British Guild of Beer Writers "do" last year. So we started with that same beer, Orange Peel. We liked it then and we liked it now. Slightly sweet, but with a warming orange peel note, it grew on you, finishing with a touch of Seville orange marmalade and a dab of bitter hops.  Moreish. Next up was Wheat Beer, described by the brewer as "Belgian style". I found it a curious hybrid between German style and Belgian, with clovey bitterness and obvious coriander.  E, a hater of wheat beers, liked it. Surprisingly perhaps, as I recall many a pulled face when she tries my wheat beer in Germany.  We both felt undecided overall and we'll need a second tasting I reckon.  Last up was India Pale Ale at a decent 6.2%. It had a touch of sweetness from the crystal malt - I'd have left that out - a citrus lift from Citra and a good bitter finish from Target hops. E thought the alcohol showed a bit too sharply, though oddly I thought it hid the alcohol fairly well. No concensus there then, but we both liked it, though E surprised me by saying she preferred the Wheat Beer, so maybe a convert in the making there?

I still have two bottles left. Espresso Stout and Whisky Barrel Aged Bitter, so we'll see how they go.  Overall though, these were good, different enough, beautifully labelled and presented and a credit to the brewers.  Most of all, it was great to see such outside the box thinking. 

Others please note.

Declaration of Interest: The beers were sent to me courtesy of  Wadworth.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

My One Thousandth Post

That last one was it. If you believe my dashboard in Blogger. If you add up the posts on the left hand side though, it is 945.

I don't believe the Dashboard.

In fact it has jumped to 1001 before I even posted this.

Bohemia Regent

Have I mentioned this before? I can't remember, but JW Lees have available to all their pubs and the free trade, rather a good, genuine Czech lager.  The beer is Bohemia Regent Premium, a golden full bodied genuine 5% Czech beer falling into the class of světlý ležák 12. It is now imported directly by JW Lees to the UK.  Having been brewed in the Czech Republic, it is regularly tankered over to Lees to be kegged.  The Regent brewery has been brewing beers since 1379, in the ancient heart of the town of Trebon, in the Czech Republic and there is a rather interesting potted history of the place on their website.

Unfortunately, class counts for little when branding is all. In most JW Lees pubs in our area, the preferred premium tipple is Northampton brewed San Miguel - not even the same strength as that brewed in Spain (5.4%), but a 5% variation of the same. The name however sells it, though I doubt many know it is made in Northampton, nor care if they do.  Fortunately one pub, the Ship Inn, a handsome little pub on the Rochdale Canal and the nearest other Lees pub to my local, does sell Regent and in the proper glassware too. I often make a little detour there to sample the wares. We did so again on Sunday and three pints of this hoppy and bitter, delicious and well balanced brew were just the ticket. It is a firm favourite of my lass too, which makes it a lot easier for her to be persuaded into the Ship.

I don't know what sort of reputation the Regent Brewery enjoys in the Czech Republic, but for me, having a genuine, tasty Czech import on my doorstep, sold at reasonable prices, is good enough. It is though I believe available from Lees nationwide.

More details here.

And no, they didn't pay me for this.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Odd Beers in Clubs

In our quiz league we visit a few clubs. These are by and large a bastion of smoothflow beer and this often brings a chance to spot some unusual beers. No, I don't mean interesting imports, but strange oddities of our brewing past. I mentioned the subject before here. There was a new one on me last week in Delph Band Club. This weird clan of zombie beer, brought back from the brewing dead for a half life, as bastardised as Frankenstein's monster, now includes, presumably from Carlsberg,  Walker's Bitter.

Walker's was a very large brewery indeed, based in the (now former) brewing town of Warrington. The original brewery in Dallam Lane was set up in opposition to the town's other large brewery, Greenall Whitley. Dallam Brewery, was the proud home of Peter Walker Ltd, founded by Andrew Walker, an exiled Scotsman, in1864.  Walker's merged with Joshua Tetley of Leeds in 1960, which was to be the start of a series of mergers that later morphed into Allied Breweries.  Dallam was a very substantial brewery - I know - I've been there, both to tour round it and to return empty containers. It's original buildings were superb and I recall the Walker's logo of a gilded,mounted knight and stained glass windows amid oak panelling. I wonder what happened to all that? It was closed as surplus to requirements by Carlsberg in 1996. In between times vast quantities of  Tetley Bitter was pumped out of Dallam and not bad it was either - most would say the equal of the Leeds brewed version.  Next to Higsons, it was the beer I drank most of in Liverpool when I lived there. They also produced the original Walker's Bitter for a small number of outlets and then for a time, a number of beers under Walker name, even setting aside a chunk of their pub estate - mostly at the heritage end - to be rebadged  as Walkers pubs.  I used to drink in one.

  Walker's Brown Peter brown ale was a common sight in that famous Liverpool mix of brown bitter - a half of bitter in a pint glass and a bottle of brown ale. Greenalls itself closed in 1991 and its beers were then brewed by its formal rival in Dallam. It was a big job as Greenalls had over 1500 pubs to supply. When Dallam closed, the Greenalls beers ended up in Tetleys in Leeds and JW Lees, then at Thomas Hardy Burtonwood. When Greenalls sold the lot,  the beers slowly disappeared altogether.

The Walker name died, or so we thought when Dallam closed. Ironically, Warrington's only surviving brewery, Burtonwood, now produces a myriad of contract beers, including, possibly - who knows? -  Walker Smooth Bitter.

What goes round, comes round.

Mann's Chestnut Mild was also on sale in the Delph Band Club

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Reasons to be Cheerful

My morning walk in Alkrington Woods was punctuated, not this time by the usual avoidance of dog shit, but the poignant sight along my route, of carefully placed posters for the missing Stone Roses fan, Chris Brahaney, who vanished at Heaton Park, a mile from the furthest point of my walk. Sadly there was no happy outcome.

I reflected and resolved as I trudged along in a slight drizzle, that lousy summer or not, I'd better be a bit more cheerful. There's a lot of pain in the arse things going on around me at the moment and there might be no good weather to look forward to here, but I'm alive and kicking and there is good beer to be supped both here and on my future agenda too. Maybe even in sunnier climes in the shape of the Berlin Beer Festival, where I'll be in just over three weeks. The weather that far east in August ought to be sunny. Right? Well I have had a good record of sun there in the past, so here's hoping. Then, after that, a bit of work at the GBBF. I'd previously decided to have a year off, but instead I'll just do a fair few hours less, back in our old haunt of Olympia, though travel may be a nuisance. In between I have a trip to see my dear old Mum and a chance of a couple of fly pints in Glasgow. Then after all that two weeks in sunny Andalusia.

Reasons to be cheerful? I think so. And tomorrow these soggy posters referred to above should be a reminder of that.

Although I think I have what I need, any Berlin tips from those there recently, are welcome.  Beermug is scheisse though.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Why Minimum Pricing Doesn't Really Work

Convinced that minimum pricing works, or that increasing prices will sort out the binge drinkers? Watch this and think again.

Even if you still are convinced about minimum pricing, you can at least have a laugh.   
I stumbled across this while looking for something else. It's good to share.

Friday, 6 July 2012

It Doesn't Mean There is Anything Wrong With You - Repost

I was insired by Kristy MacCreadie - as I so often am - to contribute this piece to the session, this time hosted here by Nate Dawg. It isn't new, but it is bang on the money as far as topic goes. The original post is here.

There is a saying in Bavaria: "Nur ein schwein, drinkt allein"- "Only a pig drinks on its own". That I dare say is more to do with the local sense of "gemutlichkeit" or sociability, than a statement about the inadvisability of doing so. Drinking alone can be both liberating and uplifting if you allow it to be. It most certainly should never considered taboo or abnormal, unless it is of the destructive kind. But that of course applies to all drinking.

The quiet contemplative pint is so often an enjoyable experience, sitting in a carefully chosen corner, sorting out the myriad troublesome trifles of life in your mind. Or where more neutrally, you just drift, mind vacant and at ease, while your pint waits patiently for the next absent minded sip. There are many variations to this basic theme. The newspaper reader, enjoying a simple moment of solitude while catching up with the news or footie. The crossword puzzler, brow furrowed, pen poised, looking heavenwards for inspiration. The betting man, mulling over his next flutter, at peace with the world and with hope coursing through his veins. The old gent, in his usual chair, nursing his beer while watching the varied goings on with practised interest and deriving great pleasure from the quiet familiarity of it all. The quick pint grabbed at the bar as a break from a trying day, the eagerly awaited pint after work, when cares can be thrown off, just for that brief time and when the mind can be quietly re-ordered and perspective, put back in its place. The uplifting moments of a nod here or a quiet word there, reminding you that your presence has been noted. All fall within the remit of drinking alone, but none seem sad to me.

Sociability has its place of course and going to the pub with friends is indeed a wonderful thing, but being in your own company with a pint of good beer in your hand can be an excellent way of recharging your batteries and recalibrating the day. Indeed in the right circumstances, being content with yourself and just being there is a quietly uplifting experience. There's a great big world inside you and you know, it can be explored rather satisfyingly, beer in hand, in a conducive pub.

If you think about it anyway, you aren't really that alone. The best pubs provide a connection. They draw people together in a shared existence, however fleeting and on your own or not, you are a part of it.

Do you enjoy a drink on your own in a pub sometimes? Are these old Bavarians maybe missing a trick after all? I think so.

Oh and do exercise a bit of common sense. Do this when you feel like a quiet beer on your own, but are otherwise chipper and avoid it when you are suicidal, or if your self loathing is already brimming over.

Down Among the Dead Men

"Blog rankings don't matter. Who looks at them or believes in them anyway?" "Nobody with any sense at all worries about their blog ranking." That's what I used to say. I was up there at the top. Then I could easily and modestly shrug such stuff off from my lofty perch. Hardly the case any more.  Temporary blips have become an out of control spiral downwards like an doomed aircraft. Now I'm down to number 41. Forty fucking one! Not so much hoist by my own petard, but suspended from it as the bloody hole gets deeper and deeper. A Barclay's like fall from grace; a downward, headlong plunge that shows no sign of bottoming out at all. I seem doomed to disappear over the horizon.  And oddly, I'm in good company. There are some longstanding names around me.

What's caused this? Is it my my continual failure to join in things like The Session, thus not picking up backlinks, or to not cuddling up to the young things enough? Could it be my lack of beer reviews? I haven't ever done that though really. How come people that sometimes only post once a month or so are shooting past me in a blur? What's gone wrong?  Or is there a more straightforward reason? Am I just rubbish these days? Too old, stuck in my ways, not trendy enough to trend? Just not getting this changed beer and blogging world? Not smart enough to work out what to do? That must be it. Well looking at the list of those shitting on my head from way above would seem to suggest so. Otherwise how could so many be knocking me into a cocked hat?

I don't like it and it seems I can do little about it. Despite myself, I will be crying into my beer over this one.  But I'll carry on regardless.

And I've dropped from 181 in the UK General to 863. WTF?

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Ever Seen One of These?

One of my local pubs has a Cask Marque plaque outside it. "Nothing unusual in that"
I suppose you'll be thinking. But wait a minute. This one has "EXPIRED" on the bottom of it. What can this mean? It was accredited up to a point in time presumably. Does it therefore mean that it isn't now? Then why hasn't the sign been removed?  Is it still Cask Marque quality or not? Have they still got the quality but not paid the fees. Has the quality declined? When did it expire? How did "Expired" get there? The cask marque site doesn't say and it seems to me to be a funny kind of sign to have outside your pub.

Puzzling isn't it? Anyone know?

I reckon the beer quality is pretty good though. Better than my photo.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Making My Day

The lot of a CAMRA Chairman isn't always a happy one. Relentless hours of voluntary work aren't that much fun you know, but occasionally you do get a reward. No, I don't mean free beer, but the simple satisfaction of a new member turning up to a meeting, enjoying it and the socialising afterwards and what's more promising to come again. And she was female.  Bonus. We need more female members at our meetings. We need more members at our meetings, but that's always so.

Don't believe that CAMRA is an unwelcoming clique. Mostly, that just in't the case, but like all things you attend for the first time, it takes a few more tries to get in the swing of things.

And we had Mallinson's beer too. What a good do.