Well sort of. There is a lot of talk about once a year drinkers and how busy pubs are with these detested amateurs and while there are very amusing pieces written about them, I tend to agree with Curmudgeon in that it is nice to see pubs as busy as they undoubtedly are.
In the very busy Crown and Kettle a few of us met up with some others that were already there. The pub was packed and the bar staff busy, but service was quick and attentive. It was my round and while two of our comany sat down with their pints, I carried over the other two and a half pints of Ossett Silver King. As we sipped them it was obvious they weren't going to clear and the taste was distinctly bottom of the caskish. I took them back. Given that it was busy, I wasn't sure what my reception should be but there was no problem. The barmaid said that she'd put a new cask on and bring them over to me in a few minutes. I looked at the crowd dubiously and said "Are you sure? I can come back." "No. I'll bring them." Ten minutes later I saw her weave through the crowd with our fresh beers and put them down with a smile. "Sorry about that" she said.
As I say so often, it really is about the offer and taking that little bit of effort for the customer.
That was a lot of effort.
Respect to this lass for going the extra mile. Ossett Silver King should always be pin bright.
The Morning Advertiser has a good piece on pubs by Heineken UK boss, David Forde. It isn't often I find so much to agree with from such a person, but he seems pretty much on the money here to me in calling for pubs to give customers a much better experience than they currently do and for better training for staff. He also encourages customers to complain about bad service and beer.
Now I know you have been waiting for it, but here it is. The feet on the ground, beers you can buy everywhere (more or less) Golden Pints. The definitive guide to what really is good, not what really is rare or odd. Let's get straight in with the most important category of all:
Best UK Cask Beer
Ah, so many contenders and since this is a list of best, not worst, I'll miss out the many duffers that I've been unwise enough to purchase. You know who you are, because I've written about you.
Funnily enough it is the so called "despicable" Wetherspoon that has caught my eye in number one and number two position. Both are from their American Brewers Showcase. I also have to add one of my own personal favourites, which makes the bronze position. So, in reverse order:
3rd: JW Lees Plum Pudding. Christmas in a glass indeed
2nd:Stone Supremely Self Conscious Black Ale. This lovely, hoppy, Black IPA was a clear number one until along came:
1st: Pretty Things Jack D'Or Saison Americaine. Simply magnificentand just squeaks ahead of no.2.
A further point that must be made and cannot be a co-incidence, is that both first and second were brewed at Adnams. Best UK Keg Beer
3rd: Hello My Name is Mette Marit. Yes a BrewDog beer. I reckon they do do great dark beers.
2nd: Thornbridge Imperial Raspberry Stout. It did what it said on the tin. Luscious
1st: Kiwi Wit by Camden Brewery. A one off for Mark Dredge's new book launch. It was absolutely lush. Bring it out permanently. Immediately!
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer
I don't drink much of this at all, but two beers, both late in the day, caught my eye and both are from breweries within a brewery:
Joint winners are:
Brabo from Brains Craft Brewery. Clean, delicious, Belgian style Pale Ale brewed in collaboration with Des De Moor.
Triple C from Thwaites Crafty Dan Brewery, which shows how to use hops without making it a yukky muddy mess as so many new wave brewers do. Cleanliness in beer is so undervalued these days. It shouldn't be.
Best Overseas Draught Beer
This is a time and place thing. Uerige Alt drunk in the schwemme at source in Düsseldorf. Beer is also about occasion and, in good company, there is not many better places to be, or a better beer to drink. Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer
Something guezey at the Great British Beer Festival. Or anywhere. Almost certainly from Cantillon.
Best Collaboration Brew
Allgates Quaker House Stout. It was brewed in collaboration with me and was bloody good. Best Overall Beer
Kiwi Wit by Camden Brewery I still think about it. My own stout a close second. I still think of that too. They really were that good. Best Branding, Pumpclip or Label
I like the simplicity of Tickety Brew from Manchester
Best UK Brewery
Adnams for reasons already stated. I even liked their Dry Hopped Lager.
Best Overseas Brewery
I haven't drank enough stunners to award anything here, but as it is over the Irish Sea an honourable mention to Okells. Their Manx Pale Ale is a beauty.
Best New Brewery Opening 2013
Can't think of any that really impressed enough to make an award.
Pub/Bar of the Year
My local, the Tandle Hill Tavern. It's where my friends are.
Best New Pub/Bar Opening 2013
Very impressed by the beer quality (not by the prices though) in Pie and Ale, Manchester, but the award has to go to The Well and Bucket in London for atmosphere and choice (they need to keep an eye on cask quality though) and closely followed by the Pelt Trader for great quality beer and great service, though it needs to be made a bit less soulless.
Beer Festival of the Year
Great British Beer Festival. It is still the dog's bollocks when it comes to putting on a show.
Supermarket of the Year
I rarely buy any beer in them. No award but I do like browsing in Waitrose.
Independent Retailer of the Year
As above. Online Retailer of the Year
Best Beer Book or Magazine
Mark Dredge's "Craft Beer World". Fresh and readable. Enthusiastic and well thought out. Took a knackered formula and brought it back to life.
Best Beer Blog or Website
3rd: Total Ales by Matt Curtis. Long but readable. I like it a lot
2nd: The Beer Diary by Chris Hall. Always a good read, even when I disagree with him.
1st: The Beer Nut. Unsurpassed in his beer descriptions and his enthusiasm for his subject. Best Beer App
What Pub by CAMRA.
Simon Johnson Award for Best Beer Twitterer
3rd: @OkellsAles - Mike Cowbourne for his interesting links
2nd: @Robsterowski. To the point and not just there for the hell of it.
1st: @cshallwiter. Chris Hall. On fire at the moment.
Best Brewery Website/Social media
Food and Beer Pairing of the Year
Lees Bitter and a packet of mini cheddars always goes down well.
Phew. That took a lot longer than I'd imagined it would.
I was at a funeral yesterday. It was for one of my CAMRA friends and during the humanist service, we listened to his eulogy as we stared uncomfortably at his hop be-decked casket. My CAMRA colleague had no family and it was touching to hear how his friends rallied round and how his CAMRA trips and friends had been a highlight in his life. CAMRA is often accused of being a social club, but as I sat there, I reflected that if that's one of the worst things we are doing, good for us. Afterwards we celebrated, if that is the word, at a cheery wake in the Baum. I suppose the aftermath of a funeral is often a cheery affair as we give silent thanks that it isn't for us that glasses are being raised. Yet.
As everyone started to drift off home, on the way back to the bus station three of us passed the Regal Moon and felt compelled to pop in. We spotted Pretty Things Jack D'Or Saison Americaine, brewed at Adnams, on the bar and despite its 6% abv ordered pints thereof. What a great beer. First of all the nose which had delicate sweetness, a touch of brett and an overall bouquet that siren like called out "Drink me". We did and it was luscious; peppery spicy from rye with a bittersweet Belgian mix of slight sourness, balancing malt sweetness, lemons and a good dash of hops to finish. It was perfectly cask conditioned, full bodied and satisfyingly drinkable. It cost us a few buses as we supped, perhaps unwisely, a couple more. But funerals, if nothing else, make you want to seize the moment.
Seek this beer out. It is seriously good.
And yes, £1.99 a pint. Or maybe it was £1.89. There's a 10p discount on Wednesdays, but we'd had a few. Hence the slightly blurred photo!
The decision of Marstons to sell some 200 of its wet-led pubs has met with a degree of concern that is hardly surprising, but should that really be so? The giant PubCos are a mess and have little coherent branding, but Marstons and Greene King, huge in themselves, but disconcertingly under the radar in most circumstances, are quietly changing their wet focus into food-led with drink as an add on. They are building large new pubs to emphasise this point, so there is surely little shock that bottom end pubs with little prospect of fitting into a different mainstream future are being disposed of? It is not simply the move to food that has motivated Marstons however, as the company needs to reduce its £1 billion debt and the £90 million deal will come in handy for this purpose. But it will also be used to build more new pubs, or should that be pub/restaurants?
What is more worrying is the buyer. In this case NewRiver Retail, which plans to convert most of them into shops or supermarkets. The pubs it seems, have been sold for that very purpose. This already happens a lot, sometimes openly, but often by stealth and in ones and twos. CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale feels that to allow such change of use without the planners being able to intervene or the public to object, is a loophole which is too easily exploited. Maybe, but in some cases at least the alternative will never and never could be retaining them as pubs, so poor is the business. In some cases though, it is not so clear cut. CAMRA has announced it will oppose the changes of use. Mike Benner, the Chief Executive said "The fact that this sale has happened is a result of a dysfunctional
planning system which means pubs are regarded as easy pickings by
developers. CAMRA will be using this
development to press home the case for tougher planning protection for
pubs and for greater consumer consultation when they are threatened with
All well and good and I agree that it is right that planning law should include changes of use in such cases, especially since so many shops are empty (though often, unlike pubs, in the wrong places) but the underlying trend of big brewers and small getting out of many marginal wet led pubs will continue. As Curmudgeon pointed out, even here in Manchester, Lees and Robinsons are doing just that, though not in their cases to alleviate debt. It may well be the case that the wet led pub has a limited future under certain kinds of ownership and that is likely to be under the control of individual owners and small chains, where they see that the market exists if the right beers are sold and the right offer is made. At least this time we will know in advance which pubs are affected. That's useful, but one thing is for sure, they won't all be viable as pubs. I'll of course be interested as a local CAMRA Chairman to see if any of our pubs are affected.That'll put more meat on the bones.
A few weeks ago, I attended a night of beer tasting with a difference. It was of the last thirteen winners of CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain and was hosted by Warminster Maltings. This was both a celebration of and a tribute to Maris Otter malt, which has been the malt used in no less than ten out of the last thirteen champions. I bet you don't know which ones weren't, but don't worry, I won't keep you waiting. Only Deuchars IPA, Haviestoun Bitter and Twisted and Rudgate Mild, didn't use it.
Another first for me was that it was held in the Bull at Highgate, a pub that I'd never visited, but which is pretty famous amongst London beer buffs. It is also home to its own micro brewery, which could be seen from the area just to the left of the bar. Now I must say that the Bull, whatever I might have been expecting, was hardly your traditional boozer. In an affluent area, it was nonetheless warm and likeable, but no bare boarded ale house. Think more chintzy than that, but it seemed to have a good mix of customers amongst the assembled beer glitterati.
Beers were divided between the main bar, a specially erected stillage and a decent sized room with its own bar upstairs where most of us ended up. Oakham JHB with its clean spritzy taste and touches of lemon it had an almost "radler" feel about it. Castle Rock Harvest Pale which was so good that you could see immediately why it had won the supreme gong. Surprisingly tasty and likeable was Triple F Alton Pride which a few of us hadn't rated that highly before, but which on the night was a beer to return to and one of the stars of the show.
I was lucky enough to have a ten minute chat with Warminster Maltings owner, Robin Appel, who is credited with almost single handedly rescuing Maris Otter from malty oblivion, when in the early 1990s, together with H Banham Ltd of Norfolk, he approached the then owners of the variety with the express purpose of rejuvenating it to
satisfy the demand of the real ale market. Much work was done to make it commercially viable once again and in 2002, Maris Otter was bought outright by H Banham Ltd and Robin Appel Ltd, which have continued to improve it to ensure Maris Otter preserves its original identity and
will not compromise the traditional flavour of some of Britain’s finest
beers. Robin was a very interesting host and I enjoyed his tales of JW Lees earlier generation of whom he spoke fondly. I have the feeling that if Lees fancy returning to the Maris Otter fold, Robin would be quite happy.
Finally a word about the food which had been designed using what else but Maris Otter malt as an ingredient. Maris Otter inspired Scotch eggs were superb and to my delight various haggisy nibbles were available too and for me a perfect accompaniment to the beers.
Food and beer matching? Scotch eggs and haggis. Look no further.
The Bull is at 13 North Hill, Highgate, London N6 4AB. Easy five minutes from Highgate Tube.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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