Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Prententious? Moi?

The cartoon that illustrates this post was sent to me by one of my Yankee chums. My American friends seem to like it, but I'm not so sure.

Let's have a look. It is contemporary being next month's New Yorker magazine. We have obvious hipsters. It looks like it is in a trendy bar, not a restaurant and it has no caption. Does that mean it is self explanatory? Is there some article inside that puts it in context? I don't know. On the face of it, it is a guy having a taste of beer before he confirms his purchase in the same manner as he might with wine. Would that be a bad thing however unlikely? Is it a pop at perceived pretentiousness? Is it a go at hipsters with their pernickity ways? Is it a New York thing or is it more general? I really can't say.  

What's your take?

Whatever it is, I love the look on the waiter's face. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

Mature Matters

I was going to write an article about how little I'd enjoyed the beers brewed by overseas brewers for the current Wetherspoon's Beer Festival.  The Regal Moon in Rochdale had nine on the first day of the festival and some I thought were quite poor and others tasted of acetone or other brewing faults and some were just pretty bland. Or odd.  It was a bit of a depressing list, so I just didn't bother.

At the moment there is no cooking facilities in our house as renovations near the end and a new kitchen is being fitted.  After my usual Sunday session at the Tavern, we decided to nip into our local JDW, the Harbord Harbord,  in Middleton for something to eat.  Before you condemn me, trust me, there isn't a lot of other choice in Midd at half past six on a Sunday, unless you want a curry. And while there are few times I'm not up for a ruby, E didn't fancy it so JDW it was.

Where's this all leading?  Well I had two different foreign brewer's beers that I had had on that first night in the Regal Moon and I thought both really rather good.  It occurred to me that they were older.  Both seemed rounder, fuller and more polished.  More mature and less harsh in fact. It is often overlooked these days that beer in cask needs a little time to be at its best and for the flavours to fully develop.  Often, due to lack of experience in cellarmanship, the difficulty of storing beer, both in terms of space and cost, means a lot of cask beer is sold before it has reached its best in the cask. It is often referred to as being "green." There isn't an easy answer to this, but the difference you taste in the same beer in different venues may well be down to this,  resulting in a beer that tastes young, thin and not as good as it could. As most live beer will develop in the cask, only a short time more in the cellar will make a difference in many cases.

So publicans, if you can afford to, leave (unbroached) beer a little longer in the cellar.  It'll pay in flavour and condition and your customers will notice a difference.

The practice of serving beer immediately it drops bright isn't always helpful either.

You will see that Thwaites used to call their real ale "mature." 

Friday, 24 October 2014

New and Recommended

This is a beer blog, so occasionally I talk about beer rather than pubs and beer, or beer politics - yes my friends such a thing does exist, as evidenced by recent twitter outpourings. But no mention here. This post is all sweetness and light.

On Tuesday I popped into the award winning Baum in Rochdale to say hello to Alex Brodie owner of Hawkshead Brewery, who was there to do a "Meet the Brewer" session. Regretfully I couldn't stay long due to a prior engagement, but it was good to see him as always and to have a pint.  Knowing I'm an unashamed fan of his beers, Alex was surprised I hadn't tried my chosen beer before.  Iti is Maori for "small" and is described by the brewery as New Zealand Pale Ale's little brother. A souped down version of NZPA? Will that work? The answer is an unequivocal "Yes."  At 3.5% it is a belter, full of luscious New Zealand hops and surprisingly full bodied from the low colour Maris Otter barley used.  Seek it out.  In fact, seek out any Hawkshead beer.

On Thursday, I encountered the legendary Hawkshead Windermere Pale once again in the Angel when out discussing Manchester Beer and Cider Festival business.  It is not that though to which I wish to draw your attention.  A couple of us finished off with a pint of Se7en Brothers Brewing Stout.  Dark, full bodied, touch of roast, some resinous hops and sheer drinkability that belied its 5.2% strength, made this another to recommend to you.  Se7en Brothers (see what they did there) Brewing is a newish Salford brewery run by, er, seven brothers.  On this evidence I'd watch out for them.  My colleague has had their IPA and he thought highly of it.

There you are. Two recommendations you know you can trust, just in time for the weekend's boozing.   That's good isn't it?

Alex, who is actually a Rochdale lad (he left when he was five though) was very favourably impressed by the Baum. That's also good as is the fact his event was a sell-out.

Sorry, but the Se7en Brothers Website has no useable, relevant images to regale you with.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Nothing New Under the Sun

Chris Hall is promoting his idea of "juicy bangers" to describe beers that, to borrow a phrase, "hit the spot". It is an interesting concept when you extend it to beer design, but otherwise its probably just a bit of fun, though with a serious point underneath.    Boak and Bailey, extending this simple idea to one a tad more complex, are asking on their blog for suggestions for further categories.  They are even getting some, though perhaps it's just me that finds people giving pet names to beer styles a bit odd. It's all a touch anal for me, though that perhaps isn't the best word, considering what I am about to say.

Back in the good old flame throwing days of Usenet, probably in the late 1990s, I am pretty sure that Chris's juicy bangers would have ended up very scorched and unpalatable indeed, such was the snappiness of those involved. Any whiff of juicy bangers would have been ruthlessly taken apart. Nonetheless we did discuss ad nauseum the difficult subject of beer styles.  Odd really when then there weren't many. Or rather there were, but either they were categorised differently, or they were obscure foreign styles which at best were lumped under "foreign", or they hadn't been like saison or Imperial IPA invented. Or re-invented, since Ron Pattinson has long since proved the title of this piece.  Back then, at worst, beers styles were scarcely understood at all by many and the subject of violent disagreement. There were those (and they still exist) that simply referred to and rigidly adhered to, American beer judging guidelines. Others, as now, were subjective more often than not and maybe the most sensible of a pretty leery bunch. Beer after all is a pretty subjective thing.

So how did we deal with this eternal conundrum? While we couldn't solve the unsolveable, or change human nature, we did come up with a solution of sorts.  It was a simple really. In the end we boiled it all down to something simple. Something easily understood and effective, though not perhaps in a particularly sophisticated way.  The question to ask about a beer was "Is it good or shite?" 

Unless you are particularly enamoured by over analysis, it works. Good old Usenet. We got to the bottom of things then.

It was suggested by Rich at BeerCast that I sometimes write tongue in cheek.  Perish the thought.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


It was a busy old day on Saturday.  The Manchester Beer and Cider Festival Organising Meeting in the Angel was (unusually) businesslike and brisk. It was gratifying to see that not only do we have a great team running things, but excellent progress is being made. Lessons learned from last year are being applied and that's as it should be. It'll be bigger and better, with more seats, beer on two floors, a greater selection and more. If it isn't in your diary, put it in now. The link is below. Also gratifying to this reader at least, was ideal organising meeting beer in the shape of an old friend and favourite, Hawkshead Windermere Pale.  At 3.5%, you can sup a few without your concentration and ability to contribute being adversely affected.  It was in tremendous form too, though another bar person wouldn't have gone amiss in what was a very busy pub, especially when you have to wait behind someone paying for a couple of beers with a credit card.  That's a pain in the whatsit to put it mildly.

Afterwards a few of us nipped into the recently renovated Smithfield, which has been opened out a bit, cleaned up tremendously and dragged into the 21st Century. It had sorely needed it. Sadly there was only two cask beers on, Lytham Gold and a variation thereof with added berries and fruit.  I didn't try that, but my "ordinary" Lytham Gold was fine, if unexciting. I noted too that Heineken had clearly put money into the place, the viewing lager cellar somewhat giving the game away and the adverts, brewery signs, John Smith's Smooth and Fosters point of sale visible everywhere, providing ample confirmation. At least we were spared Deuchars IPA, though.  This is a venture on which the jury is still out I think. Round the corner, the Crown and Kettle was busy and had a good choice to go at.  I settled for my first ever Brewsmith beer, their 6% IPA, cashing in my previous weak beer credit all at once.  I enjoyed it and it certainly seemed appropriate, having met brewer James and his wife Jennifer at IndyManBeerCon only the week before.  I'll be taking up their kind invitation to visit, even though their premises are, sadly, just a mere 200 yards of so outside my CAMRA Bailiwick.

No trip to Manchester is complete with popping in to the Marble Arch. I've not been in for while and had hoped for great things following the appointment of a new head brewer. Marble Best was brown, full of crystal malt and pretty much a standard, English Bitter.  One for the malt fans I think.  A half of Chocolate Marble wasn't as good as I've had it before on this showing and neither retained their heads,  indicating that perhaps there is some way to go.  Pint too, drunk by a colleague, lost its head immediately.  On the plus side, service was noticeably friendly and quick. The visit was saved though by a recommendation.  Blackjack Stout, dispensed by nitrogen mix, was smooth, bitter, strong (ish) and quite delicious.  But then, I'm a bit of  a sucker for unpasteurised nitro stout, as it gives lovely mouthfeel and a gorgeous thick white head.  Stouts simply look and taste better through a tight white head.* 

Your mileage may of course vary on that one.  Probably does in fact.

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival details are here. Open from 21st- 24th January 2015 at the Manchester Velodrome.

*Cask conditioned stout through a tight sparkler is also delicious, if not more so.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

When Guinness Was Real

When did Guinness stop bottle conditioning?  I'm not actually sure, but certainly some time in the early nineties I'd say, even though here Martyn Cornell says in the eighties.  I was interested in this when reading Boak and Bailey and a suggestion - quashed as a possibility by the Beer Nut - that they start bottle conditioning their beer again. Going back to when they stopped, how do I know it wasn't the eighties?   Well, while checking through some old stuff as part of a fairly fruitless endeavour to get rid of some junk, I came across a stash of bottles including the one you see photos of.  It is "ordinary" bottled Guinness and  bears the following words on the back label "ingredients - barley, malted barley, hops, yeast and water - combined with a secondary fermentation to condition the beer in the bottle."

I recall buying it as part of a four pack in Belfast and you will see that the best before date is 29-11-95,  indicating a bottling date of maybe nine months, or slightly more, before that.  Interestingly it is bottled by Guinness Belfast.   I'd imagine the beer is still pretty well drinkable, as it has sat in the dark these last 18 or so years, though I may be wrong.  Maybe I'll try it and maybe I won't. Can't be that many of them around though, so maybe I'll keep it a bit longer.

Going back to Boak and Bailey, I was astonished at the praise from some about the two new Guinness Porters.  My view and that of many others is that they are complete gack. After giving it short shrift on Twitter and getting the odd disagreement, I agreed to try the West Indies Porter again.   At the Baum last week as part of a double tasting with the Dublin Porter, it was still a horrid, sweet, fizzy mess, as was its partner in crime.  No-one that tried them that night thought them that good at all.  Still, as I said on BB's site, beer is a broad church and I didn't even think of mentioning duff palates there. Perish that thought.

Sadly and truly, the best thing about the new beers was the labels.

The label from the early nineties is rather good too.  Bit of a classic. Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, 13 October 2014

What's Up with IndyManBeerCon?

There's a great post about IndyManBeerCon by Phil from Oh Good Ale.  It tells in a humorous way his reasons for not attending this much praised and sought after event.  While I don't agree with them all, I can see where he is coming from. It is a particularly different type of beer festival to most and to some not at all their cup of tea. For many others though, it is a "must", which in itself must surely make it worthwhile?  Give the people what they want and all that.

One of Phil's main gripes - and it would have been one of mine too had I paid - was the £13  entrance fee which got you a glass, a programme and nothing else.  As I was there as trade, I didn't pay and glad I am too that I didn't, but I do know that many felt it a bit steep and that many more either didn't, or didn't care that much.  You see, for many, IMBC has become a place to be seen at. That's worth a lot to them as social cachet apparently, but then again, in the non beer world, there are plenty such events and while we may shake our heads about Glyndebourne, Henley Regatta and Last Night of the Proms, if it gives pleasure to attendees and a good time is had, I for one say "Good Luck to Them".

It was the first time I'd been to Victoria Baths in the daylight and while always thoroughly convinced that this event would be a lot less attractive if held elsewhere, I moved the dial over even more. The venue is tremendous. Magnificent in fact and the perfect backdrop to the event itself.  The usual mix of keg and cask seemed to veer more to keg this year and that's what I mainly drank.  Prices varied from a pound a third to £4 a third, with most somewhere in between and exhibited the usual bizarre differences. A 3% and a 6.7% beer on the same bar at the same price is odd to say the least, but then again, I have no idea how things are priced up there and who decides.  And someone has to pay for the set up, brewers etc.

So how was it for me?  Well, as always I find this kind of do a place to meet people I already know or know of.  It is the social interaction that I enjoy, the putting of faces to names and the meeting up with fellow beery friends that I only see now and again.  It may well be heresy, but the beer is rather incidental to me and I don't therefore sit scribbling notes about this or that beer.  I'm there for the crack and all the effort in the world to put on this or that saison, sour, or (yawn) collaboration, is merely backdrop to that particular aim. The venue wasn't without its problems though. The room with the food was too smoky from much grilling and the room with the ceiling under renovation was pretty gloomy, but both were easily dealt with by nipping in, buying your beer and retreating elsewhere to drink it.  The beers were interesting enough to provide talking points and were all well presented.I didn't find much wrong with the beer once you'd swirled some of the excess CO2 out of it. I'm guessing too that Manchester has a lot less hipsters, so the crowd was pretty mixed, with plenty of CAMRA types there also and many of then serving as volunteers. We laughed at one customer who thought a photo of three CAMRA chairmen all drinking keg might have been newsworthy (it isn't) and generally had a good time with beery people.

IMBC is a great event. It is all done on a very human level and for most of its customers it's a pleasure. Can't see much wrong with that really.  Nothing suits everyone and you don't have to go.

 One or two beers disappointed, but what festival does that not happen at.  Mostly though, these are beers for sipping, not supping.  That changes the dynamic  of the event too and one well known brewer told me his cask products were suffering from that aspect.

The photo shows the sort of shenanigans that goes on there.  I think they may still have had their trousers on at the point I took the photo.

I guess too there would be many more hipsters and trendies there in the evenings.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Opportunity Can Still Knock

I went to a preview night of a new pub in Bury last night. It opens tomorrow officially. I say a new pub, but it is actually a renovated pub, re-opening after three years of closure and after a lot of money has been spent on it.

The Clarence was a Whitbread pub and had suffered from a lack of investment until bought from whatever PubCo had inherited it. It was virtually falling down, though that wasn't apparent from the outside. It has been stripped back to the bare bones, a lot of steel has been inserted and years of thoughtless renovations peeled back. For example five layers of flooring has to be removed to reveal beautiful original Edwardian tiling in the bar and a side room, which have now been renovated and are a striking feature of the pub.  Owner Lee Hollinworth showed me round and was obviously very proud of it. There are four floors, with an operating Dave Porter built brewery and the toilets in the basement, a ground floor bar which is centrally positioned. Lee explained that the architects had wanted it elsewhere, but when the tiling was revealed, the original bar position became obvious. So there it went, Lee reasoning that that was what the pub was designed to look like.

 Upstairs is a fifty cover restaurant with large windows and a view out over central Bury. Up one more floor is another bar. This will be reserved for diners, for pre and post meal drinks. Cask beer is on the bar here too.  It is all very well done and must have cost a fortune. Beers are from the in house brewery and were excellent. Even the brown "Session Bitter" impressed, as did the Porter.  Most of the craft keg beers are supplied by Bury's Outstanding Brewery and there will be guest, both cask and keg . Early days I know, but I can see this venture being a roaring success.  I  already plan to take my lass there for a meal one evening soon.

In these times of pub closures, it is refreshing to see a local entrepreneur investing money in such a project. There's life in the pub business yet.

The photo shows brewer Craig Adams outside the brewery. It is from the CAMRA Magazine I edit.  Nice innit?  You can read it here.

Also, in the interest of disclosure, I was given one free pint last night as was everyone else.  All other pints were paid for. There's a lot of money to recoup here. 

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Too Much of a Good Thing

I like a head on my beer.  You may not know that.  But even I can feel that sometimes that there is a point where a line should be drawn.  On our last day in St Petersburg, in glorious warm sunshine, we stopped at one of the two Soviet style cafes that we'd come across.  Soviet in this case means only that they had stuck up a hammer and sickle sign and painted a few things red.  Otherwise there was nothing different to elsewhere and the prices would probably have induced a fit in Leonid Brezhnev and his cronies.

Still we had roubles to get rid of and only an hour or two to go, so I plunged in.  I have no idea what the beer was called, only that it sounded different and indeed it was.  It was, as you can see served with rather a large head.  It was so milky at first that a Yorkshireman, a lover of the autovac no less, may have paused with concern as he watched it settle.  It wasn't nitrogen poured as far as I could tell, or if it was, it was with the lightest of mixes.  The young waitress who spoke no English brought it to the table with a flourish.  I looked at it dubiously.  Our server gestured that I should sup it before it settled.  Well when in Rome and all that.  It was delicious.  A pale auburn brown, it had hops, balancing malt and great mouthfeel.  I ordered another despite it settling out to around a third of a pint of beer.  I'm guessing that the equivalent pint price would probably be North of eight quid.  Thinking ahead,  I decided not to nick the glass (got far too many of them) as compensation, attractive though it was. 

  Russia does things differently, but I have to say, cost aside, it was the best beer of the trip, even if I don't know what it was.

Any Russian speakers out there could maybe translate the glass and let me know and actually, I wish I had liberated it now.  As tasty as the beer, it is half litre size.