Monday 29 December 2008

Not Part of the Problem

I see our old friends Brewdog are featuring in the newspapers again. Scotland on Sunday has a nice little feature, which you can read here.

It is an interesting and thoughtful piece which doesn't take sides, though I have the feeling that the author doesn't "get" them. One interesting point to me at least is their attitude to CAMRA. They say "that the Campaign For Real Ale holds back beer innovation by their emphasis on a few traditional styles and ABVs ranging from 3.5 to 4.5%. They also claim, huffily, that CAMRA has made it so difficult for them to present their products at festivals they've decide not to bother trying to attend any. "We've got better things to do with our time than worry about whether 200 fat idiots are drinking our beer or not."

Umm. Quite.

As a matter of interest we had one of their beers at our recent Bury Fest. It wasn't difficult.

Saturday 27 December 2008

Back in the Groove - Sort Of

Tyson has already mentioned the crap bus service we get from First Bus who are rapidly becoming my bête noir. So yesterday was a mixed bag. Our route was one of a select few running, the bus turned up on time and my fare was waved away. His machine had jammed. Hooray. Of course this success merely helped redress a long balance, not in my favour. Our luck continued. One of the farmers picked us up and we had a bumpy but painless ride up the lane to our pub. There an odd scene greeted us. A motley collection of Second World War re-enactors and vehicles roamed around, somewhat like an explosion in the Battle of the Bulge Costume Department. My eagle eye soon spotted some unlikely combinations of German WW2 uniform. We fought our way in and found a corner at the bar, wedged between an Alpine Grenadier and an SS Sturmbahnfuhrer. Lees Dark was my preferred tipple at this point and proved to be smooth and moreish, so I had some more. The bitter once again hovered below par, but a new cask restored service to normal, though by then I'd moved on to Winter Warmer, a jet black, full bodied, liquoricey, chocolatey brew with a distinct East Kent Goldings finish. Very drinkable, but substantial for too much repitition.

The World War 2 mob disappeared to do whatever they do when not getting in the way in the pub and we settled into our table. The police called too, but this time not seeking drunk drivers, but interviewing witnesses to a glassing that had taken place elsewhere the night before. A frisson of alarm spread through some, no doubt due to the number of cars outside. Our lot had walked though, so immune to such things we carried on, by now back on bitter.

We walked down the lane in bitter cold, like the wise men of old, guided by a shining light that clearly seemed to be over Middleton. A second coming? I doubt it. Jupiter is VERY visible this time of year. It guided us to the Hopwood where I just had time for a pint of Theakstons Mild, which was excellent, before our expensive taxi home. The last bus had gone at around 16.45 so a taxi it had to be. Getting better is nicer than being ill, but a lot more expensive!

Thursday 25 December 2008

Tandleman is Better Than He Was!

Well I am on the mend, but by no means mended. My appetite is returning and yesterday I had my first drink since last Thursday - a couple of pints of Lees Bitter. I am up for my Christmas Lunch though and have a visit to the pub first. So, despite the cough which is a bastard to be frank, it is best foot forward.

Happy Christmas one and all.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Tandleman is Still Unwell

I'm bad. E has gone to the pub without me, as there are Christmas cards to give out, turkey to be picked up, as well as eggs. She says she'll have a glass or two. The thought of beer, or indeed any alcohol, appals me.

Why is the telly so awful on a Sunday afternoon?

Saturday 20 December 2008

Tandleman is Unwell

Fellow blogger Jeff Bell reported he had "man flu" the other day. I hope he is better. I have proper flu and I've got it worse!

I blame First Bus.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Irish Supping Less in Recession

I spotted this and thought it worth sharing, as it seems to contradict experience here a little bit.

Irish pubs have reported a 20% plunge in pub draught sales in November, said the Herald newspaper on December, 15. Industry experts are describing the crisis as "meltdown" for the market, which has seen an even bigger drop in the sale of bottle and canned beer - at 25%

This follows drops of 8% for draught beer and 10% for canned beer the previous month. Internal statistics compiled by the country’s biggest brewers shows only cheaper brands are holding steady as consumer spending wanes. Sources predicted the financial pressure of the sales slump will lead more pubs to close or go into examinership. (Whatever that is!)

For the year so far, beer sales are down 5%. However, the rate of the fall accelerated as consumer confidence plummeted in the face of recession. Pubs and shops are finding it hardest to sell premium brands as drinkers face a leaner Christmas and prepare for the predicted financial woes of the new year. Cheaper drinks such as Bavaria, Tuborg and Dutch Gold are maintaining their sales figures.

So it seems that even supermarkets in Ireland are struggling to sell beer, but not the cheap stuff. It is interesting that pub sales fell less than canned and bottled sales.

Any lessons for us in the UK there?

Wednesday 17 December 2008

The Best Buy in Beer?

When I was a lad, a long time ago, McEwan's had a series of adverts with the McEwan's Cavalier starring in cartoon form. McEwan's aka Scottish and Newcastle, aka Heineken has now re- released one of the cartoons from the sixties as it seems McEwan's has won the number one ale in the Scottish Grocery Sector, presumably for McEwan's Export, a sweet and horrible beer.

I can remember the advert, though it was by no means the best of the series. Just like the beer really!

Monday 15 December 2008

The Sticke Warriors

My old Yankee mate Fred Waltman who runs the Franconia Beer Guide (linked left) also runs a sort of beer tour to Bamberg and other drinking parts of Europe. He was in Düsseldorf with his mob while we were there and we met up for a beer or three.

The Sticke Warriors were founded by Fred to pursue his love of Zum Uerige's Stcke beer. As Fred says in his site "One of my favorite places to drink beer is a brewpub called Zum Uerige in Düsseldorf. They basically only serve one beer - an Alt beer. Now it turns out that a couple of times a year they brew a special batch called Sticke - which is local slang for "secret." They don't advertise or promote it. On the day before, they hang a sign (in slang) that says "Tomorrow Sticke." I had never tasted this beer, so I asked the brewery when it was next going to be served, and it turns out the dates are not such a secret - the third Tuesday in January and October. So I decided to go (this was October 1988). And it turns out that three friends that are also homebrewers decided to come along. So was born Sticke 98."

Fred still goes more or less every year, usually to co-incide with Sticke night. In fact I met him there last year. This time he had twenty plus people with him. Though it wasn't Sticke Night, they had arranged with the brewery to have a barrel of Sticke held back and this was duly produced. At around 6.5% it is considerably stronger than the normal alt, but on this occasion, was a little too sweet and not entirely clear. I and Tom Perrera, another old mate who runs Knickerbocker Beer Tours and now brews at Webster's Brewpub in Duisberg switched to the normal and more refreshing ordinary alt. Incidentally, but interestingly, Tom tells me he has persuaded the owners of Websters to let him brew an American style IPA. Good luck to him on that one.

We left the warriors busily consuming vast quantities of sticke alt and equally vast quantities of pork knuckle. Next day we met Fred in Cologne. "Did you finish off the barrel?" I asked. "Yes" he replied with a grin. Well done lads!

I believe it was a 50 litre barrel. At 25cl glasses, that's 200 glasses. Respect to the Warriors!

No Longer in the Schwemme of Things

My thoughts on the German pub scene are still in the formulative stages, so you'll have to wait for that one. Instead I'll share a few observations of the German Rauchsverbot or smoking ban, as applied in North Rhine-Westphalia. Unlike the Bavarian version, this state allows smoking in separate enclosed rooms and one roomed pubs are exempt, thus making this drinker avoid a number of promising boozers. The smoke also chased us out of the Pilsner Urquell Ausschank after one hastily consumed half litre of U Fleku dark.

Of course my drinking in Dusseldorf was largely confined to the classic brew pubs and it was here the hurt was deepest. It started off promisingly though in F Schumacher's Altstadt pub. Here in the schwemme or public bar, (my favourite spot so I can watch the barrels being tapped and the beers poured,) there was no smoking - in fact it was no smoking throughout. I always think the delicately balanced, hop infused alt here is the finest to be had and many glasses were consumed over the two days we were there. This lulled us into a false sense of security, as across the road, Zum Schlussel's schwemme was a smoking zone. Damn. Fortunately this is my least favourite alt, though by no means bad, so we had a couple in a separate no smoking area and left. Later that day we were due to meet some American friends in Zum Uerige, in my opinion, one of the best pubs in the world. Here, my favourite room was given over entirely to smokers. Curses. I love that room. We fled to the comfort of the side room where at least, we could watch the beer being poured, as uniquely among the four home brew pubs, the schwemme is not the setting for beer dispense. I like Uerige's Alt, more distinctly bitter than the others and very, very drinkable.

The next day in a sleetstorm, we headed for Im Fuchsen - The Fox. Here the schwemme was firmly no smoking with the alcove at the right , previously part of the main schwemme, now with doors on it and a new sign saying "Raucherschwemme". We settled in at one of the typical high tables here, having quite a few glasses of another well balanced alt.

It seems that North Rhine-Westphalia has reached a reasonable compromise as far as big pubs go. The smokers are confined to small enclosed areas. Regrettably the apparent exemption for one roomed pubs makes quite a few places unpleasant to visit. There was no sign of diminished business in any of these pubs, in fact all were going like a fair, but the quality of the beer and the general "offering" is outstanding, so why should it?

The figures in the photo are in the schwemme in Zum Uerige.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Busy Bloggers

There's been a lot since I went away I want to comment on. I'll do my report on my travels later, but I want to concentrate on my observations of the German pub scene. It was booming. I think I understand why it is, and how it might influence or compare with the UK.

I need to think it through though before writing it down. I doubt if it will give much hope to publicans here though.

Monday 8 December 2008


We're off there for a couple of nights, with a day in Cologne on the way back. Bit of Christmas Markets, some alt and some koelsch doesn't sound too bad does it?

Be good.

Sunday 7 December 2008

The Brewster of Huddersfield

After a particularly long National Winter Ales Festival Meeting, the Organiser, my mate Graham and his Deputy, his mate me, tottered into the Marble Arch for something pale and hoppy to wash away the taste of the Draught Bass we'd been forced to drink in the Unicorn. We - all of us - not just Graham and I, had supped them dry of Copper Dragon IPA and Golden Pippin. The new nine of Pippin lasted barely an hour. It left Draught Bass, a beer that so resembled Pedigree that it might have been a tweak of it. We choked one down and had no more.

Back in the Marble, pints of the daftly named "Pint" were procured and a mate of mine grabbed my ear. "Let me introduce you to a couple of people you'll like". The two lasses turned out to be the owners of Mallinson's Huddersfield Brewery and we sat down to find out a little more. The first surprise was that she knew of me; "you wouldn't be Tandleman?" she enquired! It seems Tara (right) and her business partner Elaine (left) are readers and liked what I wrote about their beers when I visited Huddersfield. We had a pleasant half hour with them, listening to their beer philosophy - scrupulous cleanliness and lots of hops might sum it up. They welcome critical feedback and confirmed that I should tell it as I saw it. They regard all feedback as useful.

Graham was interested in just how many breweries are run by women. Tara knows a few and Graham was able to add a couple more. He has a notion of getting a few of them together at National Winter Ales.Not a bad idea if they are all as enthusiastic as these two!

There is a handy list of outlets on the brewery's web site. They are also doing the house beer at the New Oxford in Salford. I'll report on it soon.

Thursday 4 December 2008

The Great Divide

I came across this map which would seem to me to be a good way of illustrating where beer is likely to be sparkled and where it is likely not.

Above the line - sparklers, below - no sparklers. All the really good beer drinking cities are above the line. There. That's sorted it.

I'm not certain about Wales, but I reckon it is in the sparkled camp, as is Scotland

Monday 1 December 2008

Beef Carbonade

Yesterday, for our evening meal, we had my home made beef carbonade made with Lees Moonraker Strong Ale. Started off in a cast iron casserole dish and finished off in our slow cooker, it was very fine indeed and an ideal dish to come home to after our pub visit.

First Bus even chipped in by making us wait, busless, in the sub zero temperatures until we were cold enough to really appreciate a warming stew. Well done on that one!

"It’s theer mon, rake it eawt " is what the peasants are alleged to have said as they tried to capture the moon's reflection.

Axe the Tax

The "Axe The Beer Tax" campaign brings together all those with an interest in saving the British pub according to their website. The aims are as follows:

• To stop plans to increase beer tax by up to a third
• To enforce existing laws – not create new ones - to deal firmly with irresponsible drinkers and premises
• To end the irresponsible promotion of alcohol in supermarkets, pubs and elsewhere
• To trust responsible adults to make informed choices about what they drink, not punish them for the actions of an irresponsible minority
• To support the British pub as a vital part of social life in local communities.

To get it all in the public eye, there were a number of high profile launches last week, using rather fetching TV personalities. The campaign is supported by many groups including my own local brewery JW Lees. Others include Wells, AB, Punch Taverns, Diageo as well as many other trade big hitters. I am glad to see CAMRA's logo prominently displayed too.

Cynics might scoff at this, but I feel that action of this sort is very much needed and should be supported. You can do so by following various links on the site. If you agree, why not sign up? The worst that can happen is that the Home Secretary will send Plod round to have a word with you!

Pictured is Kym Marsh who plays Coronation St barmaid Michelle Connor

Plum Pudding

Lees annual festive beer, Plum Pudding, is back on sale and pretty good it is too, with dry plum skins, fruitiness and a clean, bitter, aromatic finish. I finished the session on it yesterday, having drunk some superb Brewer's Dark, the bitter being a bit off the mark on this occasion.

A footnote to this is that it was tried by accident in a way. We were expecting Lees other seasonal, Winter Warmer at the Tavern, but the brewery sent the wrong beer! Ah well, no hardship as it turns out and hopefully I'll try the Winter Warmer at the brewery when I visit on Friday.

Saturday 29 November 2008

Ice Cold in Glasgow

On my way back south, I called in to a couple of GBG pubs by Glasgow Central Station. One, the Toby Jug is an old favourite. I used to work for another pub in the same group when it was owned by Eadie Cairns, who then owned Auchentoshan Distillery and a few pubs too. Goodness knows who owns it now. Or the distillery for that matter. It has sold cask as long as I can remember, though there may have been gaps I don't know about. Three beers on offer - the ubiquitous Landlord and two from Arran Brewery, Dark and Fireside. The Dark was pleasant and inoffensive, while the Fireside, promising ginger within, delivered on the nose, but less in the taste. It was decent enough and I learned from a customer that Arran Brewery, which went bust and has been relaunched, is either relocating, or has relocated from the island to Glasgow. Another interesting feature of the pub was the price list that grouped draught beers into "CO2" beers, "mixed gas beers" and "lagers". An odd thing I thought.

A pub I haven't been in before and will think twice about before visiting again, is the Drum and Monkey in St Vincent St. It is a nice place, reminiscent of a Gentleman's Club, with three cask beers on. It is Cask Marque listed if you like to know that sort of thing. I dismissed Caley 80/- and Deuchars IPA out of hand, but the third wicket dispensed Morrisey Fox Blond, so I plumped for that. The unsmiling barmaid and I got off on the wrong foot straight away. Standing where I was, I noticed all three swan necks were devoid of sparkler, but a sparkler was sitting on a drip tray. "Aha" I surmised. "You have to ask for it." So I did. The Goth like barmaid demurred. "It will be fine without it" says she. "Maybe" says I "but it is my personal preference to have it sparkled, so please do so." She did so huffily and managed the whole of the rest of the transaction without speaking. I watched the scene. There were three young women running the bar. There was about ten customers, including three at the bar. The staff seemed pre-occupied by rearranging the furniture, talking amongst themselves and consulting sheets of information of some kind. Customers came a poor second. I was served by a different barmaid for my second pint. She seemed to be in charge and immediately got the sparkler and said "You prefer a sparkler. Right?" I agreed and tried to engage her in conversation about the beer. I was batted aside with a Jean Brodie like indifference and the lass retreated to her chums at the bottom end of the bar, where, like the witches of Macbeth, they huddled together. A ginger haired guy at the bar tried to chat to the apparent boss woman too, but got nowhere. He had no doubt observed my attempts, so we were united in our need for that touch of human contact that the lone drinker hopes for in a pub visit. Our eyes locked and we shrugged - beaten!

You read about pubs being in difficulty and it is annoying to find a decent looking boozer run so coldly in such bad economic times. I have to say it is most unusual in Glasgow, where the welcome is usually warm. So who owns this place? Well, oddly it is Nicolsons, who mainly run pubs in London. I didn't know they had any elsewhere. Their web site says "The fundamentals of success for Nicholson’s remain constant; providing timeless hospitality to customers". Not in the Drum and Monkey on my visit they didn't! Anyway what about the Morrisey Fox? God knows where this version was brewed, but it was very good indeed, with a good balance of malt and hop, though perhaps a tad too sweet. I'd drink it again happily, but in a cheerier pub please!

As a footnote, on the way home I called in with Graham to the Angel in Manchester. I have mentioned the wonderful welcome and service here before. There were only two lasses running that pub, but they couldn't have been more warm and welcoming. It seemed to come naturally to them. Maybe that's the secret?

The second photo shows the ice covered lager founts in the Drum and Monkey. Never seen ice that thick on a beer fount before!

Monday 24 November 2008

Around the Beer Blogs (4)

It's been quite some time hasn't it, but back by popular demand (well YCC demand actually) is this occasional look at what other beer bloggers have been up to. It was in fact May when I last did one of these and I keep meaning to, but you know how it is.

Right. Lets get cracking. I think I'll look at some newcomers first. Jeff Pickall used to be a thorn in the side of contributors to beer related "Usenet" sites such as, but this and these are more or less moribund now. Instead Jeff has started his own blog, plugging similar issues there. The good thing about a blog like his is the opinions are very personal and you have little doubt where he is coming from with posts like "Why I'm not a member of CAMRA" and "I feel Dirty and Ashamed" where he has a pop at JDW. I enjoy replying to him, even if I don't agree with everything he says.

The Bitten Bullet is written by an Irishman living in North Germany. Now I am a big fan of German beer, but he manages to squeeze out wonderful descriptions about beers I'd struggle on. Well done on that one. He has a mission to encourage the somewhat narrow minded German public to drink better and different beers. Now that's a worthwhile challenge. A blog that is always well written and interesting, especially if you have an interest in German beer as I do.

The Reluctant Scooper is quite eclectic in his choice of subjects. He admits (or is it boasts) of being a CAMRA member for economic reasons - to get into beer festivals cheap or free. And why not? He is also one of the Rate Beer gang, which somehow doesn't attract me. I liked his report on his day at Thornbridge Brewery and his views of the various beer festivals he attends. He is unafraid to criticise, which I also like. Anyone who says a beer is "shite" when he thinks it is, is a good 'un in my book. Unlike other reports, he actually made me feel as though I missed out by not attending "Beer Exposed". Not sure if his uncritical love of Thornbridge and Meantime is wholly agreed, but nonetheless, a very readable blog.

The last of the newcomers I'll mention this time is Dave's Beer Blog. Well written by a Cumbrian pub owner and brewer, I recommend this highly. Always thoughtful, covering interesting subject matter such as the beer tie, beer duty, CAMRA, beer tasting, JDW and more make this my kind of blog.

And now the old lags. I've always liked Boak and Bailey and their unique take on things. The last few months have been great and what photography. Their posts always have lovely illustrations which put mine to shame. Like me they are big fans of Germany, so that's not bad either. Ron Pattinson does some great stuff, particularly when he describes his various boozy jaunts. I loved his Copenhagen reports and his trips to other places are described in a way I like. Ron, you need to get out more, just so I can read about it!

One blog that has stuttered a bit is Impy Malting. I think this is one of the most acutely observed blogs there is (even if I appear to have been banned from commenting on it for reasons unknown.) When I say stuttered, I mean in quantity, not quality. I know Allyson felt she was getting too much flak and too many trolls, as she said so in her blog, but I hope she can overcome this, as her observations are so worthwhile, even when I don't agree with them. I love her use of words such as "tipsy", "swanky" and "grumpy" and her description of drinking herself "silly" in Brussels was sublime.

A few more to finish off with, as I really need to get packed for my trip to see my Mum in Scotland. The Beer Nut, who I met in London, has been out and about a fair bit. His notes on the Copenhagen bash were full and insightful as usual. He has also been up to Belfast for Belfast CAMRA's Real Ale Beano and gave it a slight demerit as the Yanks would say. The advice on cask ale fests though, is always get there on day one. The beer is best then. I also got a laugh from Knut Albert's comment on his visit "Did everyone have to shave their heads at the entrance to the festival?" Have a look at the photos to see why.

Tyson's back. After a pause of a couple of months, he has returned and is supping as well as ever. His observations on beer are well worth reading and his reflections on the antics of Eddie, WHB, the Manx Minx and the rest of his motley crew, must have his readers wondering if they really exist. They do! Good to have him back as waspish as ever.

Last couple - I do need to get on you know - Young CAMRA Collective have been bigging up Brew Dog, Hawse Buckler and a lot of excellent sounding pubs in their neck(s) of the wood. They have also joined the love in for Fullers Porter, which I singularly failed to find on my last London visit and which I won't now it seems, as I'll be too late. I like that they comment on parts of the country that I don't know so well.

No round up would be complete without a reference to Jeffrey Bell or the blogger formerly known as Stonch. A lot of his stuff these days is based around the pub which he runs, and why not? He still shoves in a lot of other well observed stuff - I thought his Gastropub post deserved a few more replies and his piece on Eatin's Cheatin' was excellent too. As always Jeff has his own angle on things, but that's what a blog should do. His posts tend to be short and to the point these days, but a few follow ups would be good though; for example on Wallsend Brown Ale. Did it go well? We don't know, but I'd be interested to find out.

So that's it for the time being folks. As always, sorry if you didn't get a mention this time, but no doubt next time you will.

Quote of the Week

Yes I know it's last week, but do you know a better one? Quote that is, not week! I still smile whenever I think about it. Well done Tyson.

And the quote: "Apparently it was National Tweed Underpants Day, which is a sacred day on the IOM."

The Pub Cat

Maieb mentioned pub cats the other day. I like pub cats and of course, as mentioned here before, our pub has one. I remember her arriving for the first time, shivering with terror, one Saturday afternoon, rescued from Oldham Cats Shelter, by our dog loving landlady. Quickly named "Snug" after the small room off the main one in the pub, she gained confidence and now, amid the many dogs that come on a Sunday particularly, she strides the pub nonchalantly and with a "this is my pub attitude". She is my little pal.

On Saturday, I called for a sharpener after my day out in Chester. Snug was asleep in the empty basket from which fresh farm eggs are normally sold. She likes it there, but usually the basket is full. When this favoured spot is not available, she is likely to be found fast asleep on a stool at the bar, no matter how busy things are around her.

On this visit, the Landlady, woke her up, perhaps unkindly, to put some festive headgear on her. The result was the above photo which the ever patient Snug put up with, with the equivalent of a cat shrug.

The other photo was taken in more normal circumstances. Isn't she great?

Feeling My Age

Today this blog is one year old. Surely more than that I hear you say? But no, I started with this "project" on Monday 26th November 2007, with this post about the sparkler. Before the post you are reading now, there have been 290 others. Hopefully, some of them at least, worthwhile.

A lot of subject matter has been covered too since then and a lot of comments have been made. Thanks for them. Comments really do make it worthwhile, including and probably even particularly, those that don't agree with what has been written. Debate is good.

Blogging though is a personal thing. It is looking out at the beer world through ones own eyes. It isn't a consensual thing really, but a lot of opinions that some may share and some may not. We all do it differently and it is good to see new British Beer Blogs starting up and established ones thriving and providing interest. The common bond is that beer and beer drinking fascinates us all and makes the world seem a cheerier place.

Anyway, that's it - the occasion is duly marked and now I have to respond to another blogger's daft opinions. Please continue to do the same with mine!

Saturday 22 November 2008

Spitting Feathers

Chester is an easy one hour train ride from Manchester and the boys from the THT were eagerly anticipating the beery delights therein. We cheerily made our way along the canal to our first stop, Old Harkers Arms, arriving just as the bolts slid back, promptly at half past eleven. Game on. A decent display of beer awaited us and we slid straight into it with three of us opting for Brewers Gold from Crouch Vale which was in excellent form, and one deciding on Landlord. This is an excellent up market pub, with cheery attentive staff and very well kept beer. Even as first customers, it was clear that all the lines had been pulled through to provide fresh beer. Well done. None of this was cheap mind you, with most beers hitting the £3+ mark, but at least the surroundings and the sheer quality of the offering went a long way to justifying it. A shower of rain kept us there for another, with Cheshire No3 from Phoenix being added to those sampled. I also tasted the Weetwood Eastgate Ale, but wasn't impressed by its sharpness, so more Brewers Gold went down red lane instead. Suffice to say the Phoenix beer was bitter and hoppy. We left by a different door and discovered we had missed another bank of six handpumps. Damn. We'd have to come back later!

Further along the Shropshire Union Canal is the Mill Hotel. An odd up market place this, but no slouch on the beer front, with sixteen handpumps primed and ready. The choice was eclectic and bewildering. Beers from Atlas, Cairngorm, Phoenix and Weetwood were tried, but by this time the conversation and ale were flowing, so no tasting notes. There is a lot going on here in this comfortable bar and one thing to mention is price. All the beers were less than £2.50 a pint, some even under £2. Well done.

Next up was the Bear and Billet owned by Manx Brewer Okells. This very old building could probably have been treated a little better inside, but the choice was fairly good, though we all opted for the Okells Bitter which was brown, with honeyed overtones and a good hoppy finish. Old fashioned in a good way. Here though we found that Chester's own Spitting Feathers Brewery Tap had opened its doors for the first time the day before, so we went of course. In a very old building indeed, with a huge high ceiling, an old and I mean very old sandstone fireplace behind the bar, another big room to the side and a distinct smell of paint, this is an excellent almost baronial addition to the Chester scene. Eight handpulls offer a mix of Spitting Feather's own beer and guests, on this visit, from Facers, Titanic, Wentworth and Breconshire, so plenty of choice. We opted for Dave Facer's This Splendid Ale, which was indeed splendid. I am sorry to report that samples of the three Spitting Feathers beers on offer didn't tempt any of us into a purchase. Not bad beers, but really given the excellent beers we had enjoyed, rather ordinary. They need to up their game to match the surroundings of this wonderful boozer.

After this it was culture for the boys with a canter round the Cathedral while I enjoyed a quiet but forgettable pint in the Victoria Inn, a pub of absolutely no redeeming features whatever. Then we made our way back to the station where we called in again to Old Harkers. The place was jumping with office workers enjoying an after work drink and we mopped up some more beer. The Crouch Vale was gone, but by now, in little mood for experimenting, the boys went for Landlord. On a whim - OK, my judgement was impaired by alcohol - I tried a London Pride, served in excellent condition, Northern style, through a sparkler. It didn't disguise at all the underlying honey sweetness of this ordinary beer one bit. Where on earth are the hops?

The train journey home was spent amid a noisy, cheery, but slightly menacing bunch of Welsh speaking, cans of cider drinking, members of the travelling fraternity. Back in Piccadilly, John S and I went across the road to the Bulls Head to await E, whose train was due in an hour. To my chagrin, it appears this ex Burtonwod house has been acquired by Jennings / Marstons. Cumberland Ale was fine, but my back was playing up after Bury Beer Festival and I allowed my mate John to choose my second beer for me. Pedigree is just awful isn't it?

A good day out. Chester is a great place to drink. Go there!

Thursday 20 November 2008

Chester Bound

I'm off to Chester tomorrow with my pub mates. It should be fun, particularly as I'm in charge of finding good beer, while they sort out the cultural diversions. They are all culture buffs, but beer tends to elbow culture aside in these little excursions and I'm guessing tomorrow will be no exception. There is a Lees tied house there and my mates expressed an interest in visiting. It gets a hold of you does John Willies.

Last night Graham and I had a few beers. As I have taken flak for saying bad things about brewers and their beer, I'll simply report that it was all very nice.

Durham Bees Knees was drunk in the Smithfield only after being assured it had no honey in it!

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Brewers Fall Out

It seems that Hall and Woodhouse of Badger Beers fame, have been complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority about a Wells and Young advert. The issue was that the advert, referring to Banana Bread Beer and Waggle Dance, contained the claim “No.1 & No.2 flavoured premium bottled ales”. "Not so" say our Badger friends. At least not for the period claimed. They say that their Golden Glory and Golden Champion, outsold the Wells & Young’s beers during the specified period and, therefore, the advert was misleading.

"Ha" say the Bedford Boys, "Yours are Golden Ales, not flavoured ales, so we are right!".

Picking the bones out of this complex one, the ASA backed H&W, agreeing they are all flavoured beers and that Wells and Young should withdraw their advert.

Reminds me of two bald men fighting over a comb!

Buying Out? Not me Ted!

I quote from the Morning Advertiser here: Ted Tuppen the Enterprise Inns Chief described buying out of the tie as the equivalent of stealing. Tuppen said: “We’re taking no truck with those who deliberately breach the terms of their agreement. They risk gaining Robin Hood status. But if licensees breach their supply terms, they’re stealing from us.”

Quite. And he's such a tough looking chap, I don't think I'd dare, just in case he came round to sort it out in person!

Monday 17 November 2008

Burying Bury

Did you know that Bury is one of the smallest Unitary Councils in England? It probably explains why the town seems to be thriving - at least as far as new building is concerned. But enough on this.

The official beer of Bury Beer Festival, as voted by the punters, was Dunham Massey Chocolate Cherry Mild. An interesting choice really, with its very strong cherry and almond flavours, but good in that it shows that the drinking public are unafraid of challenging tastes. It has an impressive track record of winning festival awards, so well done again.

What else was good? Brew Dog's Punk IPA was impressive, as was the Coffee Stout, particularly as you couldn't really taste much by way of coffee. Good call that I'd say. Phoenix were as usual superb, sold out pretty rapidly and the new Simco showed much promise with its perfumy bitterness. The strong and bitter Outstanding Stout and the lemony Pilsner were terrific, though Standing Out didn't work for me. Leeds Brewery's beers sold well and were popular, though I thought them well made rather than exciting. Grindleton's beers were up there with the best of them, the pale Ribble Rouser proving particularly popular. To sum up the rest of the good, beers from Marble, Dark Star, George Wright and Wentworth didn't disappoint and the Thornbridge Wild Swan packed a lot of flavour in for a 3.5% beer. It was a bit expensive though, but then they do have a lot of brewers to pay!

The not so good? The usually dependable Millstone seemed dull and underwhelming. Pennine didn't shine either, Little Valley were forgettable, Hopstar a work in progress with Greenmill the same. The three F's, Facers, Foxfield and Fyfe all could have done better, with the usually dependable Facers not producing the bitterness we usually expect. And we had Boggart. They supplied a lot of the beers which was good. I didn't care much for their own beers though, but some signs of improvement can just about be detected.

Any beers I didn't mention were so-so or forgettable. Only my opinion of course, but we sold the lot more or less, except the Sheffield Seven Hills in its bright yellow cask. It remained stubbornly cloudy throughout and will go back for a credit.

We signed up 23 new CAMRA members too. Well done!!

Sunday 16 November 2008

The Beer Of the Festival

Well it is over now thank goodness. Back breaking and satisfying though it is, the best feeling now is that we don't have to do it again for a while. Life can return to normal.

We sold out. All but two lonely casks with a few gallons in them. What two? Perhaps no surprises, Boggart Dark Mild was one and the other was Brown Porter from Foxfield Brewery (mentioned in Dave's Beer Blog.) A small satisfaction to me was that the bar I managed sold out completely, so with the main hall empty and the remaining customers attacking the Foreign Beer Bar with gusto in the other room, I took a few moments in the empty hall with a colleague to sample the two lonely rejects. The Boggart wasn't that bad really. Strong for a mild at four percent it was dark, chewy and had a faint underlying earthiness that didn't sit well. At 3.2 abv, the Brown Porter, oddly, one of the most expensive beers to purchase. It was fruity, gloopy, slightly sweet and ordinary. It wasn't the kind of beer you would ever want more than one of. I've a tip for brewers here. Brew beers that you want more than one of. It will help you sell them!

After doing some light dismantling, we retired to the Foreign Beer Bar as by now the remaining punters had been chucked out. My palate was jaded but perked up no end by a bottle of Gueze Boon, its balanced acidity cutting through the past few days nicely. This left me with the dilemma of a nightcap. Brooklyn Brewery East India Pale with its bucketful of hops and a powerful kick of 6.8% alcohol did the trick. I felt content. The taxi journey home was still a blessed relief.

You thought I'd forgotten the Beer of the Festival didn't you? For me it was a Southern interloper, Dark Star Hophead. It was perfect. I'll let you know the official winner in due course.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Ready to Go!

The beer festival is now ready. We have vented and tapped all the beers, dealt with the inevitable spills and a plea to those using plastic keystones on plastic casks. Please don't. They are as loose as a rattly cough and we had to replace a couple with wood today. Wood expands when wet and makes a good seal. Plastic doesn't. We lost a few pints over that one. We also had a few problems with our plastic friends moving as we hammered in the taps. Still, we are there. Just pull through 30 beer lines, attach the cask end stickers and that's it.

One of the benefits of looking after the beer is you get the odd taster. Brew Dog Coffee Stout was complex and at 9%, not for the faint hearted. Marble Ginger was clean, fiery and appealing, Dunham Massey Chocolate Cherry Mild was a powerful mix of cherries and marzipan and Phoenix Simcoe promises to be a belter.

I'll leave you with the picture above, which I thought amusing.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Festival Beers

In my last post I said we had lots of good beers for Bury.Well here they are. Judge for yourself!

Acorn Barnsley Bitter
Banktop Dark Mild
Banktop Bolton Brau
Boggart Dark Mild
Boggart Chocolate Noir
Boggart Waterloo Sunset Porter
Bowland Real Lancashire Bitter
Bowland Octo-Beer
Bradfield Farmers Bitter
Bradfield Farmers Stout
Brewdog Punk IPA
Brewdog Coffee Stout
Cumbrian Legendary Wicked Jimmy
Cumbrian Legendary Buttermere Beauty
Darkstar Hop Head
Darkstar Over The Moon
Darkstar Best Bitter
Darkstar Espresso Stout
Dunham Massey Chocolate Cherry Mild
Dunham Massey Treacle Treat
Dunham Massey Winter Warmer
Facers Northern County
Facers Landslide
Foxfield Brown Porter
Foxfield Sands
Fyfe Weiss Squad
Fyfe Fidra
George Wright Black Swan
George Wright Drunken Duck
George Wright Roman Black Beer
Greenfield Gardeners Hop
Greenmill Cobra Crystal Wheat
Greenmill Chief
Greenmill Bewitched
Grindleton Ribble Rouser
Grindleton Farleys Dusk
Hopstar Lancashire Gold
Hopstar Singing Mouse
Hopstar Karling
Howard Town Sparrows Nest
Howard Town Snake
Leeds Leeds Pale
Leeds Leeds Best
Leeds Midnight Bell
Little Valley Withens IPA
Little Valley Cragg Vale
Little Valley Tods Blonde
Marble Ginger
Marble Chocolate Heavy
Millstone Royal Oak
Millstone Three Shires Extra
Outstanding Blonde
Outstanding Pilsner
Outstanding White
Outstanding Stout
Pennine Floral Dance
Pennine White Owl
Pennine Pitch Porter
Pennine Sunshine
Phoenix Spotland Gold
Phoenix Arizona
Phoenix Simco
Phoenix Wobbly Bob
Sheffield Seven Hills
Thornbridge Wild Swan
Wentworth WPA
Wentworth Oatmeal Stout

Lists can be boring, but it's my blog!

The photo shows one of Brew Dog's plastic casks, which are a cellarman's nightmare! The metal casks are much easier to handle.

Festival Time Again

I've been setting up all day for Bury Beer Festival. Into an empty, ancient hall, with no goods lift and a lot of steep stairs, a few old men have carted a mountain of heavy kit. We have already transformed it into something that looks pretty good. However CAMRA needs younger members to take over this task. Frankly, it is a miracle we do what we do, but like cask mild we are fading away. CAMRA has loads of young members, but few active ones. They seem to regard it as a social club, which is fair enough to a point, but all social clubs need someone to run them and to do the things that make it all worthwhile. Time is against us, so if you like beers festivals and are a young CAMRA member- and I'd say in this context under forty - do offer your local CAMRA branch help. It really will make a difference. (Respect to Maieb in this context!)

Still, it's all in there now and Sunday, when we have to take it all down again, seems far away. In the meantime we have lots of good beer and bonus, you lucky people. I'll be looking after the beer, so it will be as good as any festival in the land. Don't believe it? Come along and see for yourself!

Sunday 9 November 2008

The Bricklayers Arms

It's a long way to Putney on the tube for me. Sixteen underground stations, but egged on by Wurst aka Whorst, the reformed blog commentator, I persuaded E to go. Well it was a pissing wet day and it would be different. We started off badly and well respectively. Badly in that we went one tube too far because of my stupidity in mixing up my stations and well because the longish walk to the right tube station took us past the local JDW and I needed a pee. It would have been rude not to have a beer and what was on the bar? Yes, my elusive St Austell Proper Job. I had already been goaded by Tyson that morning, who texted me at 11.30 a.m. to say he was supping it in Manchester and it was good. The Railway is to my mind one of the better Wetherspoons I've been in. Not as cavernous as many, a good mix of customers and a pleasant atmoshpere. The Proper Job was indeed proper. So proper in fact that I struggled not to have another, but as E pointed out, we hadn't yet found the Bricklayers. Reluctantly I left without having another of this pale, hoppy, complex and rewarding beer which was in top form.

It was easy to find the Bricklayers (and just as easy to find the correct tube station afterwards.) Slightly set back from the road and bright and cheerful lookinng from the outside. Inside it has a slighly unusual shape with a good semi circular bar serving a full range of Timothy Taylor beers and just one guest, Dark Star Espresso Stout. Now I had taken the precaution of checking the pub's web site before going to it. The guest beer list was a couple of weeks out of date. Slight black mark for that, but a bigger one for not mentioning that the pub will close next week for urgent repairs and renovation. Wouldn't you think the web site might be a good place to mention that? I'd have been pissed off if I'd gone all that way to find it shut!

What of the beer? Well it was around 3 degrees Celsius too warm in my view and a bit below par in condition. It just lacked that cleanness that Taylors should have. A sort of blurry edge to the beers that you just don't get with cask conditioning at its peak. The good thing was that a sparkler was produced without demur for me. A couple of the locals took interest in this aspect and asked for their beers to be pulled that way. They enjoyed them and one said "It just looks better". Hopefully I've started a trend. Taylor's beers should be sparkled. End of!

I tried the Dark Mild which slightly lacked condition and the Landlord, which had good flavours but was just off the boil.. The Dark Star Espresso Stout was good. A vast improvement on the ghastly Coffee Porter I'd had from Meantime, but I doubt if coffee flavoured beers really hit my spot. We stayed for four pints and I liked the pub. It had a nice buzz, chatty customers, was friendly and I will come back.

My verdict? Not quite the classic I was hoping for, but well worth the visit and I'm assuming the lack of guest beers was down to the imminent closure for a week, so no issue with that.

I liked Putney. It had a nice feel to it and our first ever Brazilian meal wasn't bad either, but I won't be requiring much meat for a bit now!

Saturday 8 November 2008

A Bit of a Discovery or Three

When I come to London, I usually have a Friday wander while E brings home the bacon. But where to go? I did think very seriously about Wurst's suggestion of the Bricklayers Arms in Putney, but decided it was a bit too far out. So where then? Fortunately Scoopergen has just published a London update. It isn't the biggest list in the world - well it wouldn't be would it? - but it gave me an idea. I could visit The Old Fountain, just off the City Road and new to me, then nip over to the Wenlock. But first I was determined to visit St Pancras to have a look at the station and to have a pint in Betjeman Arms on the Upper Concourse which by happenstance, had a beer festival on.

St Pancras Station is a triumph. It has been renovated with sympathy and it is classy! I was very impressed, though what people will make of the attached Underground Station is quite another matter. The pub is tucked away in a corner and the beer festival was on a stillage outside it with around fifteen beers on gravity. There wasn't much exciting, but for me, the excitement was in the venue itself. Watching the hustle and bustle, while a performer sang opera on a stage in the opposite corner, was thrill enough. I was impressed! I chose Phoenix Rip Rap of course. It was flat as a pancake in appearance, but was full of condition and very tasty. I rang the brewer to tell him about it, but Tony was more interested in the station which I had to describe in detail. I had a second half while contentedly watching the world go by and at £3 a pint, perfectly resonable for the surroundings. I could have had a discount if I'd remembered my CAMRA card. Nice touch. On the way to the loos I had quick canter round the pub, dodging a posse of very young monks - yes really - and was equally impressed. Worth a visit with the worker I reckon.

I quick hop on the Northern Line took me to the Old Fountain, just off the City Road.. This looks like a dump from the outside with faded and peeling blue paint, but inside it is bustling, warm and friendly with a two bar layout. I chose the rear one which was busy with office workers enjoying lunchtime meals and pints. I digress, but I always like London for that. The lunchtime pint tradition, which has been decimated elsewhere, thrives here and it provided me with a cheerful backdrop to my supping. Seven different beers were on offer, all apart from London Pride, from micros. Hooray. I was spoilt for choice, but opted for Purity Gold and Dark Star Golden Gate. Both were served full of condition, albeit Southern style, but in this case the beers were so well looked after, it was neither here nor there. The friendly Irish barman chatted to me frequently while dashing about his business. He is the cellarman and knows his stuff. I stayed for two pints and left with some reluctance. This pub is hard to beat for choice, quality and sheer friendliness. I liked it a lot.

A lot has been written about the Wenlock and it's a few years since I've been there. It looks great from the outside, but as soon as you enter, a sourish smell assails you. You get used to it, but frankly the place looks filthy with a thick layer of dust over all the memorabilia on the walls and over the bar. It just looks in need of a good steam clean. The beer though was widely varied and the two halves I had were in excellent condition. Very noteworthy was the Oakham Hawse Buckler, which was complex, dark and very tasty. If I'd been in better surroundings, I'd have stayed for more.

I caught the bus home - buses are underrated in London - and popped in the Dispensary in Leman Street. Dark Star Golden Gate again and while not in the sparkling condition of the Old Fountain, was very acceptable indeed, with a very pleasing hop finish.

Later when the worker finished I walked over to Gracechurch St to JDW's Crosse Keys to join her. This is a huge and rather opulent Wetherspoon which I assume was a former banking hall. It has marble pillars and a huge dark wood and granite circular bar. It was buzzing with office workers and had around 15 of the JDW festival beers on and some of the most efficient staff I've seen in a JDW. I lost count of the number of times I was asked if I wanted served which is a bit of a first! We tried several between us though E was annoyed by the lack of pale beers. A good point. I liked Hilden's Molly's Stout, York's Centurion's Ghost and Titanic Russian Stout, thought the Clarks, and O'Hanlons OK to good and the Robinson's Chocolate Old Tom horrible.

So that was that. There were a few beers not tried. I wish I had tried the Mordue but chose not to. Maybe they have improved but I always avoid them. Maybe my bad! I will make a point of giving them another chance one day. St Austell Proper Job still eludes me.

I did though have a great day out in London with good well kept beers and good pubs too. The Old Fountain really hit the spot for me. I will be back there soon.

As a PS, I didn't pay more than £2.80 a pint except at St Pancras. Not bad really

Friday 7 November 2008

Oh Mr Porter (2)

Looking to try this year's version of Fuller's Porter, we called into the Chamberlain Hotel in Mansell Street last night. It is a bit of a posh gaff and had every cask beer Fullers produce more or less. They didn't have any Porter though.

Maybe somewhere today on my travels?

Thursday 6 November 2008

Oh Mr Porter

In August I wrote here about Meantime Coffee Porter. It was bottled then, but tonight I had the misfortune to have it on draught, courtesy of our old friends JDW.

I wasn't keen on the bottled version, but I didn't know, dodgy though it was, just how lucky I was that time. It wasn't nearly as bad as the cask version which is overwhelmingly like filter coffee dregs. It is dreadful. I couldn't finish my half. Avoid at all costs.

Just my opinion of course and that's all I have to say about it.