Wednesday 30 April 2008

Beer Stuff

As I sit and write this blog, while looking for inspiration, I often find my gaze drawn to my beer bookshelf. This is it (left)

I have some more of this stuff, but I'm not an obsessive. Right!

It isn't a Proper Map Stupid!

American's don't do irony, or so the belief goes. They also have a different sense of humour to us Brits in lots of ways. This is a stereotype! The only exception - and there must be one to prove the rule - is my mate Jeff, who has a very British sense of humour, but then he can trace his blood back to this sceptred isle. Why am I rambling on about this? Well my pal John who does something with computer programmes for the cotton trade, was in Yankley recently. He brought me back a bottle of beer.

Buzzards Bay Brewing is based in Westport Massachusetts. It was founded in 1998 and seems to major on lager. The beer John brought back for me is a pale ale. It is brown, the nose is caramelised malt. The beer is quite highly carbonated with malt dominating, with a slightly burnt flavour and little obvious hop. It finishes much the same. Short with just a smack of grapefruit hops. It is fairly ordinary except for one thing; the front label shows a buzzard against a background of a stylised map of the area. The back label says in block capitals "CHART ON FRONT NOT TO BE USED FOR NAVIGATIONAL PURPOSES".

Is this Yankee irony? If it is, it is very well done. If it isn't...................................

Tuesday 29 April 2008

More Choice for Rochdale?

I was phoned a couple of weeks ago by the new manager at the Flying Horse in Rochdale. He wanted CAMRA support for an in-house beer festival in May. He also told me he intended to widen the range of beers sold.

Last night we had a CAMRA committee meeting there. As well as the usual Lees, Phoenix and Taylor's, there were two new ones on me. Fulstow Brewery is from Lincolnshire and has one of the worst web sites ever. The beer was Pride of Fulstow (4.5%) which was brown and malty with a sweetish crystal malt finish. The other was Celtic Blonde from Duchy of Cornwall. Now that's a puzzle, but a bit of digging round indicates this is brewed for the Duchy of Cornwall - Prince Charles' mob, by The Ring O' Bells Brewery, Launceston, Cornwall - or maybe not. There is nothing on the Ring O'Bells rather exotic website to say so, but Quaffale reckons it is! This was a good, pale beer but lacked the needed hop bite that would have lifted it above ordinary.

Still if the Flying Horse is getting more adventurous, that's good isn't it?

The Flying Horse is opposite the Town Hall in the centre of Rochdale.

Monday 28 April 2008

Echoes From the Past

I am often struck by how much the past and present sit cheek by jowl in London. Yesterday's walk took us from home to Spitalfield Market, as I hadn't been since they tarted it up. It provided sufficient contrast to keep me interested and of course on the way I kept a weather eye for drinking establishments, past and present.

Behind our flat, in an area where there is much new development mixed with fairly new council housing and round the corner from a spanking new block of flats, sits a pub I have walked past many times. I have never seen the Dog and Truck open in the ten years we have had the flat round the corner, but then again, we tend only to pass this way at weekends, when presumably it is closed like a lot of pubs around here. In fact I only know it is still trading because of up to date notices in the window. The pub is decked out in Watney Combe and Reid regalia, faded now, but a perfect example of the 1960's preserved on the outside at least. I have made a mental note to call in one day soon. It is pictured (left).

We walked past the huge site of the former Black Eagle Brewery in Brick Lane, home to Truman's and later, around the market, I noted that the " Gun" is still tricked out in Truman's colours. These are not faded, the gilt having a recent gleam and the paintwork, while not new, is not thirty years old. It looks good and is a reminder when pubs like this were commonplace and when maybe the London pub scene was a better one in some ways than it is now, with Charrington, Watney, Courage, Trumans, Youngs and Fullers juking it out for custom.

One of the delights of London is that round every corner lurks a new possibility. Walking back for a much needed pint in the Pride of Spitalfields, we came across an ex Charrington pub, another couple with Truman's insignia (much more faded) and even the odd Courage cockerel. peeping out. I don't remember the names. Next time I'm exploring, I'll take a notebook with me!

Of course, not everything is sweetness and light. Back in the here and now, we entered the Pride of Spitalfields with hope in our hearts and me dragging my thirst behind me. We were anticipating a lovely pint of Crouch Vale Brewer's Gold, but alas it was finished and London Pride just wouldn't do. I needed pale and hoppy. We walked back past our flat, along Royal Mint St, passing the attractive Artful Dodger which doesn't live up to its potential at all, with its entrance blocking pool table and Greene King IPA. A brand new cask of Oakham JHB did the trick at the bustling Liberty Bounds, a JDW outlet.

Another sign of the times?

Saturday 26 April 2008

The Castle Revisited

Yesterday I had an appointment to meet my fellow beer blogger Stonch. We had agreed to meet at the Old Mitre in Hatton Garden. I noted that I would have to pass the Castle in Furnival St, which I had visited before and liked. It is a neat, large windowed free house, owned by the Red Car Pub Company. At lunchtime it was pleasantly busy, the crush being alleviated by those drinking outside due to the unseasonably warm weather. Now for a little bit of social commentary; I am always amazed that lunchtime drinking in London is as intense and popular as it is. It scarcely exists elsewhere, with puritan American work ethics wiping it out, but here is goes full tilt, with suited lads and attractive lasses, knocking it back for fun.

Back to the pub. There was a fair range on offer, but I observed that contrary to our Northern free houses that are dominated by pale and hoppy beers (hooray), the dominant feature here was brown and boring. Well that's on the face of it. In fact of the three beers I tried, one, Empire Longbow, was not very pale, but was hoppy and very clean. A good beer. Not so the Hampshire Taste of the Dragon which was brown with an odd smoky taste which I'd normally assume to be a brewing fault, but given the beer name, was probably intentional. Let me tell you this Hampshire - it doesn't work. The beer was awful. Lastly I tried Harvey's Porter. This had slight liquorice and was malty sweet. Not a bad beer, but no classic.

The landlord who was a pleasant sort had a chat with me. I remarked about the lack of pale hoppy beers. He pointed out that I hadn't tried one which was on - I hadn't as it was a beer I knew - and of course it was a kind of luck of the draw thing. Forthcoming beers were more to my taste.

Overall I rate this pub quite highly. It is well run, is very clean and it has a good choice of well kept beer. I'll be back.

Thursday 24 April 2008


Well we did find something to drink. Remarkably our local JDW (Goodman's Field) had Stone Double IPA on. I had three pints of it despite it being 7% abv. I won't go into detail again about this British brewed American inspired hop monster, except to say it is a great drinking experience.

Those who have passed on it have missed a treat.

It's Started Already!

I'm in my London abode for a few days. Getting off the tube at Algate I see that the Still and Star has a sign outside advertising Butcome Bitter as this month's guest. Not good. It's a malt monster and just too dark for a bitter, so I guess I'll need to look elsewhere. I note also that Shep's White Swan has a cellarmanship award on its outside wall. Shall I go there and check it out? Doubt it. Shep's beers do little for me and Early Bird, the seasonal, does even less.

Still E is just home. Maybe we'll find something to drink?

Wednesday 23 April 2008


I have been promising to write about this mysterious breed of beer drinker for some time, so here goes. In simple terms as I understand it, the name is given to those that write down and keep a permanent record of the beers they have drunk. The name ticker is also used and does not appear to have any actual difference in meaning to scooper, though there may be a slight tendency for the term ticker to be used more in the North. Less well used but widely understood is "scratcher". The benign theory about scoopers is that they are harmless oddballs with an excessive compulsive disorder, though Gazza Prescott, a leading scooper (and he should know) thinks it is more akin to Aspergers Syndrome. That may be so and would explain a lot, but in most cases, it is just a bunch of harmless social misfits getting their rocks off their way.

"So", you ask, "how do I recognise these geezers should I be glancing round the pub?" Well if you want the stereotype (and who doesn't,) you could look for a dishevelled, anorak wearing type, with bad teeth, unkempt hair - or what there is pulled back in one of these daft ponytails. He will often be alone, a social misfit, usually sporting a shoulder borne bag of some sort in which he keeps the tools of his trade. Another sure fire tip is that he will eagerly rush to the bar to check the pumpclips or blackboard and will usually order halves. His tools may vary from a Good Beer Guide - though this is laughed at by most - they have their own sources of good pubs and beer- various updates from his pals at Scoopergen and Scoopgen and a copy of the Imbiber (or whatever it is called now). There may also be a set of railway timetables (to plan the next "move"), a thick, well thumbed notebook (replaced in some cases by an electronic device) and maybe if the gadgie is a "bottler", a funnel and a set of Panda Cola bottles. Among the more disgusting things these guys do is swapping "winners" with each other by pouring "required" scoops into bottles for later consumption, thus increasing the scooping tally. And this is the point. These guys by and large are not interested in quality, but in numerical quantity, though of course there are some who are interested in both.

Right that's the stereotype. What's the reality? Well pretty much as above really. Of course like all groups there is vast variances from the more extreme examples above, to some very respectable, funny, chatty and erudite types, though you are far more likely to encounter the former than the latter. My old CAMRA Chairman Tony Molyneux for example, a renowned scooper, was a wonderful, hail fellow well met type who was a pleasure to be with. Unfortunately he is dead and I am not sure if there are many more like him. Most are rather introverted, taciturn individuals who you can spot a mile off (often on the bus or train while heading to the pub). They aren't usually interested in talking to you, though most are absolutely harmless. I think my fellow blogger Tyson describes them as "a benign nuisance". Not a bad description. These guys even have their own language. That is where "required", "bottler" and other terms come from. Scoopers call those that don't scoop "normals" probably without thinking through what this implies about them.

So is there a balancing side to these aberrants? Well yes. Scoopers have to some extent stimulated the market for cask beer by encouraging brewers to vary their range more often and to produce more "one off" beers. The down side of this is blending and rebadging, just so the tickers can tick one more off, though the scoopers are good at outing such practices. They also provide much needed information for those of us who just want a few pints of decent beer and with the advent of foreign scooping, a beacon for us to follow in some otherwise dark cities. That is a service I think we should thank them for wholeheartedly. I find Scoopergen an absolute treasure for my foreign travels, so thanks for that Gazza.

Like a lot of beer curious people, I have practised a form of scooping myself (though not a qualifying one because I didn't write it all down) in that 20 years ago I'd try as many different beers as possible in the hope of finding that Holy Grail, the perfect beer. I must have wasted thousands of pounds in doing so, by continually changing from a beer I was thoroughly enjoying, to one I subsequently found was shite. I haven't done that for years. Liver cells are far to precious to waste on such flippancy. Now I find a beer I like and tend to stick to it. Life's too short and cash too precious to chuck it away on bad beer, but tell THAT to a ticker.

Well there you have it. This note just scratches the surface of a vast and interesting sub culture. For those who wish to know more about this obscure sect of drinkers cum obsessives, I can recommend the site run by Gazza Prescott, Scoopergen, which is permanently linked left on this site. It tells it from the horses mouth and while it may have you shaking your head in bewilderment, it certainly is interesting and well written. There is also another scoopers site here which gives some of the scooping "rules". Good "gen" too about British pubs.

Scoopergen even has a handy picture gallery so you can spot all the scoopers when you go to a free house - their normal locus. Why not print a set off and make a game of it? See how many you can tick off. Scooping scoopers? It could catch on!

Tuesday 22 April 2008

Want a job in Marketing? Change your name to Emma!

I note from the Beer Buzzing blog that the Marketing person at Adnams is called Emma. JW Lees' marketing guru is called Emma, as is Hyde's. I feel uneasy about this. How many more Emmas are out there doing this stuff for Independent Brewers. Is there something sinister going on? I think we should be told!

Consolidation Not Over Yet?

And there isn't the profit there used to be
In watering the workers' beer
The recent further consolidation (reduction actually) in the Independent Brewing Sector by the S&N takeover of Caledonian and the selling of Refresh UK to Marston's, indicates that the remaining big players in the cask market in the UK still see expansion as necessary. In the case of Marston's, at least for the time being, they have found a middle way of buying emerging breweries and good existing ones and keeping the breweries open. This gives the advantage of having a portfolio of "flagship brands" such as Pedigree and strong local brands which can be sent throughout the UK through their own tied houses and the free trade. As the public tend to think of the local brands as "independent" or "micro" brewed beers, this has an advantage. Over capacity is no longer such an issue as it was, though as belts tighten, watch out for a change in this policy.

Greene King on the other hand, with the exception of Belhaven, has a more traditional approach to all this. They buy a brewery and its tied houses (as in the case of Hardy and Hanson), close the brewery and brew the "brands" to any old recipe in the parent brewery. This is the tried and trusted way that has gone on for years, but it is dated and no longer can be relied on. It is becoming clear that this approach does not meet the demands of a more sophisticated public, less inclined to buy GKIPA or whatever from Land's End to John O'Groats. People aren't really fooled by a mass of bland beers from one large brewery any more. In cask they are demanding variety.

The question now is who will be next to feel the hot sticky breath on their collar? You must cast an eye in the direction of the remaining Independent Family Brewers. Those that are left (28 of them surprisingly) are probably in it for the long haul, though there may be the odd one falls by the wayside. I simply don't know enough about how closely the family controls the businesses, but there are a few possible contenders, particularly those that are publicly quoted. Thwaites used to be a favourite for takeover speculation, with its large tied estate, but after years in the doldrums, I sense a new confidence there, so hopefully not. Fullers must always be a consideration, as must Youngs with their large London estates, (when in doubt follow the money) though I rather think the bigger brewers are looking at things a little differently now. Pubs alone won't do it. There are plenty good ones about that are making no money. Cain's isn't for sale though it would possibly fit Marston's bill. Charles Wells is a private company and should be safe, but I'd keep an eye on Hall and Woodhouse, who have already sold their free trade to Marston's. Most of the rest are too small to be attractive or are completely family owned though the possibility of family splits can never be ruled out.

So what's left? One possibility is building minority stakes in businesses that have a certain different appeal. How about some of the more innovative and larger micros like Osset and Skipton or those such as Meantime who are doing interesting things? I wouldn't bet against it!

Sunday 20 April 2008

Change of Scene

When I mentioned to Graham that E and I would be in Manchester later on Saturday, we agreed to meet for a drink. Still shell shocked from our Northern Quarter experience, we agreed to meet at the Knott Bar on the other side of town. This is not a traditional pub, rather a converted railway arch where the thunder of class 158 trains overhead mingles with the conversation of the many different types that frequent it. There are comfy sofas and low chairs, traditional tables and barstools. It is a pleasant place. Scanning the bar there was two Marble beers and a new one on me from Pictish. Admiral was pale, golden, hoppy and bitter in the typical Pictish style. It was so good all three of us stuck to it, though I did finish with a pint of excellently conditioned Ginger Marble after Graham had departed.

We walked back towards our bus, pausing to watch a display of marching and more from a Ghurka Band, celebrating 100 years of the Territorial Army. This was followed by a magnificent firework display. I had to wash the smuts out from my hair this morning. Inevitably we needed a pee after this. The nearby City Arms beckoned. The beers were largely mainstream, so I settled for Tetley Bitter which again I thoroughly enjoyed. E was less fortunate in her Coach House Cheshire Gold, but I could have predicted that!

Altogether a more satisfactory trip to Manchester then my most recent one and I got to hear an Army band play "Sunset". Who says it's grim up North?

Friday 18 April 2008

Running the Gauntlet

I have meant to mention this before, but haven't got round to it. Is it just me that is fed up of fighting my way into a pub and then out of it again, through a dense clump of cigarette smokers? More than one or two of the pubs visited yesterday had this unattractive feature as well as a distinct smell of smoke within, especially near the door, presumably from the smoke drifting in. This was added to by one landlady who simply pulled open the back door, stood within the frame and smoked into the pub while continuing her conversation and blowing her smoke inside.

OK I am feeling a bit curmudgeonly at the moment and the unseasonal cold weather isn't helping and of course it is much better than it used to be, but surely this is against the law?

One of Those Nights!

Now the Marble Arch is a very fine pub and brews its own beer as well as selling a wide variety of micro beers. That's good isn't it? After a very quiet week, it was time for a drink, so I met Graham there. I was early, so my first choice was the 3.8% Janine's One from Marble Brewery. This pale brew had some of the usual bitterness, but was tired and flabby, with a dying soapy head. Disappointing. Graham arrived and procured a pint of the ever reliable Spotland Gold from Phoenix. Unwisely I stuck with my Marble theme and had a pint of JP Best, currently Greater Manchester's beer of the year. Not on this form it wouldn't be. A bit chemical and again, slightly tired, it bore no resemblance to the beer I judged top at the Food and Drink Festival.

The next stop was the Crown and Kettle which didn't disappoint. The beer of choice was Oakham Inferno and while this wasn't served at the peak of condition, it was only a notch or two off, so we were happy with its taste and of course, its hoppiness. I first wrote about this beer here. Round the corner, over a very tricky to cross road, is the Fringe Bar which can be hit or miss. Tonight it was all miss. My first choice of Kelham Island Devil's Arcade went off as it was poured. I didn't fancy the Leeds Brewery Special and went without asking for a taste, for Oakham Oblivion. Now you can't get a bad Oakham beer can you? This was just awful. It was dark for a start which I wasn't expecting, had an unpleasant toilet cleaner harshness and a mess of conflicting tastes, all of them plain nasty. I was stunned. Tentatively I asked the barmaid if it was meant to taste like that. She replied that it had been hard to sell and that no-one who had tried a taste had bought a pint!! I am not surprised. I asked her to tip mine down the sink. £2.60 wasted. If anyone from Oakham reads this, I can't believe it was meant to be like that. Graham's Leeds Special tasted just like you'd expect a 3.5% bitter to taste - thin!

Next we crossed the road to the Smithfield though by now our hearts were no longer in it. We picked a safe bet, Durham Brewery White Velvet. This was hazy, verging on cloudy and clearly not fit for sale. It needed another day in the cellar. We left most of it, by now too dispirited to complain. While Graham walked home, I went back for the bus outside the Marble Arch. In the usual way of these things, 3 buses, all going the same way are timed within 5 minutes of each other. I had just missed them all. Sighing I went back to the MA and ordered a pint of Ginger Marble to perk me up. Sadly while the ginger zing was there, condition was not. I sipped it bleakly and went home. I had been looking forward to a few beers and felt badly let down by pubs which should do much better.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Prohibition can be a Good Idea!

Before prohibition of alcohol sales began in the United States, there was various pro and anti campaigns. This poster was from just before it all started. It comes from 1919.

I suppose it really is true that a picture is worth a thousand words!

Tuesday 15 April 2008

What are they up to then?

The Publican, a licensed trade newspaper is running a rather odd reader's poll on its website. It asks the perplexingly strange question "Do over-50s cause problems in your pub?" I can't find anything on their somewhat confusing site to explain what this is all about. What on earth can these creepy old geezers be up to? Whatever it is, although most publicans seem to have no problems with them, an astonishing 26.9% do. What on earth are they (we) doing?

Speaking as a 50 plus person who drinks with a lot of 50 plus persons, I am perplexed. We drink reasonably quietly, spend plenty, behave ourselves and then go home. Any theories?

Day Out in West Lancs

Despite being more or less completely shattered after my German excursion, I attended a CAMRA West Lancs trip organised by my fellow blogger Tyson, who has covered most of what I would say about it in his beer blog. Croston, picturesque though it is, promised much and delivered very little. I sympathised with Tyson over this - no matter how carefully you recce these places - and I know he did - Sod's Law will dictate that you gaze longingly at the pump clip collection behind the bar, while looking forlornly at what is offered that day. Unlike Tyson, I did go to Cain's Black Horse, largely as I kind of promised Southport Drinker I would and we had been warned that the beer in the other pubs was rather mainstream. Also I like Cains. The Black Horse was gloomy and not particularly welcoming. It had only keg Cain's Mild, but the bitter was pretty good. I didn't try the Indian Pale Ale, so in short, not a lot to say about it. Sorry SD!

I was given a salutary reminder though. We went to the deserted Lord Nelson where E and I struck up a conversation with the sole barside person there apart from us. We supped modest Jennings Cumberland while we had a long and very jolly chat with him about beer, pubs in the area and life in general. We also learned from our local friend, that the aforementioned Black Horse was on its last weekend of trading, before a complete refurbishment by Cains. It needs it! The barmaid chipped in with anecdotes and I was reminded though I shouldn't need to be, of that inescapable truth, that pubs are much more than just beer. It turned out to be a very cheerful half hour, with that most old fashioned, but never out of style thing, good company and conversation.

Tyson has the rest spot on. I'll elaborate on two points though. The beer of the day for me was York Decade. I've written about it before, but really, it is just superb. Seek it out. The surprise of the day was how good Tetley Mild (the pale one not the dark one) was and the luscious, tart and quenching Tetley Bitter, which took me back to my early drinking days in Liverpool. Both cracking beers, well brewed and presented, so credit where credit is due.

My bottom picture shows Tony Allen of Phoenix Brewery, Heywood, who in addition to being an outstanding brewer, is one of our members. In the 20 odd years I have known him, I don't ever think I have seen him order a pint of anything - he prefers to order halves. He did on Saturday. The beer? York Decade!

Monday 14 April 2008


Goslar is an unspoiled, mediaeval town around an hour by train south east of Hannover. It was spared the bombing during the war, largely because it had no military or industrial significance and strangely, because of a large military hospital there. You may well think it odd that private citizens were not spared aerial death, while wounded enemy combatants were. War is a strange thing indeed.

It has to be said that Goslar is painfully attractive. We walked through every inch of it we could find and every new corner brought us new highs of architectural and scenic delight. But this is a beer blog and man cannot exist by scenery alone. Our mission was to sample Gose beer, a supposed sour and original beer style. We decided just to take that as it came, but the signs weren't good. Brauerei Goslar it seemed would be opening or rather, re-opening in the Markt, but not yet. (See picture). So we just went with the flow. First stop was the Paulaner Wirtschaft which was in a delightful half timbered building. (pictured) Inside a little piece of the Freistaat had been transported there. We sat and enjoyed both pale and dark wheat beers while chatting to the attractive Polish barmaid. Unusually she spoke no English, so for once, my painful German went largely uninterrupted. This pleased me no end, as usually a smart arsed kid will switch to perfect English which he/she was taught as a foetus! We also tried the Kaltenberg outlet, deep underground where a distinct smell of horse poo, no doubt from the horse drawn carriages above, accompanied Spezial, Dunkel and Weizenbier. Both the smell and the pictures of the wall reminded me of Neuschwanstein, where I visited the Kaltenberg brewery tap a few years ago. The helpful waiter assured us we could visit the Worthmühle which Gazza indicates is a restaurant only. I am not sure about later in the evening, but certainly at five o'clock, when it opens, we were made welcome for a drink. Our man from Kaltenberg also told us the only brewery in Goslar will be Brauhaus Goslar, which will reopen in the main square soon. It's beers are being brewed in Braunschweig currently. Braueri Einbecker doesn't brew in Goslar at all he says and certainly, though we found a sign for it, that was all.

At Worthmühle Gose beer, a Goslar specialty was our mission, but sadly the only Gose beer, Brauhaus Goslar Gose Hell was muddy, mildly carbonated, light brown and not sour at all but fairly sweet. Not worth the experience really. Disappointing in some ways. We also tried Hotel Gosequell, around this time, which although it showed signs of being open, wasn't according to the girl sat inside doing nothing. Sadly there was no Irish offer of "have a drink while you're waiting."

Our final call was driven by the fact we just missed our train and there wasn't another for an hour and 20 minutes. All drinking establishments around the station seemed to be selling InBev beers, but we took the plunge, picking the most pubby looking one. The reward was as superb schwarz bier, pictured from the Herzog Brauerei in Braunschweig. Now this is InBev owned, but they obviously haven't got round to ruining the beer yet. This was toasty, roasty, malty, bitter delight with a wonderful coal dust finish. It was a good end to an interesting day in a stunningly lovely town and we didn't miss our next train!

My thanks to Gazza for the Goslar gen. Hopefully this is an update for it. He also tells me that Herzog is no longer InBev owned having gone private. Hooray!

Sunday 13 April 2008


I know a long tale about this pub and that one can be less than exciting, so I will just give a quick whizz round our three day long visit. My research for this trip largely consisted on printing off Ron Pattinson's guide and doing the same with Gazza Prescott's more narrative piece. Thanks Boys! I have to say I found Hannover to have at first inspection at least, rather an oddly obscure transport system compared to most German cities. The Hauptbanhof seemed determined to keep the whereabouts of the U-Bahn station a secret, but after traipsing round it a few times and following signs which lead nowhere, we found it only by asking at the information desk. Should you go there it is at the very furthest point from the main entrance and deeply underground. Well some of it is - the remainder is a street tram system which is also designated U-Bahn and is firmly in fresh air!

Our first stop was the Herrenhauser Brewery Tap. The brewery itself is quite modern. the brewery tap is most certainly not. Determinedly old fashioned (picture left) with just a pils on draught, it was an interesting place with settles, lino and scrubbed deal tables. There were photos of old Hannover on the wall, including one marked "Adolf Hitler Platz". You could shoot a cold war film in here quite happily without getting extra props in. The beer was decent, though I didn't find it as good as Gazza did.

Hannover was badly bombed during the war as it was a centre for oil refining and chemical industries, so much of it was rebuilt functionally rather than with a view to aesthetics, though there is a reconstructed Alt Stadt which houses many decent pubs. Unlike Hamburg which seemed to have a dearth of pubs, we found Hannover to have one on every corner, usually filled with cheerful and chatty types. It is somewhat dominated by the InBev owned Gilde which brews a tasteless industrial lager, but good beer can still be had if you just follow the simple rule of ignoring Gilde signs. Thus we enjoyed very good, bitter and clean pils from Haerke and from Einbecker, the latter being a favourite, with its full malty body and uncompromising bitterness. The other noticeable thing about Hannover is the sheer amount of Bavarian beer available. There were outlets for Lowenbrau and Paulaner and of course Franzikaner Wiessbier in every Gilde pub. Now I have to say I'm keen on Paulaner beer and at least there the anti smoking laws were firmly enforced, which wasn't the case everywhere. The city's only brewpub, Ernst August didn't live up to the write ups I'd seen elsewhere. The only beer, a pils either filtered or unfiltered was so-so. The menu mentioned a Saison" beer, but my request for this was met with disbelief from the young waitress. She could have looked more surprised at my request if she'd tried. A single "nein" lead us to assume it didn't exist. Yet another expensively kitted out German brewpub that just wastes opportunity.

We also spent some time in some of the street corner boozers near our hotel which ranged from bizarre to sinister. Characters abounded. Late at night we were the only customers in one bar other than an invisible geezer behind a pillar whose "moll" could be seen, chainsmoking, but he was hidden. I knew enough German to know he was asking the barman what we were doing there and when the barman replied we were OK and then gave us a free drink, we knew it was time to leave. In another, the elderly barmaid shrieked at her customers in Greek, while a permanently baffled old guy walked round, beaming, shaking hands with everyone and saying "Alles Klar". Us two, full of beer and korn schnapps, played the juke box and then joined in the singing which this prompted! In another bar we were entertained by a guy who had Adolf Hitler speaking at a rally as the ringtone on his phone. When I asked if it was not illegal, he gave a Nazi salute and said "no, but this is!" to hoots of laughter from his mates. This, in my experience, is unusual.

So I liked Hannover a lot. It was friendly, fun, full of good pubs and good characters and the kebabs were up to snuff. We left it with considerable reluctance.

Note I have used the German spelling of "Hannover", rather than the English "Hanover".

Saturday 12 April 2008


I'm back and knackered. More soon.

Tuesday 8 April 2008

Top Ten American Craft Brewers

Just thought this might interest the American beer fans amongst you. The top Yankee 10, based on beer sales volumes (2007) are:

1 Boston Beer Co.
2 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
3 New Belgium Brewing Co. Inc.
4 Spoetzl Brewery
5 Pyramid Breweries Inc.
6 Matt Brewing Co.
7 Deschutes Brewery, Inc.
8 Boulevard Brewing Co.
9 Full Sail Brewing Co.
10 Harpoon Brewery

Now of course most of these aren't small by UK standards as a craft brewery in the US is defined as producing less than 2 million US barrels. At 1.45 million UK barrels, that's quite big! We don't see enough of some of these breweries over here and as they are so big, how about it boys? While the breweries maybe get more interesting below the top ten, there is still some good stuff to go at and its all in these dinky little bottles too!

The top ten overall is interesting too:

1 Anheuser- Busch Inc.
2 Miller Brewing Co.
3 Coors Brewing Co.
4 Pabst Brewing Co.
5 Boston Beer Co.
6 D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc.
7 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
8 New Belgium Brewing Co. Inc.
9 High Falls Brewing Co.
10 Spoetzl Brewery

The big boys still lead of course, but the American Beer Market is getting quite diverse, at least for those who wish to seek something different, which regrettably, most don't.

Germany Calling

I'm off to Hanover tomorrow with my mate Graham. Hopefully going to have a side trip to Goslar too. So behave yourselves while I'm away. Back on Friday.

Going from Bad to Worse!

After eighteen years at the top, it seems that Carlsberg has overtaken Stella as Britain's best selling lager. It isn't by much, but it shows the Stella brand to be sliding even further. Stella's sales were down 3% while Carlsberg rose by 11%. Price it seems is part of the issue. Stella is reassuringly expensive at around £1.06 a pint in the off trade, while Carlsberg can be had for a mere 85p.

Of course these are different beasts, having only their awfulness in common, but it is still a significant blow to the ailing brand.

Who cares? Not me, but I bring this to you as a public service!

Monday 7 April 2008

Hop Sharing in Boston

Most of us in the beer game know that there is a hop shortage. Many beers may either not be brewed to their original recipe, or indeed may not be brewed at all. Fingers are crossed that the 2008 hop harvest will be a good one.

I was therefore very heartened indeed to see that Boston Brewing Company (of Sam Adams fame) is to share some of its hop cache with fellow craft brewers. 10,000 pounds each of German Tettnang and of East Kent Goldings will be made available to fellow craft brewers who have a shortage. Amazingly these will be sold at "cost". Boston Beer Company will make nothing from the deal and in addition will rely on the honesty of those applying actually needing the hops, rather than just buying them cheaply to sell on. As the web site says, "Order them because you need these hops to make your beer. We’re not asking questions, so let your conscience be your guide." In a Q&A spot on their web site they add:

Q. What will prevent the brewers who buy these hops from reselling them at a much higher price? A. Nothing other than doing what is right. We believe craft brewers will help one another. We’ve asked brewers to order only what they need and to let their consciences be their guide.

Needless to say this offer was oversubscribed and a draw was held to determine the "winners". 61 breweries will now get Tettnang and 46 will get EKGs which gives you an idea of how bad the shortage is. I'll leave it there. In these cynical times this really is a good news story!

Saturday 5 April 2008

City of Culture, but What About the Beer?

Liverpool is European City of Culture 2008, not that you'd know it merely from stepping off the train at Lime Street Station. There is nothing at all as far as I could see to celebrate or announce that fact. Not like the Scousers to hide any light under a bushel, never mind such a big one.

We were meeting my mate Neville in the Ship and Mitre, a well known Liverpool Free House, but Graham suggested a sharpener in Doctor Duncan's first. This excellent Cains tied house had quite a range on. I had a half each of the Dark Mild and the Creamy Stout. The mild was stunning - smooth, malty, roasty and very moreish. The stout surprised me. I remembered it as being much sweeter, but this sample was bitter and roasty, though lacking the hop resin finish I like in a stout. Bit more EKGs please Cains. This was a great start. Graham had the IPA which is merely a best bitter of no real distinction. Unfortunately the Fine Raisin beer wasn't on, so I couldn't give my views on that!

The Ship and Mitre is a classic ex Bents house, but seems to me to lack the TLC it needs. The charming bar staff more than made up for that though, with wit and offers of tasters. Now I have to honest here. I have never found the beer in here to be at the peak of cask conditioning. It always seems a few notches off and so it was yesterday. Each beer selected seemed just a tad off what it could be. We drank beers from Skipton, Blakemore and Weetwood and all were around OK, but no more.

Leaving Neville to his do for a couple of hours, we skipped off. There are basically two boozing areas in Liverpool, the Centre and around the cathedrals. We were in the centre so we had to go to the Lion. This ex-Walker house has been messed about a fair bit since I lived in Scousley, but offers eight cask ales. Alas these are somewhat pedestrian. On offer were two from Bank's, Lees, (hooray) Black Sheep, Deuchars, Jennings and St Austell. The only unusual beer was Aspinall's (Gambrinus) Deliverance which had a nasty chemical edge and a good dose of acetone. Next the White Star. I remember drinking in here when the choice was Brew 10, Worthington and Bass, all on cask. The Bass was still there but the other three beers were from Bowland. We had tasters of all three and settled on Pale Crusader, which though poor, was the best of a bad lot. We looked in a couple of other pubs we knew from the past, but none appealed on beer grounds, though we did have excellent Okells Bitter in the pub behind Rigby's, which is being renovated. The bar in here couldn't have been more than eight feet long but had five staff working like Trojans behind it. Please note Tim Martin. The Wrekin (JDW) which we also had a couple of halves in (a very good Harviestoun Old Engine Oil and an utterly sweet and disgusting Young's Bitter) had two lack lustre staff for a bar three times as long.

We went back to the "do" for a couple then caught our train back to Manchester. We nipped into the Bull's Head which is an excellent pub. There two very decent pints of Rooster's YPA finished us off more than somewhat, though the £2.70 a pint price had a sobering effect! So Liverpool? Could do better, but of course we did miss some great pubs out. Next time the other drinking half of the city.

The pictures show Cain's Mild and Creamy Stout, the charming barmaid at the Ship and Mitre and my mate Graham outside the Main Bridewell, where he was once locked up! Click on the picture to see it in all its glory!

Friday 4 April 2008

More Irish Stout

Yesterday's lunch break saw another new beer for me. Plain Stout from Messrs Maguire in Dublin was dry, slightly sour, with some good roast malt body, but it lacked a good shot of bittering hops to make it a classic stout. Still, decent enough though.

Oldham Beer Festival is now more or less ready. Yesterday I vented and tapped around 75 casks. There are some great beers there and the hall was 12 degrees when I left last night. Not bad. Given the limits I operate within, the beer will be as good as it can be. This isn't ideal cask conditioning and my cellar practices have to be modified, but the beer will be cool and in good condition, at least to start with. That's that's the truth of beer festivals. Beer on gravity inevitably declines quicker than cellar kept beer as its temperature cannot be controlled. High temperatures are the enemy of cask beer. Beer festivals with their conflicting demands of coolness required for beer and warmth for the customer are particularly affected by this simple fact. Frankly those that think beer is best served by gravity are deluded. Nonetheless get there and try some, though I won't be today. I'm off to Liverpool to an old mate's retiral "do".

The photo shows my fellow cellarman Bob behind the stillage with our technical kit on the right

Thursday 3 April 2008

Goblin Gobbled!

No this isn't another post by Tyson, but I note that Marston's have just bought Refresh UK, parent company of Hobgoblin brewer Wychwood, for a sum reckoned not to be unadjacent to £11million. Wychwood also brew Brakspear and Mann's beers.

Now I don't care for their beers one little bit, but plenty of others do. Following on from Marston's acquisition of both Jennings and Ringwood, it leaves the enlarged group with five breweries. Although Marston's have promised that brewing will continue at Wychwood which produces an impressive 50,000 barrels a year, can we really expect all five breweries to stay open? I'd say not and if I was sitting in Ringwood or even Wolverhampton, I'd be very afraid.

Is this good for British Brewing? The answer is an emphatic "No!"

Marston's operate breweries in Wolverhampton, Burton, Ringwood and Cockermouth before today's takeover.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Alive Alive Oh!

Last night was loading the van for the Oldham Beer Festival and unloading the van. Twice. We have a lot of kit and a lot of it is heavy and last night we had lamentably few volunteers. It is now all in the large goods lift at the venue and will have to be unloaded and made into a beer festival today. Something to look forward to. Yes for the festival, no for the unloading.

Afterwards we staggered into Oldham's Premier Free House, the Ashton Arms. On the bar was one of my favourites, Skipton's delicious Golden Pippin, but as I was only having one, I eschewed it, on recommendation, for a pint of College Green Brewing's Molly's Chocolate Stout. This Belfast brew was a smooth, sweetish stout, with a milk chocolate hit and some dark malt flavours. Served cool and with a rich head it did the trick. I headed off satisfied, but who knows how I'll feel after today's hard work? By the way I do know the beer is not named after the song, but the premises where it is brewed!

Oldham Beer Festival is at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Oldham this Friday and Saturday. Details from the link above.

Tuesday 1 April 2008

Poker to save Pubs?

A new craze is sweeping pubs in Scotland and could soon be exported to England. According to my dear friends at Scotland on Sunday, since the relaxation of the laws on gambling in pubs, poker playing is helping to fill empty boozers midweek. Pub Poker League was introduced to the UK as an investment opportunity on BBC2's Dragon's Den. Aided by changes in the Gaming Act 2005, which allowed gambling in bars, it has become a big hit.

The rules are strict: no one is allowed to gamble more than £5 a game and no bar is allowed to have more than £100 total winnings available on a single night.

So while it might not be as attractive as cask ale in brothels, it may well come to a pub near you, so better sharpen up your knowledge of Texas Holdem and the like!

Read all about it here.