Friday 30 May 2008

Fancy being a Pub Spy?

When I lived in Scotland almost thirty years ago the weekly Sunday Mail ran a column called "Pub Spy". Basically a journalist visited pubs anonymously and then wrote about them. He left beer mats which let the fortunate or unfortunate landlord know he could expect to read the worst in the next edition. They even awarded mirrors to the best pub each year. I think there may still be one in the Horseshoe Bar in Drury St, Glasgow. It was new and novel then, this early attempt at mystery shopping.

If you live in the Everards catchment area of Leicester, you can be a pub spy for them. Potential pub spies can sign themselves up on Everards' website where they will then be assigned a local pub to visit. They will rate its food, drink and overall service and receive Everards goods in return. The undercover ratings will go towards the pub’s ranking in the Everards tenants reward scheme, as well as providing valuable feedback to licensees.

I think this is a very good thing. I have campaigned in my own CAMRA branch magazine (see website link for details) for pubs to improve their offering in these troubled times. This can only help and is a bit of fun for those taking part. Let's see others copy it.

Wednesday 28 May 2008

The F Word

I wrote about this show last week when beer got a mention and bugger me, didn't it again last night, or, for me, this morning. Last night when the F Word was being broadcast, I was having two superb pints of Lees Bitter in the Dog and Partridge in Royton, while we were being royally gubbed in the Quiz League.

This time Gordon Ramsay wishes to match beer to some veal being reared by Janet Street-Porter (it's a long story) and so went to see someone I've never heard of to match beer with food. Will Beckett is an expert in this black art it seems. (As an aside he seems to encompass Stonch's third way pretty well if you read his site.) After Gordon had spat out Taylor's Landlord, gagged on Brooklyn Chocolate Stout and rejected Meantime IPA as too bitter, he settled on the ubiquitous Innis and Gunn oak aged beer. So he bought a few bottles and pissed off. Right? No. He wanted to brew this himself and enlisted the help of Dougal Sharp, the founder of Innis and Gunn to do so, by setting up a brewery in his extensive back garden. We await the results.

What is the point of all this I hear you ask? Well I happen to know* that the brewery and the brewing expertise was supplied, not by Mr Sharp, but my CAMRA branch member Dave Porter, who owns the Outstanding Brewing Company in Bury and is a prolific installer of breweries and a fine brewer. You'll hear more of him I promise.

* From my fellow blogger Tyson!

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Beer that's Out of this World

It seems that Sapporo brewery of Japan is developing a beer using third generation barley grains grown at the International Space Station. It is designed for a future where humans will spend extended time in space says the brewery proudly.

Are you inspired by this or, like me, do you just think it a load of old bollocks?

The picture shows a cosmonaut staggering back to his craft after a trialling a few of the new beers!

Sunday 25 May 2008

InBev to bid for AB?

Industry speculation is rife that InBev, Belgian based makers of Stella Artois is preparing a giant £23 billion ($46 billion) bid for St Louis based Anheuser Busch, brewers of Budweiser and other such tasteless fluids

It seems likely though that if this is going to happen, it will get nasty, as it is thought that the Budweiser Chairman, August Busch IV from the founding family, will resist such a move and InBev will appeal directly to AB shareholders.

"Will it affect me I hear you ask?" Unlikely from the UK market point of view, but it will create the world's largest brewing company by far, with a dominant position in many world markets and that is never good news for those interested in quality beer.

You can read more about it here.

The 590 and Hebden Bridge

Despite the local council's attempts to isolate Rochdale from the rest of the UK (not a bad idea some of you may think) by digging up every major roundabout at once, we (me and Eileen) set out for Hebden Bridge to attend the Fox and Goose Inn's beer festival. We nearly missed the hourly 590 service due to aforementioned road works, but arrived breathless and just in time from our delayed bus from Middleton. We were due to meet our friends from our local there, but we were alone as we set off, to arrive just a few minutes late at the Fox and Grapes pub. We were soon joined by the others, some of who came on the train and the rest by the next bus having fallen foul of the traffic delays.

The Fox and Grapes is a very small pub indeed and smells strongly of damp. It was fairly busy when we got there and became more so, with a good mix of types. There was a reasonably good selection on a mixture of gravity and handpump. We made a bit of a mistake in starting with Oakham Bishop's Farewell, as it set a standard that no other beer reached. Eileen (wisely) stuck with that but I did try Triple FFF Moondance which was OK, Orkney Dark Island which was fine, before moving on to Thornbridge IPA which didn't disappoint. Beers were all a fair £2.40 a pint whatever the strength. I don't have any contemporary pictures of this event though, as my mobile phone is at T Mobile being mended and my camera had a flat battery. Ho Hum.

Later we decamped to Hebden Bridge where, in the White Lion, I enjoyed a very good pint of dry and bitter Phoenix May Fly and later joining the rest of them in the White Swan for my first pint of Hoegaarden in a couple of years. It was aromatic and refreshing. I neatly handed the pub bore who had affixed himself to my ear on to Stan, by the trick of including him in the "conversation" (and then stepping out of it) for which Stan thanked me later. Then back on the 590 to Todmorden and the Mason's Arms. This is a Skipton Brewery House and Golden Pippin was the quarry. Alas it was not on form, but pints of 1860 and Best Bitter were just fine and saw us through to the 590 home.

This is a good day out and we'll do it again, but not at a weekend. The traffic situation is just too frustrating!

Thursday 22 May 2008

Kate Garaway is a Lager Drinker

Now I don't watch GMTV, so haven't had the pleasure of seeing Kate, but she is bonny and seems a good sport. She doesn't drink wine, preferring lager. On the F Word which despite myself, I like, she was asked to choose between various lagers. She preferred Asda's Price Right one to Carlsberg's most expensive beer in the world. Not sure what that tells us about either beer, but the Carlsberg looked flatter than a witches tit. She rightly rejected a pizza flavoured beer then tried a "yard of lager". Hmm. I have heard of a yard of ale, but whatever. She got most of it over her chest, but regretfully wasn't wearing a T shirt. Gordon Ramsay got it all over himself too, but who cares about him.

Maybe Stonch should send her some Moravka? Could be just the boost it needs!

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Spotting a Real Ale Drinker

"ordinary" people buy a pint of real ale out of curiosity. If their first reaction isn't one of "get that the fuck out of my mouth and get me a Carlsberg now I'm gonna throw up" then you have a Real Ale Drinker"

The above is a quote from a (Belfast based) site I stumbled across. Having said in an earlier post here, how you spot beer tickers, I was pleased it includes this rather handy guide to spotting real ale drinkers, complete with accompanying stereotypical photo. It is rather funny and has, like all good yarns, more than just a smidgen of truth in it.

PS. Does anyone use the term "real ale" as a matter of course any more? I always use "cask" as my preferred descriptor.

Sunday 18 May 2008

Around the Beer Blogs 3

Slightly overdue, but this is my third beer blog summary in which I sum up and comment on what is concerning other bloggers.

First up this time is Shut up about Barclay Perkins, Ron Pattinson's Blog. I hardly know where to start. To call it prolific and diverse would scarcely do it justice. The last few weeks have been eclectic and entertaining. Among historical posts, we have an excellent discourse on mild (very dear to my heart) and a liberal dash of tongue in cheek baiting of American style gurus with some fictitious styles for them to consider; triple Russian Imperial Mild anyone? Ron continued to bait Americans by stating in his view (evidenced I should add) that Koelsch is NOT an ale but a top fermenting lagerbier. I am not sure whether he came off best or not, but he didn't seem to convince many on Ratebeer that he wasn't just being perverse - me excepted! I liked too the more mainstream recounting of his travels through Franken and the Czech Republic. Ron has an engaging style and is unafraid to heckle those he considers wrong or lazy and has a vitriolic turn of phrase from time to time. "Homebrew Twats" is probably as pithy and pointed as you are going to get. This is for me a "must read" blog, as I love the historical aspects, but am far to indolent to research it for myself. I enjoy his well observed personal beer travel stuff too.

has been out and about a bit, visiting various beer festivals in pubs and CAMRA venues as well as attending his first ever CAMRA meeting. He also mentions a beer for our four legged friends. Regrettably he didn't try the Dog Beer himself. Nor did I, even though it was sold in our pub. Maeib said he would have tried it. I am not so sure! He also celebrated a year in blogging about beer, so well done on that one. This is a blog where there is many different themes and topics and I like that.

I have mentioned before that I like Boak and Bailey's Blog and I continue to do so. They have a unique take on subject matter, often picking up stuff that causes me to say to myself "I wish I'd thought of that". An example was an interview with an old mate of mine Mike McGuigan who is behind Betwixt Brewing of the Wirral. Very innovative I thought. Another example was to do with night buses, which gave us all a chance to reminisce It was not all plain sailing though, as they ran into a little trouble - mainly from me I admit - over "Beer. A luxury or a right". This month they hosted "The Session" which is something I haven't got involved with. I am not sure why, but somehow it doesn't appeal to me, seeming to me to be a bit too "clubby and aren't we all clever" for my liking, but who knows, I might change my mind. I must also mention another innovation, occasional forays into Spanish. As I say, there is always a different take on things here which makes for an enjoyable read.

Stonch has changed direction a bit. I get the impression that this is a concious decision rather than a drift. His blog is always the first I reach for, indeed I have a button on my toolbar for it, such is the esteem in which I hold it. This is an unashamedly Londoncentric blog, but nonetheless always manages to set the cat among the pigeons. He did so again this round up, but from rather an odd angle. Recommending another beer blog to us all resulted in him being held to account for some opinions that he couldn't in the end sustain. It was entertaining stuff and can be found here. This blog is innovative too with Stonch bringing his father on board for a couple of well written pieces and his hilarious account of "Veg Stout" conjured up some very unpleasant visions, while his hangover experience surely chimed with us all.

The Beer Nut
posts from Ireland though he has been worryingly missing for a while now. Are you OK over there? I loved his post on "The Session" - damn - entitled "A moment of clarity" I think for me it was the best thing written on that this time. Just a superb piece of writing. He continues to find interesting beers and writes about them in a way I like. My own tasting notes are far too clinical.

Tyson continues to set a fierce pace for pubs visited and beers drunk. He is a pub man through and through and shows a dedication to the task that few could keep up. Notable posts since my last review included a visit to a Bury Knocking Shop - yes really - and the astonishing fact that he managed to "do" so many Prague pubs in a short time. One piece that received no comments, but deserved to, was about Outstanding Brewing of Bury. Believe me you will hear more of this, so keep your ears pinned back. There is much serious comment and content tucked in amongst the gallons of beer drunk and a lot of common sense written by this keen observer of the pub scene.

Real Ale Blog
written by Paul Garrard brings up the subject of mild. Unlike other bloggers who mention this subject, Paul has a gripe. He reckons CAMRA has got the month for its mild campaign wrong. As the weather turns warmer, he thinks not of mild, but golden ales. I always think of golden ales, though I do drink a fair bit of mild. Paul suggests March for Mild Month to enable the alliteration to continue unimpeded. He may well have a point. Paul also mourns the demise of two well known micros, Arran and Mordue. He hopes this isn't the thin end of a very big wedge, as do I. He also encountered Greene King's new font designed to dispense beer Northern or Southern style at the flick of a switch. He ordered Southern style but didn't take the opportunity to do a comparison side by side. Pity that. This is an interesting blog written from an East of England perspective, thus creating its own niche.

Lastly in this round up, we have a welcome newcomer about whom we were all alerted by Stonch. Impy Malting is written by Allyson, an American ex-pat living in London. Two interesting things right away, is that this is written by a female and by someone whose culture is different, so we can hopefully see ourselves with fresh eyes. She immediately and I suspect unwittingly courted controversy with an assertion that real ale and racism went hand in hand. Needless to say that brought opprobrium down on her. So much so that she barred all further comment on her blog. Stonch having pointed her original post out in the first place, picked up the baton and allowed it to play out on his blog. I'd merely comment that as a blogger what you write is open for challenge at all times, so you have to develop a thick skin. To return to the blog, Allyson has a neat observational style with a slightly idiosyncratic fixation with race and gender. She refers to the "lack of people of colour" - whatever they are - in pubs. As a female her concern about the lack of women in some pubs is understandable. I too am in favour of many more women in pubs, though I dare say my motives may be less egalitarian than Allyson's. Nonetheless this is a well written, perceptive and genuinely appealing blog which I recommend without hesitation.

As always if I have missed your blog out, don't worry. It'll likely be your turn next time!

Friday 16 May 2008


I was in the Marble Arch Pub and Brewery last night. They had a beer on, brewed by themselves, called "Well Cut" Mild. A 6% take on Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild perhaps? It wasn't very good, it wasn't a mild, but what it was, was £3.20 a pint. I have commented on their pricing of special beers before, but given that the Manchester Bitter at 4.2% is £2.20, I reckon that £3.20 a pint for a beer that has come 20 feet is pushing it a bit, even if it is 6% and even if it is organic!

There is a lot of odd pricing in this pub, with house beers often more expensive than bought in beers. Queer that!

Reflections on Prague

It's a nice city. Lovely architecture, grand old buildings in various states of repair, a river and a castle, though that is more of a palace and a very grand cathedral. It has a lot going for it. But what of the pubs and beer I hear you cry? Well I have already said that much of the beer drunk in Prague is ordinary. Not godawful Carling ordinary, but still fairly dreary mass produced lager. In each pint of Pilsner Urquell or Staropramen you just felt that the beers had had something taken out of them that should have been left there.

I liked most of the pubs. There is something about drinking in a brick cellar with vaulted ceilings that appeals to me. Perhaps, since generally there are no windows, it is the sense that you are separated from the rest of the world that I like. There are few distractions. It is the here and now that you have to enjoy. You can concentrate on the beer! In that respect the Pivovarsky Klub ticked all the boxes and in addition, it had six very different beers at all times. I liked the upstairs there too, with its bottle shop and a pleasant bar to sit at. U Fleku did not disappoint either, with its multi roomed interior and agreeable outside drinking area. Go there any time but the evening and it is excellent. I agree with Tyson when he says it is not particularly expensive compared to others around and there must be a lot of upkeep on such a grand place though the 0.4 measure is a cheap shot at the customers. Klášterní Pivovar Strahov wasn't cheap, but had a fine location above the castle and for me, the second best beer of the trip, more of which later. (Again here the nasty 0.4 trick is played on you.) U Medvídků had a very decent little bar and offered beer, tankovna Budvar was decent but not spectacular. We also tried nameless local bars which were cheap and dour in that particular East European way, but an experience well worth having with customers concentrating fixedly on the beer in front of them and of course their inevitable cigarette.

On the beer side, I found that the dark beers were much better. Pick of the bunch for me was Herold Tmavy Special which was bitter with treacle and liquorice roast flavours, full bodied with a clean bitter finish. A very good beer indeed, though it was pushed close by Strahov Dark 14° with its deep back colour, complex layers of bitterness and roast malt giving a firm body and a clean, hoppy, bitter finish. I liked Zvikouska 13° too, drunk at the Pivovarsky Klub, for its richness and dark cake fruit body with a hefty swish of alcohol at the end. An honourable mention must be given to the dark beer at the Richter Brewpub. I liked its slighly sour, lactic finish and the pub was pretty good too.

There were plenty disappointments. Much of the beer was vastly overcarbonated. I had really looked forward to Bernard Kvasnicové, but it was a watery let down. Generally speaking the kvasnicové (unfiltered) versions of beers were unhappy experiences for me. To me, despite Gazza waxing lyrical about it, the unfiltered beer from Kácov at U Klokočnika was far from being "divine nectar" but a foul, wort tasting, trub laden mess, though the pub was great and worth the long walk to it. Not a soul spoke a word of English and the food was good and cheap too, so all was not lost.

So a bit of a mixed bag like most beer places. Would I recommend it? Yes of course, but get there soon before any more of the existing breweries are lost.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

PubCo's on a Warning!

It is fair to say that I think the creation of large Pub Companies with their accompanying mountains of debt and avaricious habits has done far more to damage the UK pub industry than Tesco et al. I know it is open to considerable debate, but it is clear that moving from a position when the infamous Beer Orders came in to deal with the "monopoly" that was the Big Six Brewers, we went from a position where around 90% of the pubs in England and Wales were free of debt, to one where they were mortgaged to the hilt and beyond. Each time a pub company has bought another one, (and they are huge now, far bigger than the "problem" that was intended to be fixed) another few thousand pounds of debt has been heaped on the pubs and subsequently to the rent the tenant pays. At each stage of this spiralling game, money has been taken out and debt put in, to the point where pubs have become unviable. The tenants misery is added to by being tied - beer choice is dictated by the Pubcos by and large - and sold to tenants at inflated prices. Add changing lifestyles and habits, along with cheap supermarket beer and you have a losing formula. A desperate hope of survival against the odds for a lot of licensees.

The pub companies still don't get it though and continue on their anti competitive and losing ways. They are the true enemy of the pub lover, squeezing the assets until the pips squeak. And boy are they squeaking now. So much so that even our MPs have noticed something is amiss. Anti-pubco MP Tim Farron speaking at the official launch of the Fair Pint group, which wants the tie removed from all pubs, except those owned by brewers with fewer than 500 sites, said the Fair Pint campaign group is "pushing at an open door for another select committee hearing". Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton added: "There is a growing concern in Parliament about the power of the pubcos and how they are exploiting landlords."I believe an inquiry is long overdue."

Too bloody right it is Nick, but let's hope it isn't "too little, too late".

Monday 12 May 2008

My New Chums

I note that along with other bloggers, this blog has been linked to Stella Artois' UK Digital Newsroom. Well I never!

Want to see if your blog is included? Click here.

Guides to Prague Beer

Being new to drinking in Prague I had with me Evan Rail's guide, Ron Pattinson's stuff and Gazza Prescott's. I found that Gazza's is the most practical in that he really understands the basics of beer hunting best. His directions are idiot proof and that's what really counts. Cheers Gazza.

One or two immediate observations. By and large beer in Prague is nothing special, though when it is good it can be spectacularly so. All guides reflect the author's impressions and that has to be taken into account when using them and lastly, while tankovna beer is much better than pasteurised beer, we are starting from a base that is lower than it should be. Some of the pubs are brilliant as pubs. U Fleku is a deserved world classic and so in its own way is the Tramway. The waiters, by and large are surly. If you get polite indifference, then they have really taken a shine to you and finally, it isn't as cheap as it ought to be, though we did find 10 degree beer for around 11 crowns.

Prague airport PilsnerUrquell outlets are a shocking rip off with the beer being 135 crowns a half litre. It was a pleasure to see the robbing bastards were very empty.

More soon. I've got washing to do.

Oh - and the tram system is brilliant!

Thursday 8 May 2008


I'm off there in a couple of hours. I'll report back next week.

Be good - drink some beer. Maybe mild?

Monday 5 May 2008

Kegged off in Cleveleys

On Saturday after a long session running the bar in our pub, while the landlady was out sponsoring Rochdale FC along with most of the Saturday afternoon regulars, I drove to Cleveleys with E and her mother to attend E's aunt's 85th birthday celebrations. Now this was held in a social club and I just knew it'd be all keg and it was. A quick inspection of the pumps brightened me up a little. Warsteiner, while not my favourite German beer by any means, was on tap. That'd do. E had promised to drive home, I'd have a few of these. No I wouldn't. It was off! With sinking heart I surveyed the remaining choice. Mostly from Thwaites - it was deepest Lancashire after all - and none appealing. Keg mild, smooth bitter, Carling, Guinness and Thwaites brewed Kaltenberg Hell Extra Cold!!

I had a pint of Guinness. The beer was dull, cardboardy and had that strange kind of edge that only harsh pasteurisation can bring. I reflected grimly on the contrast between this parody of a stout and the wonderful, fresh tasting, flavoursome stouts I had enjoyed just a week before at the Porterhouse in London. Pasteurisation ruins beer almost as much as a wishy washy recipe and believe me Guinness nowadays is a wishy washy version of the beer I used to enjoy as a treat when I was a lad. Where has that bitter, heavy, chewy body gone? That hit of roasted malt? The lip smacking East Kent Goldings finish? Gone. I'm told it's so tasteless now, that the Irish call it "black lager". Very appropriate.

I did ask for a taste of the Kaltenberg. I didn't care for it at all either, so one more pint of Guinness was forced down. That was it. Two pints all night. Some people actually drink this stuff as a matter of choice. God help them!

A good session on Lees' Spring Cheer brought me back to decent beer yesterday!

Saturday 3 May 2008

Lunchtime No More!

I observed in a recent post that lunchtime drinking, which has diminished elsewhere, is alive and well in London. I see that a survey by SAB Miller backs this up. Only one in ten of us enjoy a lunchtime pint here in the UK. The top lunchtime tipplers are the Danes, where one in four like a bevvy at lunchtime. The Danes also hit the pub first at 4.41 pm, while Brits on average don't rush panting to the bar until 6.14. Full details here in the Morning Advertiser.

It is noteworthy too that the Czechs remain the world's biggest beer drinkers. I'll see for myself on Thursday as I'm off to Prague to lend them a hand, though it looks like they don't need it!