Thursday 31 July 2008

180 - Not Out!

I recently wrote an article for my local CAMRA branch's magazine "More Beer". It is published today, so I thought I'd share a very slightly modified version of it with you. The article was the basis of this post here.

One Hundred and Eighty!

JW Lees are currently celebrating 180 years of Independent Family Brewing in Middleton. Founded by John Willie Lees in 1828, the company is still committed to brewing and to its Middleton Junction site. Currently the sixth generation, lead by Managing Director, William Lees-Jones is at the helm though the fifth generation, lead by William’s father and uncle, Richard and Christopher who are Chairman and Vice Chairman respectively, are still very much on the scene.

Lees are a very optimistic company, which is refreshing amidst all the doom and gloom that currently pervades the industry. William told “More Beer” that they intend to develop the company further. “We take the view that we do not inherit the brewery from our fathers, rather, we maintain and improve it for our children”. At a recent visit to the brewery, I also took the opportunity to have a chat with the Chairman, Richard Lees-Jones, who is still known in the brewery as Mr Richard in the age old tradition. For someone who has worked at the brewery for well over forty years, his enthusiasm and optimism burn brightly. He is still in every day, working as usual. He was telling me that the seventh generation now number seven in total, so he is optimistic that the youngsters are in sufficient numbers to take over in due course, though it will be a fairly long time away. He spoke cheerfully of his confidence that Lees can ride out any recession.

William too is keen to emphasise that they are spending a lot of money to keep things forging ahead. He is very proud of the refurbishment programme that has seen many community pubs upgraded and that the brewery itself is now modern and flexible. He points out that two new fermenting vessels for cask beer have been recently installed giving more ale brewing capacity.

Giles Dennis, Head Brewer still sees a bright future for cask ale and points out that the brewery has never had a better range of cask ales, with four permanent beers as well as four seasonal ales and four special occasion ales on offer. To celebrate 180 years, a special beer is being brewed, appropriately called “180”. It is out now and is a 4.5% full bodied ale with a good hop character.

It is good to be able to report that the company is in safe hands and so positive about its future. More Beer congratulates John Willies and looks forward to the next 180 years!

Given the gloomy nature of the trade generally and the as yet unresolved situation at Robert Cain, it is nice to tell a good news story! Things aren't all bad!

Since writing this article, Giles Dennis, Head Brewer of Lees for the last 28 years has announced his retirement. Look out for a blog post on this soon.

Tuesday 29 July 2008

Cain's Still in Deep Trouble

Talking of Liverpool, Robert Cain, the brewer that occupies the former brewery of my beloved Higsons, is in deep shit. Despite optimistic noises written elsewhere, it seems the problem has deepened and the money it owes Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs is not its sole problem. The Morning Advertiser has the full story.

It seems that it's recent activities have been in breach of the brewer's covenant with its own bankers, the Bank of Scotland. It is now the Bank that will decide its future it appears. This may not be as straightforward as it seems. The Bank of Scotland is part of HBoS who recently failed to raise £4 billion on a rights issue. In these harder times, they may take a dim view of current events. Let's hope not. Liverpool needs Cain's.

The Southport Drinker mentions it here in alarmed terms. He is dead right. Losing one brewery would be careless, but to lose two would be a tragedy. My fingers are crossed for them.

Anyone remember the "Lady's" Glass?

When I first moved to England twenty odd years ago, I encountered something new. OK, I encountered a lot new, like zone tickets, cod, pints of bitter, parsnips, barm cakes, women who didn't wear woolly jumpers all the time, pubs with a best room, tombola, Eccles cakes, Chinese chippies, Birken'ead, footie (not fitbaw), Greenall Whitley, Higson's Bitter, The Docker's Club, Woolybacks, Derek Hatton and Militant, roast ox heart, pasties, lolly-ices and a shed load of scallies, but I also ran in to the phenomenon called the "lady's glass".

When you took your young woman (or anyone else's) to the pub in those days and asked for a pint and a half, the barperson would invariably ask "is the half in a lady's glass?". If you replied in the affirmative, the half pint came in a goblet. This practice may have been peculiar to Liverpool, I don't know. I think though it was more widespread than that, but it was a long time ago. Certainly by the time I moved to Manchester twenty years ago, it didn't happen there and doesn't happen now.

The Beautif
ul Beer beer people, have twenty years later re-invented this particular scouse wheel by introducing a tulip shaped glass for half pints, though in these politically correct days, they are unisex. The glass is aimed at women and men for certain occasions, such as drinking with a meal, as an alternative to the default "slim-jim" half pint glass.

Marketing manager Gareth Douglas said: “We felt the Beautiful Beer glass created a more stylish image of beer, making customers feel better about their choice of drink, and the pub itself." I am sure that is just why it was done in Scousely all these years ago, when I were a lad, but to be applauded just the same!

I am firmly of the ilk that believes that while you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, you can present beer better and make the experience thus more enjoyable. Good move!

Sobering Statistics

From the Scotsman:

1.6 million
fewer pints of beer a day sold in pubs, bars and restaurants in April to June this year, compared with the same period last year

7 million
fewer pints a day now sold in pubs from the height of the market in 1979

10.6 per cent
fall in beer sales in British pubs between April and June this year, compared with the same period last year

£88 million
less in beer duty and VAT collected by the Treasury in April to June this year, compared with the same period last year

pubs closed each week in the UK over the past year

pubs estimated in Britain in 2008

pubs in Britain in 1980

pubs closed in Scotland in the past two years

78 per cent
fall in profits of major brewers in the UK between 2004-6

The on trade is in trouble and while it can be persuasively argued that by and large the pubs being closed are at the lower end of the market and would have been shaken out by any downturn in social habit and economic fortune, there is a worrying underlying trend for those of us who like to drink beer in pubs.

The 7 million pints less being drunk daily is an astonishing figure. It equates to nearly 25,000 UK barrels a day or the loss of the production of a brewery the size of Highgate, McMullens, or Bathams every day!

Saturday 26 July 2008

Fresh Air? What Fresh Air?

A lovely day so far, so in the normal scheme of things, your mind turns to al fresco supping. Problem is al fresco boozing, in the pub at least, has been hi jacked by smokers. The average outdoor drinking area has become polluted beyond belief. The smoking ban is good I believe, but it means you have to pick your outside drinking carefully and be prepared to give it up most of the time.

There is always my garden though. That's smoke free, so I may have to buy some in.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

Good Point Badly Made!

Picture the scene. I have driven back from Leeds and while shopping in Rochdale decide a pee is needed. I am passing Wetherspoon's giant Regal Moon, so I pop in. The necessary done, I think I might as well inspect the pumpclips. I see a couple of beers I fancy trying, so I wait at the bar while the two harassed staff in a fairly busy pub serve meals and make coffees. A few other anxious would be drinkers also wait in vain. The one nearest me is clearly agitated. He has left his three mates who are, shall we say, of a type often found in JDW. He clutches his empty John Smith's glass and glowers, banging a rolled up copy of the Daily Mirror on the bar for dramatic effect.

I am in luck and am served next, so I sip my beer quietly having lost interest in it all. The agitated guy though is still not served. A moment or so later, the manager emerges from the back, carefully avoiding looking at the customers. Agitated man shouts at top of voice "Oi you, you lazy c*nt! People want serving here". Everyone looks up now. This is getting interesting.

They obviously know each other and the manager warily approaches to be told that he shouldn't be "fucking farting around in the back while his fucking useless staff serve fucking coffees and meals. There are people in here who just want a fucking drink if they could get one". Much more shouting of a similar vein follows. He reminds me of Derek "Red Robbo" Robinson addressing a massed gathering of British Leyland Workers, though he'd probably have brandished the Morning Star. The manager waits until the tirade subsides somewhat and then asks Agitated Man "Do you want a drink now or not?" His shouted response and more invective brings a rejoinder of "well you're not getting one here now! When he is asked to leave he rants that he is being barred because they don't know how to run a pub. It's a point that quite probably, if differently expressed, would gain him a lot of support from those still unserved around him. His John Smith drinking chums though carry on supping and offer no solidarity whatever.

My two halves are excellent and contrasting. Lorimers Cask Lager from Caledonian is, unlike most of their beers, neither thin, nor overflowing with diacetyl. It is full bodied, with juicy malt and a nice hoppy edge from what I understand to be a mix of Strisselspalt*, Hallertau and Hersbrucker hops. It is very moreish indeed, even with the addition of wheat malt, not a traditional lager ingredient as far as I know. I can't have any more though - I'm driving. My second half, Phoenix Thirsty Moon is contrastingly bitter, with an American hop finish. As I am finishing my beer, Agitated Man and JDW Manager are outside discussing his case. A handshake is exchanged and a finger is wagged. It seems an apology has been offered and accepted. The noisy complainer comes back in, orders a pint of John Smith's and rejoins his chums. Peace reigns once more.

Agitated Man has made a few good points, but not in a way I'd necessarily recommend!

* A French aroma hop from Alsace

Monday 21 July 2008

Belgium's National Day

Today is Belgium's National Day, celebrating its independence from the Netherlands in 1830. You may have read that it is in danger of falling apart, with the Flemish speaking Flanders and the French speaking Wallonia, seemingly drifting further and further from each other in both aspiration and attitude.

Constitutional reform seems to be the only hope. It won't affect the beer though will it?

Irish Cask Beer at GBBF

Some of you may know that for a week each year, I work at the Bières Sans Frontières (BSF) the foreign beer bar of the Great British Beer Festival. I'll be there again this year. We have our own website and it gives details of the delightful beers on offer in 2008. In addition to various American cask ales, from far nearer home, comes ten, yes ten cask ales from Ireland. I am looking forward very much to trying Galway Hooker, having read about its charm in the pages of the Beer Nut. In addition there will be beers from Franciscan Well (3), Messrs Maguire (3), Carlow (2) and Porterhouse Brewing (1).

Our beloved leader writes that normally you have to go to Ireland to sample them. I suspect to find them in cask form, like Irish directions, you wouldn't start from there. All the more reason to get down to Earls Court.

Have a look at the website. It may well make you think "why don't I just hole up at BSF for the festival?" Why not indeed?

The Great British Beer Festival is at Earls Court, London from 5-9 August 2008

Budweiser Budvar next in InBev's Sights?

With its $52 billion takeover of Anheuser-Busch safely in the bag, one side effect may be that Budweiser Budvar may well become a target for the world's biggest brewing company. InBev inherits more than 100 legal disputes, mostly over versions of the Budweiser trademark, in more than 30 jurisdictions around the globe. Batting for the other side is Czech state-owned brewery Budejovicky Budvar, which has Bud and Budweiser brand trademarks registered in 28 European and 37 non-European countries. Anheuser sells Budweiser in 16 countries and the Bud brand in 15.*

Anheuser and Budvar have fought for solo control of the Budweiser brand for a century, though with more ferocity in the past decade as Budvar’s exports have increased. One way out for InBev would be to buy Budvar. That could cost more than $2 billion, the price being high due to the value of the Czech brewer’s Budweiser trademarks. The Czech government is preparing to sell Budvar before its term of office ends in 2010.

The Wall Street Journal says "When asked if AB-InBev would like to acquire Budvar and its trademarks, InBev spokeswoman Gwendoline Ornigg said: “Timing for [acquiring Budvar’s Budweiser trademarks] has to do with the Czech government, however, and its plans for privatising Budvar. We have great respect for their brand and would like to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.”
We can see the way that one is heading I reckon.

* Source - Wall St Journal

Friday 18 July 2008

A Major Scoop for Tandleman

After Wigan we needed some soothing, so at Graham's suggestion, we called into the New Oxford in Salford on the way back. The fact that he can walk home from there in five minutes, had nothing to do with it I'm sure.

On walking in I spotted the fizzog of someone I've never seen before, but with whom I am nonetheless familiar. From day one of this blog I've linked to Scoopergen, written by Gazza Prescott. I like what he writes and I agree with much of what he has to say. We have exchanged the odd bit of correspondence and I have thanked him in this blog for my use of his great foreign gen. It was he that I observed, so after getting the ale in - priorities must be observed - I introduced myself. He too had recognised me, so a very pleasant hour and a half was passed swapping stories, exchanging views about the current beer scene and mutual acquaintances.

Gazza is indeed a ticker, but he is a good sort and can laugh at himself and other scoopers and his own compulsive behaviour when it comes to beer. It was great fun and the beer was decent too. I could outline them all, but that'd be falling into the trap of being a bit of a ticker too. Suffice to say beers from Phoenix and Hornbeam didn't disappoint.

Gazza, good lad that he is, wrote his down, but then again, he always does!

I wrote about Scoopers here

The Road to Wigan Beer

CAMRA business took me and my mate Graham to Wigan last night. We checked out two pubs, both Good Beer Guide entries and both convenient for Wallgate Station. First up was the Anvil, oddly enough a Hydes pub, though guest beers from Allgates and Ossett complemented the Hydes offerings. The Anvil is very much a community pub and was buzzing happily when we arrived. What brings me to tell you about this? Well it occurs to me that a tied house of the brewery selling others beers is, when you think of it, an oddity. Why pay a dog and bark yourself as it were? Sam's wouldn't countenance it, nor would Lees. Hydes don't as a matter of course. Most other biggish breweries don't do it either. While my delight at choice was uppermost last night, I just wonder really why any brewery should do this, particularly one like Hydes with a decent cask conditioned range. Nonetheless I enjoyed my Allgates Mild and the 5% Ossett Quicksilver (pale, good body, hoppy and refreshing) though the mild really wasn't a dark mild, but a 3.8% dark bitter which reminded me of Lorimer's (formerly Usher's) Dark Heavy, a beer that hasn't been brewed for over thirty years, but which I sold in the pub I worked in a long time ago! A bit of history for you!

On the way out, we went for a pee. I was a little taken aback at the machine in the gents which (among others things - click on image to scandalise yourself) sold blow up sheep for a fiver. A nice accompaniment to your pie I suppose.

Across the road is the GBG listed Berkley. At first glance it could be a Wetherspoons until you are brought up sharply by the £2.60 pints. We enjoyed suprisingly good Nimmo's XXXX brewed by Cameron's of Hartlepool and Adnam's Explorer while the staff pointedly ignored us and chatted together. You think JDW soulless? This place knocked it into a cocked hat. I can't imagine what it looks like on a Friday night, but then again, I doubt if I'd set foot in Wigan on Friday night. I've seen it on one of these video cop shows. Not pretty!

I know the headline isn't original, but it is new to this blog, so that'll do.

Monday 14 July 2008

The One Eyed Rat

Ripon, for those who like this kind of information, is the fourth smallest city in England. The One Eyed Rat is in Ripon. It is a very decent pub that does no food, but does do excellent beer. Although in North Yorkshire, here the vowels of the locals take on a distinctly West Yorkshire sound. Unsurprising as it was part of the West Riding until 1974.

The landlady was chatty and welcoming, a feature we noticed throughout Yorkshire and the North East and one which could do with being copied elsewhere. She happily provided us with directions to the butty shop and said we were free to bring a sandwich in. We supped Copper Dragon Golden Pippin which was hoppy and satisfying.

On the wall right in front of the bar was a sign which amused us greatly. It is pictured above. Click on it to read it properly.

A New Brewery and Not All Wetherspoons are the Same

It was raining yet again as we arrived in Richmond. We found a parking place on the very precipitous town square and had a wander. The inside market had a tourist map which revealed that the former station, now a tourist complex, had a new micro brewery. "That'll do" we thought. While deciding which way was what, we were accosted by the local nutter, this time the female of the species. She was hard to shake off and though she seemed harmless enough, someone had given her a fat lip. We beat a hasty retreat while she looked around for her next victim.

The Station was at the bottom of the hill in a valley and was a pleasant affair with a cafe and various craft stalls. A delicious smell of baking pervaded. Richmond Brewery was in a unit inside and we had a pleasant chat to the brewer, Andy. A Scot, he had done time with Tennents, Websters, John Smith's, Theakston, Newcastle and other breweries. He did one beer, Richmond Station Ale, which was on sale in the cafe and also in the local JDW, where a Yorkshire Ales Festival was going on. For those who like to know these sort of things, the brewery is a six barrel plant, commissioned on 2 June 2008. Continuing my theme of unhappy endings, the beer, a darkish, malty affair was bit hard to get down. Hopefully it will improve in time. We didn't go back and tell him. Should we have?

Returning up the hugely steep hill, we called in at the JDW, the Ralph Fitz Randal. The festival was in its dog days, but had all beer at £1.59 a pint, available in thirds. We set to. The chatty female manager was brilliant. She told us she had been there only a few weeks but has increased cask ale sales by several hundred percent. Her husband is an enthusiast. It showed. Superb beers from Outlaw, York Brewery, Hambleton, Clarks and Wentworth were supped. The Outlaw Yorkshire Pale Ale was stunningly good, with tropical fruit flavours, but was still pipped by York Pure Gold which was full bodied and grapefruity. I could have drunk a lot of either.

Our hostess happily discussed the usual Wetherspoon's issues with us. She firmly believes that Wetherspoons can be good pubs. She also believes in being "hands on", which she feels not enough JDW managers are. As she put it, "it's all down to the manager. Get a bad manager in any pub and the pub will be no good. Get a good one and the pub will be good." She has a free hand to get what beer she likes, though she must sell Pedigree and Directors. She gets a lot of micro stuff in as they attract interest and they sell well.

If all JDW managers were like her, the company would have a better reputation. She is a good 'un!

Full of Shites

Go to page 145 of the 2008 Good Beer Guide for a superbly accurate description of the characterful and historic Victoria Inn. I simply can't describe it better. It is old fashioned in the finest sense. The pub is a delight. The letting rooms are small, but immaculate and the welcome genuinely friendly. The breakfast with free North East banter chucked in, is well presented and tasty. Go there!

We assembled after a brief kip, in the public bar which is pictured. The gimlet eyed and astonishingly thin matron running the show gave a commentary for us on our proposed pub itinerary. It went along the lines of "Aye, canny that one", "Fine", "Just doon the road and a good one" until we came to the Colpitts. "You divent want to gan there" quoth she. "It's full of shites." Malc took the situation in hand and inquired as to what constituted a "shite" in this case. "Why" she said, "the folk there'll pick a fight wi' ye and cut yore face"!

I won't bore you with the sorry tale of boozing that went next, except to say that the Elm Tree had poor beer (Adnams was particularly dire) and high prices, the Half Moon was superb, nearly a classic in fact, with lovely toasties at a mere £1.30 a pop and excellent beer from the Durham Brewery. Our last call was the Dun Cow, a great pub too, with a traditional corridor, a warm welcome and well kept beer.

What about the Colpitts I hear you cry? Did you brave it and emerge unscathed? Indeed we did. It was warm, welcoming, characterful and friendly. The only shites there were us and we didn't cut anyone's face. The beer was traditional Sam's and our usual round of three and a half pints cost under a fiver instead of the usual £8.50+

A Mixed Bag

Our first stop on Thursday is the Locomotion No 1 in Heighington. Only it isn't. It is nearly two miles away in Aycliffe. Well done the GBG contributor who did that one. It takes some finding and is somewhat disappointing when we do, with an unappealing Marstons mix of beers. We struggle with some below par Jennings. The Bay Horse is definitely in the right place on West Green in Heighington, an attractive and large village between Darlington and Newton Aycliffe. Beer range is Taylors, Cameron's Strongarm, Black Sheep and John Smith's Magnet. All are tried except the Magnet which leaves me with a twinge of guilt for not trying this all too rare beer. All are good, though Steve thought the Landlord "crap", while Malc and I both enjoyed it

Heading in to Bishop Auckland, we passed the closed Grand Hotel, home of the Wear Valley Brewery. It doesn't open until evening. Damn. Near the GBG listed Tut and Shive, a local baker supplied us with home made pies and pasties and for Malc, ever the traditionalist, a pease pudding and ham stotty cake, which he duly pronounced "excellent"! The Tut and Shive itself was quiet, but beers from Jarrow and Mordue kept our spirits up. The final GBG entry in BA, Pollards, is a bit of a curate's egg. The good part is the simple and well appointed public bar with its open fire, which was on, such has been our summer so far. This is a tied Marston's House and the range included their latest acquisitions in all their glory. We had both Wychcraft Summer Ale from Wychwood and Boondoggle from Ringwood. Both were pale and hoppy with the Boondoggle just shading it for me. This is a pub worth visiting, but ignore the large estate pub bit at the back!

Thus fortified, we set off for Durham and our overnight stay at the Victoria, another GBG pub.

A Wet Night in Lancaster

Steve who makes a Luddite seem progressive, is astonished when his phone rings with an unknown number which he then tries to call. I tell him about "call back" explaining the unknown call was the taxi firm telling us our cab is outside, the software having picked up his number from the call he made to order it in the first place. His look of astonishment is genuine. He almost said " well I never". We pile into the taxi in driving rain. We are heading to the Collegian Club, a CIU affiliated Working Men's Club which is Good Beer Guide listed. We are welcomed warmly, but the Bowland Brewery beer has more than a whiff of vinegar to it. Pints are willingly exchanged and just as vinegary. The barmaid is apologetic and helpless, so we bugger off, seeking liquid refreshment elsewhere. Disappointing for a club with GBG status and Beautiful Beer and Cask Marque logos outside.

The John O'Gaunt is an elegant ex Tetley house which is fading fast under the dead hand of an anonymous pub company. The beer choice is Adnams, Jennings, Deuchars and Marstons. The Adnams is stale and papery, the Deuchars tired and the Jennings Cumberland, flattish and uninspiring. Oh Dear. Nil out of two for the GBG. We scurry off into the rain which drives Steve's umbrella inside out and breaks some of the spokes. It is hastily thrust into a convenient bin. We make for the Three Mariners, but a Hydes sign is spotted up a side street. We enter The Robert Gillow which is a neat, almost wine bar type venue with a live jazz band on. The Hydes beers are in marvellous condition and we admire the various young ladies going up astonishingly steep stairs as we sup contentedly. Bitter, Jekyll's Gold and the seasonal, Bells and Whistles all hit the spot. We all get a chance to experience the stairs, as the toilets are up there. They put a strain on my arthritic right knee which I could have done without. Next up is the Three Mariners. This pub is bustling, welcoming and has an excellent range of beers. We are invited to inspect the unusual overhead cellar, which we do by clinging to a wall ladder and peering at the casks above. The cellar is immaculate, the welcome, welcoming and the clientele, mixed and pleasant. We enjoy a fair mix of beers including Jennings, Everards, Bowland and Skipton. All are well presented. We leave for our curry and step out into the beating rain with some reluctance.

We stayed at the Slyne Lodge, a Jennings pub that was pretty unwelcoming really. Pity that, though the rooms were nice.

A-B Raises the White Flag

According to the BBC, so it must be right, the US brewer Anheuser-Busch has agreed to be taken over by Belgium-based InBev, in a move that will create the world's largest beer maker.

The $50bn (£25bn) takeover bid by InBev, which makes Stella Artois beer, was accepted by Anheuser's board. The combined company will now be called Anheuser-Busch InBev.

That trips off the tongue doesn't it?

Sunday 13 July 2008

The House of Mitchell

Mitchell's Brewery was founded in 1880 and until 7th July 1999 this family firm supplied beer from its own brewery in the centre of Lancaster. I supped some of the last pints from the final brew and jolly good stuff it was too, though alas unappreciated in its own homeland where years of poor quality control had diminished its reputation beyond salvation. It is credited by some with coining the term Extra Special Bitter (ESB.)

Today the company, still a family owned business, runs a number of hotels and around 55 pubs in the Lancaster area, one of which is the GBG listed Fleece at Dolphinholme. This, like a lot of pubs in this area, is a former farmhouse, though you'd be hard pushed to recognise it as such now. Mitchell's pubs, previously criticised for their pedestrian ale range since the demise of the brewery, seem to be more ambitious now. In this case we plumped for Festivale from the Bowland Brewery. Having just supped the excellent Ice Maiden we were not expecting to be as impressed as we were. This outstanding beer at least equalled it and quite probably pipped it into second place. It is one to look out for if you like your beers pale and hoppy.

Alas this tale has no happy ending. As second pints were ordered and eagerly anticipated, the pump spluttered and the amber nectar ceased to flow. All good things come to an end. In this case all too soon!

Saturday 12 July 2008

Gastropub or not?

My travels took me on Wednesday to the Cartford Inn in Little Eccleston. This former farmhouse sits in an affluent Fylde village adjacent to the River Wyre with an unusual private toll bridge just around the corner. It also houses the Hart Brewery, which although on the same premises, is an entirely separate business. (Readers of this blog and Stonch's will recall some lively debate about the pumpclips issued by Hart Brewery, which are seen by some as controversial.)

The pub, for that is what it is despite six very well appointed letting rooms, is run by a Frenchman, Patrick, who, sensible fellow, is married to a Lancashire Lass. That'll keep his feet on the ground. It is bright, modern and airy with light streaming in from all sides and is spotless and well appointed. We had a nice chat with the owner who had his head screwed on. We were asked if we were lunching and if so, menus were on the bar for our perusal. There was no pressure to eat, though we did. Staff were cheerful and polite. On the bar were Theakston's bitter and two from the next door brewery. We settled on Ice Maiden which was pale, intensely hoppy and cut through a dull day like a ray of sunshine. It set an extremely high bar for our forthcoming two nights away. The food when we ate was well prepared, not cheap, but not off-puttingly expensive either. The menu was sensible and interesting without being too showy. We liked that too.

Over lunch, I outlined the recent gastropub debate to my companions who considered the matter. We all agreed the Cartford Inn had been immensely improved since our last visit maybe nine years ago. We all agreed too that it was a pub with rooms, not a hotel. Was it a gastropub though? Agreement abounded in one respect. We all detested the gastropub moniker. Malc who at three score years and ten, is the senior member of our annual get together summed it up. "This" he said "is a pub that has looked to the future and got it right.". We nodded agreement and set off for our next destination happy in our conclusion. Was it a gastropub? We didn't know and in this case, it didn't matter!

On the way out we bumped into the Hart Brewery owner who was loading up and had a nice chat with him. He remembered our visit to the brewery nine years ago and Ken who organised it. Not bad eh?

Interestingly the Hart Brewery site alleges the pub is a restaurant now. Maybe it is at night, but at lunchtime it was just a pub with good food. The pub's own web site says "Hotel, Bar and Restaurant". Take your pick!

Tuesday 8 July 2008

Superstrength Lagers not Irresponsible!

Super strength lagers do not encourage irresponsible drinking.

That is according to the Portman Group's Independent Complaints Panel after it received a complaint from homeless charity Thames Reach. The charity complained that 500ml cans of Skol Super, Kestrel Super, Carlsberg Special Brew and Tennent’s Super encourage immoderate consumption and drunkenness. These 9 percent babies contain in one can, more than the Government 's sensible drinking guidelines for a day.

Following the Portman Group's rejection of its complaint Jeremy Swain, chief executive of Thames Reach, said: “These decisions completely discredit the Portman Group’s Complaints Panel. “There we were thinking that the reason alcoholics drank super-strength lager in horrifying quantities was because they were marketed as ‘super-strength’ and at a size that ensures that the drinker can become inebriated after just two or three cans."

I offer this with one single observation. That's self regulation for you!

The illustration is nicked from the "interesting" Arrysbrewsite.

Monday 7 July 2008

Showers, Some Sunshine and Beer

We set off from home to walk the mile or so to our rendezvous point for our CAMRA trip to Derbyshire under leaden Manchester skies, which soon turned to a determined drizzle. The subsequent journey down to Thornbridge Hall was undertaken in pissing rain. It set the scene for what was to be a (mostly wet) experience. We knew what kind of day we were in for when we parked next to a coach disgorging Wigan Branch members. This event had attracted a lot of CAMRA types.

Making our way to the small brewery, we deferred to our pie eating colleagues, to allow them first look at the brewery and to present a certificate of some sort, before we presented ours. In a steady downpour, we lined up at the temporary bar erected just outside the brewery entrance. Three handpumps dispensed Wild Swan, Lord Marples and, of course, Jaipur IPA, in this case, the dry hopped version. Most of us started on the 3.5% White Swan which was aromatic and spicy, but its rather good taste was let down a little by its thin, tending to watery, body.

As we sheltered from the rain in a nearby greenhouse, we got the call to arms and assembled in the brewhouse amid the clutter of casks, bags of malt and various other paraphernalia. Posters for their own beers and Moravka lager adorned the walls. Awards were presented, speeches were given and reciprocated. A couple of interesting points emerged. First it was explained that Thornbridge beers will not always be clear, as they don't filter in any way. That was greeted with a little scepticism from some of those who heard it, me amongst them. There is no reason why the beer shouldn't be clear if it is treated right and fined. The second point was that they are commissioning two conical fermenters and will be doing extensive trials to ensure they can flavour match beers brewed in open vessels. Now I am no brewer, but I think matching in this way will be damned difficult, but good luck with it.

As the rain went off we had a second pint, this time for me of Lord Marples, a malty, dark brown beer of no great distinction and then taking the opportunity for a look round, we bumped into some more CAMRA types, this time some of my colleagues from BSF and we chatted amiably as it grew darker and more threatening. We had just finished a turn round the gardens, when the heavens opened again and we were driven headlong into the main beer tent as rain beat fiercely down on it from above. Now here was a disappointment. Only two beers on sale, the aforementioned Lord Marples and Jaipur IPA. We had hoped for more of the range and to add insult to injury, there was no Moravka Lager either, the lager being 33cl bottles of, of all things, Stella! So Jaipur IPA it was. The beer was fine however, served cool and went down well. As the sun came out again, we were able to see the surrounding countryside in all its glory. The Hall is magnificent and the setting, amid rolling and lush Derbyshire hills, just sublime. It really is a superb spot. We idled over even more Jaipur for a bit longer, then an hour or so earlier than planned, hopped on the coach and thence to Ashover and the Old Poet's Corner, though some of us (my fellow blogger Tyson included) tried the other two pubs, the Crispin Inn and the Black Swan as well. All had their merits and it would be a mean spirited drinker that would not find solace in this attractive village.*

In the Old Poet's Corner, a lively debate was had by a couple of us about non sparkler use, though an old fashioned slotted type was eventually produced for Taylor's Landlord. By then the effects of a long days boozing mainly on 5.9% beer were surely kicking in and it was good to get back on the coach for the relatively short trip home, which in the time honoured way of these things was spent, by most people, fast asleep.

*I'd relate the beers we drank in Ashover in full if I could remember what they were, though I do recall (without any great clarity) Spire's Land of Hop and Glory!

Saturday 5 July 2008

One of the Old School

I paid one of my pastoral visits to Lees yesterday. I was invited by the Head Brewer, Giles Dennis, to have a look at the revamped brewery cottage - the hospitality suite. And an excellent job they have done of it too with old Lees bottles in a glass display case, various enlarged photos and awards and a few prizes from brewing, labelling and bottling competitions too.

While having a pint with Giles the Chairman Richard Lees-Jones came in. As he always does, he said hello and then came over for a chat. He is still known in the brewery as Mr Richard in the age old tradition. The new (sixth) generation led by William Lees-Jones have dropped this and I can see why, but in the case of Mr Richard, no other name could ever be more appropriate, though you can get away with calling him Chairman. For someone who has worked at the brewery for well over forty years, his enthusiasm and optimism still burn brightly. He is still in every day, working as usual. He was telling me that the seventh generation now number nine in total, so he is optimistic that the youngsters are in sufficient numbers to take over in due course, though it will be a fairly long time away. He was also very proud of the company's current pub refurbishment programme and mentions that everything they do is to prepare the company for the future. He spoke cheerfully of his confidence that Lees can ride out any recession.

I couldn't help but feel, this family owned company is in very safe hands indeed.

In addition to the bitter which was in great form, I tried the Summer Sizzler which is a lovely refreshing beer.

Friday 4 July 2008

The Pub at Night

There is something about experiencing a pub late at night from the other side of the bar, which is quite different. I have been working the evening in the pub for a few nights this week while the landlady recovers from illness and have enjoyed the experience. It has been frustrating and rewarding in equal parts. It's a long shift, from half past four when I get there to fettle all the beers and switch everything on, to midnight, when I do it in reverse. Early the pub is quiet, being a mile up an unmade road, which is the frustration bit, but as time goes on it gets busy for meals, quiet again and then the older generation of locals land. That's when the pub takes on its true character as a place people go to socialise and feel at home. They are using the pub in the old fashioned way, to meet friends and have a quiet drink.

There are a bunch of a certain age that drift in from around half past nine and stay until midnight. They all know each other, but each little group or couple sit in their appointed places with just a nod to each other. Their drinks rounds are the same every evening, there is a quiet murmur of conversation.The dogs with them loll contentedly, the pub cat sleeps on a bar stool, pausing now and then to check the dogs for latent hostility. I pass quiet banter with two of the regulars at the bar. The clock ticks on inexorably. It is a timeless tableau which is almost serene in its simplicity and comfort.

Between half past eleven and midnight, internal clocks kick in. People get up, drift back to the bar with empties in hand, bid goodnight and slide off into the dark outside. By midnight the last have gone and the cat and I are left alone in the pub. I ensure she has food and water, put the glasswasher on for the last time, put the sparklers and taps in to soak overnight, blow out many candles, check the toilets are empty and the back door is locked and switch off lamps one by one until I am left in darkness, alleviated only by the dull green glow of the emergency lights. Then I too, locking the front door behind me, leave this cosy world and step outside. I smell the fresh country air with its farmland overtones and now, suddenly tired, get in my car and head for home.

Thursday 3 July 2008

Thornbridge Brewery

I am sure I don't have to tell you, Dear Reader, about the delights of the award winning Derbyshire based Thornbridge Brewery, brewers of Jaipur IPA among others. Our CAMRA branch is visiting the brewery and the Thornbridge Hall Annual Garden Party on Sunday. I'm looking forward to it. I had a look at the brewery web site earlier, to see what's what and noticed this:

"Double Delight for Thornbridge Brewery The brewery team at Thornbridge are celebrating a double award this week when they heard that their Jaipur IPA had won the Oldham Beer Festival for the second year running. The festival, which attracted a record attendance, offered 81 speciality beers and sold out completely with over 5500 pints sold. “To be chosen the winning beer at a festival with such a range of quality beers on sale is a great feeling, but to do this two years running is a real wow”

Of course, since Oldham is one of my CAMRA Branch's two festivals a year, I am delighted to read this, particularly as we will be presenting both certificates to the brewery on Sunday.

There is a beer tent (they might even have Moravka Lager to try) so it'll be a good day out!

Wednesday 2 July 2008

A Less Pointless Import?

I see that a major importer has targeted Kross Brewery of Chile as a possible source of imported beer. Kross is an artisanal brewery run by Asbjorn Gerlach, a German who has a Chilean wife. Asbjorn claims that he and his co-brewmaster are the only professionally trained brewers in the country within the artesanal brewing scene. The brewery produces a golden ale, a stout, a maibock and a pilsner, so there is some unusual stuff there, though frankly it wouldn't surprise me at all if it was the pilsner that ends up on our shelves.

I have mixed feelings about this having just criticised the import of draught Tiger Beer in a recent blog. I still think generally speaking, it is pointless to drag water over thousands of miles of ocean. On the other hand, a Chilean stout does sound kind of interesting does it not?

Ann Summers and the CAMRA Meeting

Last night was our monthly branch meeting which was held in Thwaite's Two Tubs in Bury. This is a decent venue for us, our requirement being a separate room where we can discuss boring beer business in seclusion. These days, pubs like that are hard to find. I drank Wainwright's which was pale, decent and 4.1%. Like a lot of beers from regional brewers, it was a bit tight on the hops. Some, not so lucky, tried the bitter which was decidedly "iffy". The well regarded Lancaster Bomber ran out mid way.

The room is slightly unusual, being partitioned by a wooden pull across screen which effectively cuts it in two. The other half of the room, which had its own bar, was hosting an Ann Summers Party, which as the evening drew on became more and more raucous. A host of giggling women of all ages, shapes and sizes flitted in and out. At one point the lights went off in our side of the room leaving us in semi darkness. One brave CAMRA soul popped his head in to investigate next door, only to find himself facing a luminous red dildo of infeasible dimensions! At the end the by now pissed Ann Summers participants came out through our half of the room clutching their newly acquired lingerie and marital aids, flushed and happy.

We grinned at them as they went on their way. I think we were all cheered by it and we, like they, got the evening's business done!