Saturday 30 August 2008

Independent Breweries at Last

It wasn't raining when we set off for Fussen and beyond, but it soon was. Our cycle ride took us in and out of Austria before returning to the Fatherland at Fussen where we found that Brauhaus Fussen had ceased to brew in the years since we had last been there. Prince Luitpold of Kaltenberg seemed to have it taped up now. At least it only came from just up the road, as, presumably, did the insect that bit my wrist causing a lot of discomfort and swelling!

Our ride took us way into the countryside in by then, glorious weather. There wasn't a pub to be seen until we came to a Hacker Pschorr outlet in a village whose name escapes me, but was welcome 20k in to my first cycle ride since Bamberg last summer. It had to be done and I must say I find HP Helles rather refreshing. Nearing "home" on our circular tour, around 5 k from base in a little village called Kohlgrub, at last we found something different in the shape of Aktienbrauerei Kaufbeuren, a largish regional whose beers we were to encounter again. The hefe weizen was bang in the middle of the style and the helles, dry and hoppy. Decent stuff.

Our luck held on our return to Pfronten when by following our directions back to base we encountered a neat little beer garden selling Zötler beers. The hefe weizen was a very full tasting, quenching beer and the bottled pils, hoppy, fresh and bitter. Zötler was founded in 1447 and has been in the same family since then so they ought to know a thing or two about beer, From the same town of Rettenburg, later we had a very decent dunkel and pils from Engelbräu though it has to be said the helles and Hefe weizen were both underwhelming! Despite my pleading I was dragged past a nearby Gasthof selling beers from Post Bräuerei Nesselwang, but I did notch them up later in the trip! The ball was rolling!

Bavaria isn't Germany

Bayerische Erste say the Bavarians. Bavarian First. You are always struck how Bavaria is simply different. The yokel accent, the traditional dress, the huge skies, the beer gardens, the food and the "blasmusik" make for somewhere that is quite unique. It's why we always love going there and why it rarely disappoints. It was thus we arrived in Pfronten, a mere two miles from the Austrian border but firmly in Bavaria, with hope in our hearts, despite the pissing rain, so heavy it precluded our cycling. We went in the luggage van, neither of us fancying 55km in a monsoon. Others from the same company agreed and we spent quite a time picking up waifs and strays and their sodden bikes.

Our hotel was a pub. A big pub and early signs were hopeful. Kloster Andechs said the sign. Alas after checking in, it was not to be. The Andechs had been swept aside in favour of Kaltenberg, whose brewery tap in Neuschwanstein we had just passed on our way there. It could have been worse. We had a couple and then, braving the rain which had eased off to a downpour, we explored the town. I knew there was a brewpub and this was our target, both for beer and lunch. Braugasthof Falkenstein was easy to find, just in front of the station and impressive inside as these kind of places tend to be. In fact very impressive. The coppers were on show, but a quick look around had my heart sinking. Was this going to be yet another German brewpub with a crap unfiltered helles and a sweet, worty dunkel? You bet your life it was.

Now I could start a rant here about why this pointless style exists, but I won't. OK. I will. What is the bloody point of all that expensive brewing kit if you are simply going to sell tasteless, unfinished beer that is full of trub? It isn't smart and it isn't clever. You might as well buy some partially feremented beer from a big brewery, bung it in glasses, save the wages of the brewing staff and flog the kit to the Chinese for scrap. Stop it and use your kit to produce something decent and drinkable you morons! A glass of each was enough and we departed in a persistant drizzle to find a decent drink. At least the grub was good.

Later that night we went to yet another Munich Brewery's outlet. This time Augustiner, where glasses of Edelstoff and giant portions of schnitzel in a very "gemütlich" atmosphere restored our equilibrium. In honesty the beaming Bavarian waitresses in their dirndls did just as much to do that as the beer - for me at least. That's another thing I like about Bavaria!

Friday 29 August 2008

Windows XP Service Pack 3

What's that got to do with beer I hear you ask? Nothing, except loading it caused my computer to go into an endless cycle of load, close, reboot, load, close. So on ad infinitum. I couldn't get into it, thus preventing me posting.

I had to reload XP (a well out of date edition which came with my PC) and then spend many, many hours first of all trying to find a way on line and then getting everything brought very slowly back up to date and the way I want it. It took me a long time. I didn't even take the milk off the step until nearly 5 pm. I did though have a few glasses of Wernesgruener Pils to keep me sane. There's your beer link!

If loading SP3 have a check on the web first about what you should look out for. It might just save you some time. I am now back to SP2! And no. I don't have an AMD processor, but was still afflicted.

Wednesday 27 August 2008


According to the Morning Advertiser, the Scottish company that rescued Isle of Arran Brewery has bid for all of Cains (whatever that means). The brewery would stay open.

They are confident of success. The story is here.

The Glasgow Herald more detailed version is here.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

As You Were in Scousely?

It seems while I have been away that there has been some clarity injected into the situation at the collapsed Cain's Brewery. Or was it the brewery? No. It was the Beer Company - I think. The Southport Drinker mentions it in this article in which he says: "In a slippery switcheroo that can only happen in the world of business, there are rumours that the Dusanj brothers could emerge from the collapse of Cains with the brewery, the very profitable canning operation and 10 pubs."

It seems the brothers Dusanj had the foresight to put most of Cain's assets, including the brewery and the ten original Liverpool pubs, in a separate company which has not gone bust and indeed, may be owed money by the collapsed company, as they leased the brewery and some of the pubs separate to the Robert Cain Beer Company. The administrators need bids by tomorrow and it seems the Dusanj brothers are the favourites for the brewing and canning operation! I'd guess too that the brands must be owned by the brothers, making the liquidated Beer Company worth twice the sum of bugger all to anyone else. Well well.

Depending on your point of view this was sensible risk mitigation or the unacceptable face of capitalism. Maybe they have learned from their years in Scousley that you have to play it a bit clever sometimes! Either way, these two lads are smarter than you think and Cain's beers may well be around for a bit yet!

Bloggers at the GBBF

I've added a photo of three of them* here.

One YCC, one Maeib and one Beer Nut!

Munich Big Boys Spreading their Wings?

I had intended to post from Germany, having got off to a flying start in Bad Bayersoien. Alas the other places I stayed in offered no terminals for internet access, although some did offer free access should you have your own means of doing so. I didn't fancy carrying a lap top on my bike - so no good to me and internet cafes seemed a little thin on the ground. In any event the mountainous terrain had me too knackered to care most of the time!

The area I was in is roughly two hours from Munich by train - say around a hundred miles, but the big Munich five have made their presence felt. In fact it was harder to acquire smaller brewer's beer than in the past, while Paulaner, Hacker Pschorr, Spaten, Augustiner and Loewenbrau proliferated. In Austria local brewers seemed to have given up the ghost. When I enquired about why there was no Austrian beer available apart from basic helles (called export there,) I was usually told that German beer is better!

I suspect that price is the real issue here. The small brewers do little to distinguish themselves by producing more interesting or better beers than the big boys and the big boys will win on price. I predict an end to many of the smaller brewers - they have little going for them in some ways, with an indifferent home market where the word "bier" is synonomous with a pale golden fluid of no real character and a complacent approach that is worrying.

With some notable exceptions, German brewers are sleep walking into history!

I will post soon about some of the small brewers and their beer, but for now, I'm catching up at home! The picture is of one such demised brewery,

Wednesday 13 August 2008

Bad Bayersoien

Bad Bayersoien is a neat little Bavarian village nestling under the Algauer Alps. Our hotel accoding to the blurb outside is one of the top 200 in Germany. People come from all over for the "Kur". It is a spa hotel. This is a spa town. However like all lists, it depends who compiles them and to what purpose and with what independence. We had a ridiculously good and over filling meal though and the room is very nice indeed. No pork scratchings on offer in either, sorry to report.

If this is such a top gaff, how come the only draught beer is Veltins Pils and why is the wheat beer Paulaner? Two biggies from the top international fizz merchants. I know I will find better tomorrow. This area abounds with local breweries. Hopefully I will let you know. Anyway, for now it is bed for me. We go to bed early in the sticks and this is the sticks!

Sorry for the stilted language. The keyboard is a QWERTZ. Y and Z are swapped. God knows where the punctuation marks are!

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Meantime Coffee Porter

On a whim yesterday, I bought a small bottle of Meantime Coffee Porter. Today I had the thought of having a couple of pints, but then wisely thought I'd better do my ironing and packing instead as I'm off to Germany tomorrow. My intended trip to Stonch's pub has gone by the board again. See it isn't all beer and skittles in this game. Or it wouldn't have been if I hadn't remembered the bottle of beer.

It's a lovely looking bottle which makes you immediately think "this is going to be classy". Wonder if that's intentional? Well it isn't classy, though it isn't bad. It isn't good either. It is 6% abv and best before November 2011.

Brown in colour, fairly dark brown, with a sourish malty nose. Surprisingly for what I assume to be a filtered beer, there are biggish gobbets of yeast in it. Taste is rather tart and sour. OK it is very tart and sour. The label alleges silky smoothness, but it is neither. Chocolate notes are meant to be there, but aren't either. Nor any vanilla. Oh and the coffee, maybe as it warms up a bit, but really with the tart sourness, you'd be hard pushed to be sure. It is very dry though. This beer can be identified by opposites. What it says on the label, you can safely assume isn't there! The finish is dry, sour, acidic and lingering.

If you shovel more brown malt in and leave out the coffee beans, what you probably have is an old fashioned porter of yore. That too should make you glad you didn't live then!

PS - My bottle has the word "porter" after "coffee" otherwise it is the same as illustrated.

Monday 11 August 2008

Last Thoughts on the GBBF

Friday wasn't as busy as it has been in the past, though busy it still was. We were in control throughout. Saturday was busy too, but all too soon for the punters and not nearly soon enough for us staff, time was called. We grabbed a drink in the last few seconds and fled behind the bar where we sat for a while, too stunned to say much, the adrenalin gone, the moment passed.

It is customary to do some tearing down work after the bar is tidied up and stuff brought back behind ready to be loaded away. This gets you to the point where, when it is done, you have maybe an hour or two or more to wait for the staff party - without a drink. It really isn't worth the wait, with a formula that is repetitive and boring. If you do attend, when you get to the point through drink that you are starting to sort of enjoy it, you have to go for your last tube. Those staying in halls of residence are taken back pissed much later. The party, if truth be told, is for them. After a few quiet farewells, we slipped off un-noticed, for a curry in Earl's Court Road and a few glasses of wine back at the flat.

Was it a success? Probably. The view from on high, though couched in water muddying terms, seemed to be that we had less punters, but they supped more. I think that might just be right, but we'll see.

I want to leave you with one anecdote: Three South Africans at our bar. A combination that some might think unlikely now and unthinkable not so long ago - two white and well over six feet, dressed in SA rugby shirts. In the middle a little pissed black South African who could have walked under a table with a top hat on. He wasn't tall. All with impenetrable accents. After unsuccessfully trying to elicit his order from the little guy who was taking the piss, I said "you're a right bloody nuisance you aren't you? " All three replied in more or less unison agreeing profusely, wrapping their arms round each other and laughing helplessly. I liked that!

Browned Off!

London it seems to me, is the brown beer capital of the UK. Nowhere else is the old fashioned brown coloured beer so beloved of the former nationals and regionals, so obviously on display. Is it by some kind of popular demand this unending repetitive list of Greene King IPA, Wells Bombardier, Shepherd Neame, Marstons, Adnams, Theakstons, Old Speckled Hen, Courage Best, not to mention the brown and boring Fullers and the bland and inoffensive Youngs (though they at least have the excuse they come from London!) Even the guests seems to be brown. Brown, brown, brown, brown, brown! Only the odd pump dispensing the variable Deuchar's IPA seems to shine amid all this bloody brown, warm, malty beer.

What on earth is it with the people that run pubs here? Where are the golden, hoppy and bitter beers that proliferate up North? What about a stout or a mild? Give us some variety and some unpredictability please. I called into the Nicholson's run and very attractive Argyll, just off Oxford Street. This is a beautiful pub and an oasis of calm seconds away from the frantic shopping heaven. A long side corridor, three ornate rooms with a snug and a lot of brown beer. I tried the Cains Bitter - brown and flat and then went for Taylors Landlord which was just OK. I eschewed the brown Black Sheep and the Deuchar's IPA and the brown Abbot. I remarked to the barman that they were all a bit brown and samey. "Yes they are a bit mate " he said turning away. Cheers then!

I hopped on the 15 bus back to Aldgate, where though only minutes from home, I needed a pee. The Dispensary is one of my nearest pubs and used to be the Old Dispensary. I went in and lo and behold found Adnams Explorer, Hog's Back Tea, Deuchar's IPA and amazingly Dark Star Hophead. I had a half. OK it could have been conditioned better and could have been cooler, but it was golden, hoppy and tasty.

The pub was empty and the welcome could have been warmer - a "Hello" would have been a start, but I had another pint. At least it wasn't brown!

A Pint of Stout is Your Only Man

Yesterday I felt jaded. Five days at the GBBF had left me feeling washed out. We went up to Covent Garden as E wanted to get some sports wear - she is slim and gymmy - and in Covent Garden the sports wear shops are conveniently clustered together. This done a beer was suggested. I grimaced a little, then was inspired. We were just round the corner from Maiden Lane. In the gloomy Porterhouse, observing only marginally the dully gleaming copper pipes and the claustrophobic low ceilings, I made for the bar. I knew what would do the trick. "Pint of Wrasslers please" I gasped.

A few minutes later E was gently sipping Oyster Stout as I drank great gulps of the deliciously hoppy and bitter Wrasslers XXXX. The nose is just like poking your head into hop store. The body is full, with up front roast malt and more hop bitterness. The finish is long, lingering, roasty bitter and full of East Kent Goldings.

My second pint was taken more slowly and I took more note of my fellow imbibers. Next to me, two lads with Irish accents were supping Cooper's Sparkling Ale from the bottle! Other people were quaffing some Canadian muck, also from the bottle neck, as it was on offer at £3 a bottle. All around and in other parts of the pub - I had a look - there were only two people drinking stout. Me and E. They were missing a treat.

I left in pouring rain with a new spring in my step. The stout had done its job!

Friday 8 August 2008

Behind the Scenes at the GBBF

Yesterday got off to a bad start. An hour and forty minutes on a delayed District Line did nothing to cheer us up, nor did an enforced change of lines to the Piccadilly at Gloucester Road. We dashed through torrential rain to the hall as I was getting perilously close to being late for my beer tasting. I arrived in time, dishevelled and looking like a drowned rat. I was wet through to my underwear!

The tasting went well. They asked lots of good questions and gave me two rounds of applause. For those interested in such things, I talked the National Grid and guests through Tryst Wheat Beer, St Austell Proper Job, White Shield, Fullers 1845, O'Hanlon's Port Stout and Thomas Hardy Ale. No. I wouldn't have chosen that list either! The most interesting was the Proper Job. A pale, golden ale with lashings of Yankee hops. This was seriously good beer. The Fullers and the White Shield were underwhelming, though they, like the Thomas Hardy, will be better in a few months time. OK the TH will be better in a few years time!

What the public don't see is the scene behind the many bars. They are designed to give large working and rest areas at the rear and a tour of back stage reveals people sitting reading papers, drinking beer, poring over computers and dip sheets, hauling fresh beer out of coolers, stacking shelves, anxiously checking beer for clarity, or just quietly resting before hitting the fray again. Upstairs is a canteen which churns out grub for the hungry at reasonable prices, a bar The Volunteers Arms with twenty or so handpumps, plus all the admin and staffing areas as well as staff cloakrooms,toilets etc. There is an army of cleaners,site construction staff, fund raisers, hospitality staff and all sorts of weird backroom jobs that while not glamorous, are the glue that binds it all togther. For every person you see behind a bar dispensing beer, there is at least one other doing something more mundane, but as important. When you look at the sheer size and complexity of the festival it is a wonder that it gets done at all.

Today is going to be our busiest day at BSF. We will be battered. Friday night will be a massacre with queues more than four deep at our very long bar. We'll sort them out and see them off. We always do!

Thursday 7 August 2008

Beer Tasting at the GBBF

Well that's what you do isn't it? Today is a little different for me. I'm leading a tasting event for some corporate guests. It's a few years since I've done this and of course I'm a little nervous. The last few events I did were on German beers, of which I know a bit. This time it's British bottle conditioned beers. Oh!

Yesterday was quieter for me. I met no-one in particular, the bar wasn't too busy and it gave me some thinking time. The main fact that hit me square in the guts was that you eat appallingly badly at GBBF. I felt off. My stomach is starting to rebel against fried breakfasts, pork pies and samosas. Delicious though these are, they are not a good idea for a week. After yesterday's huge cholesterol injection, I ate nothing else at all and just drank very modestly. I slept like a log when we eventually got home. Today - no fry ups and no pork pies!

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Bloggers Abound at the GBBF

The first thing that hits you as you come down the escalator from the hidden from the public staffing area, is the sheer size of the place. When it just has the staff scurrying about, it really is huge. CAMRA is getting sorted Health and Safety wise. We all wear hi viz jackets until we open. On BSF this year we have relocated. I find this disorienting and spend the whole day getting lost.

I always drink too much on the first day. I know why. It is because you meet so many old friends and of course, you have a drink with them. It isn't too bad though. Not pissed, but as our Yankee chums might say, buzzed!

I meet loads of people and watch the Champion Beer announcements, having enjoyed the opening speech by a Liberal Democrat MP, whose name nobody catches. I am delighted that Lees Bitter wins a silver medal. Not bad. I celebrate with Lees Head Brewer Giles Dennis who is pleased and disappointed in equal measure. All brewers rate their beer highly I reckon.

Among those I meet are old CAMRA and non CAMRA chums and of course bloggers. I'll stick to blog names. The Beer Nut is there and is a delight, Stonch too, all effervescent and a vision in purple. YCC sport two of their number and the thoughtful Maeib is there too. Tom Fryer, an old mate drops by also. Tom runs the Oxford Bottled Beer Database. Zak Avery who runs a splendid beer shop in Leeds and writes on beer dropped by too.

I'll do a bit more tomorrow, but now I need to get washed and take my aching feet back there. Was it busy? Yes, but more so in the trade session. That's good I think.

Sunday 3 August 2008

Polite Notice?

I spotted this notice yesterday and share it with you without further comment.

Don't Forget the GBBF

The Great British Beer Festival starts on Tuesday. I'm on my way to it tomorrow. The BSF Bar is where you'll find me. Working!

There is a lot of beer to go at, so try and attend to help sup it and if you do, come and say "hello" to me.

It does what it says on the tin!

I had a few hours out yesterday with my mate Mike. The star of the show (and there was a lot of contenders) was Lancaster Brewery Lancaster Blonde. The brewery describes it thus:

“Lancaster Blonde is a uniquely vivid golden bitter. This most stylish and contemporary beer is crafted from pale Maris Otter Malt and carefully combined with Germanic style Munich Malt giving a delicate biscuit overtone. The slightly citrus and delicate earthy aromas are created by a combination of First Gold and imported Saaz hops. The initial bitterness is followed by a delightful mouthfeel culminating with a long dry finish."

You know, I couldn't have put it better myself. It was a delightful beer, served at optimum temperature and condition in a great pub, the City Arms. It beat off strong challenges from Copper Dragon Golden Pippin, Phoenix Double Gold, Saltaire Bavaria Gold and maybe surprisingly to some, Hoegaarden, which although a mass produced beer is worth drinking again now that it is back in its home in Flanders.

Yes there is a blonde theme to my choices. Want to make something of it?