I see our old friends Brewdog are featuring in the newspapers again. Scotland on Sunday has a nice little feature, which you can read here.
It is an interesting and thoughtful piece which doesn't take sides, though I have the feeling that the author doesn't "get" them. One interesting point to me at least is their attitude to CAMRA. They say "that the Campaign For Real Ale holds back beer innovation by their emphasis on a few traditional styles and ABVs ranging from 3.5 to 4.5%. They also claim, huffily, that CAMRA has made it so difficult for them to present their products at festivals they've decide not to bother trying to attend any. "We've got better things to do with our time than worry about whether 200 fat idiots are drinking our beer or not."
As a matter of interest we had one of their beers at our recent Bury Fest. It wasn't difficult.
Tyson has already mentioned the crap bus service we get from First Bus who are rapidly becoming my bête noir. So yesterday was a mixed bag. Our route was one of a select few running, the bus turned up on time and my fare was waved away. His machine had jammed. Hooray. Of course this success merely helped redress a long balance, not in my favour. Our luck continued. One of the farmers picked us up and we had a bumpy but painless ride up the lane to our pub. There an odd scene greeted us. A motley collection of Second World War re-enactors and vehicles roamed around, somewhat like an explosion in the Battle of the Bulge Costume Department. My eagle eye soon spotted some unlikely combinations of German WW2 uniform. We fought our way in and found a corner at the bar, wedged between an Alpine Grenadier and an SS Sturmbahnfuhrer. Lees Dark was my preferred tipple at this point and proved to be smooth and moreish, so I had some more. The bitter once again hovered below par, but a new cask restored service to normal, though by then I'd moved on to Winter Warmer, a jet black, full bodied, liquoricey, chocolatey brew with a distinct East Kent Goldings finish. Very drinkable, but substantial for too much repitition.
The World War 2 mob disappeared to do whatever they do when not getting in the way in the pub and we settled into our table. The police called too, but this time not seeking drunk drivers, but interviewing witnesses to a glassing that had taken place elsewhere the night before. A frisson of alarm spread through some, no doubt due to the number of cars outside. Our lot had walked though, so immune to such things we carried on, by now back on bitter.
We walked down the lane in bitter cold, like the wise men of old, guided by a shining light that clearly seemed to be over Middleton. A second coming? I doubt it. Jupiter is VERY visible this time of year. It guided us to the Hopwood where I just had time for a pint of Theakstons Mild, which was excellent, before our expensive taxi home. The last bus had gone at around 16.45 so a taxi it had to be. Getting better is nicer than being ill, but a lot more expensive!
Well I am on the mend, but by no means mended. My appetite is returning and yesterday I had my first drink since last Thursday - a couple of pints of Lees Bitter. I am up for my Christmas Lunch though and have a visit to the pub first. So, despite the cough which is a bastard to be frank, it is best foot forward.
I'm bad. E has gone to the pub without me, as there are Christmas cards to give out, turkey to be picked up, as well as eggs. She says she'll have a glass or two. The thought of beer, or indeed any alcohol, appals me.
I spotted this and thought it worth sharing, as it seems to contradict experience here a little bit.
Irish pubs have reported a 20% plunge in pub draught sales in November, said the Herald newspaper on December, 15. Industry experts are describing the crisis as "meltdown" for the market, which has seen an even bigger drop in the sale of bottle and canned beer - at 25%
This follows drops of 8% for draught beer and 10% for canned beer the previous month. Internal statistics compiled by the country’s biggest brewers shows only cheaper brands are holding steady as consumer spending wanes. Sources predicted the financial pressure of the sales slump will lead more pubs to close or go into examinership. (Whatever that is!)
For the year so far, beer sales are down 5%. However, the rate of the fall accelerated as consumer confidence plummeted in the face of recession. Pubs and shops are finding it hardest to sell premium brands as drinkers face a leaner Christmas and prepare for the predicted financial woes of the new year. Cheaper drinks such as Bavaria, Tuborg and Dutch Gold are maintaining their sales figures.
So it seems that even supermarkets in Ireland are struggling to sell beer, but not the cheap stuff. It is interesting that pub sales fell less than canned and bottled sales.
When I was a lad, a long time ago, McEwan's had a series of adverts with the McEwan's Cavalier starring in cartoon form. McEwan's aka Scottish and Newcastle, aka Heineken has now re- released one of the cartoons from the sixties as it seems McEwan's has won the number one ale in the Scottish Grocery Sector, presumably for McEwan's Export, a sweet and horrible beer.
I can remember the advert, though it was by no means the best of the series. Just like the beer really!
My old Yankee mate Fred Waltman who runs the Franconia Beer Guide (linked left) also runs a sort of beer tour to Bamberg and other drinking parts of Europe. He was in Düsseldorf with his mob while we were there and we met up for a beer or three.
The Sticke Warriors were founded by Fred to pursue his love of Zum Uerige's Stcke beer. As Fred says in his site "One of my favorite places to drink beer is a brewpub called Zum Uerige in Düsseldorf. They basically only serve one beer - an Alt beer. Now it turns out that a couple of times a year they brew a special batch called Sticke - which is local slang for "secret." They don't advertise or promote it. On the day before, they hang a sign (in slang) that says "Tomorrow Sticke." I had never tasted this beer, so I asked the brewery when it was next going to be served, and it turns out the dates are not such a secret - the third Tuesday in January and October. So I decided to go (this was October 1988). And it turns out that three friends that are also homebrewers decided to come along. So was born Sticke 98."
Fred still goes more or less every year, usually to co-incide with Sticke night. In fact I met him there last year. This time he had twenty plus people with him. Though it wasn't Sticke Night, they had arranged with the brewery to have a barrel of Sticke held back and this was duly produced. At around 6.5% it is considerably stronger than the normal alt, but on this occasion, was a little too sweet and not entirely clear. I and Tom Perrera, another old mate who runs Knickerbocker Beer Tours and now brews at Webster's Brewpub in Duisberg switched to the normal and more refreshing ordinary alt. Incidentally, but interestingly, Tom tells me he has persuaded the owners of Websters to let him brew an American style IPA. Good luck to him on that one.
We left the warriors busily consuming vast quantities of sticke alt and equally vast quantities of pork knuckle. Next day we met Fred in Cologne. "Did you finish off the barrel?" I asked. "Yes" he replied with a grin. Well done lads!
I believe it was a 50 litre barrel. At 25cl glasses, that's 200 glasses. Respect to the Warriors!
My thoughts on the German pub scene are still in the formulative stages, so you'll have to wait for that one. Instead I'll share a few observations of the German Rauchsverbot or smoking ban, as applied in North Rhine-Westphalia. Unlike the Bavarian version, this state allows smoking in separate enclosed rooms and one roomed pubs are exempt, thus making this drinker avoid a number of promising boozers. The smoke also chased us out of the Pilsner Urquell Ausschank after one hastily consumed half litre of U Fleku dark.
Of course my drinking in Dusseldorf was largely confined to the classic brew pubs and it was here the hurt was deepest. It started off promisingly though in F Schumacher's Altstadt pub. Here in the schwemme or public bar, (my favourite spot so I can watch the barrels being tapped and the beers poured,) there was no smoking - in fact it was no smoking throughout. I always think the delicately balanced, hop infused alt here is the finest to be had and many glasses were consumed over the two days we were there. This lulled us into a false sense of security, as across the road, Zum Schlussel's schwemme was a smoking zone. Damn. Fortunately this is my least favourite alt, though by no means bad, so we had a couple in a separate no smoking area and left. Later that day we were due to meet some American friends in Zum Uerige, in my opinion, one of the best pubs in the world. Here, my favourite room was given over entirely to smokers. Curses. I love that room. We fled to the comfort of the side room where at least, we could watch the beer being poured, as uniquely among the four home brew pubs, the schwemme is not the setting for beer dispense. I like Uerige's Alt, more distinctly bitter than the others and very, very drinkable.
The next day in a sleetstorm, we headed for Im Fuchsen - The Fox. Here the schwemme was firmly no smoking with the alcove at the right , previously part of the main schwemme, now with doors on it and a new sign saying "Raucherschwemme". We settled in at one of the typical high tables here, having quite a few glasses of another well balanced alt.
It seems that North Rhine-Westphalia has reached a reasonable compromise as far as big pubs go. The smokers are confined to small enclosed areas. Regrettably the apparent exemption for one roomed pubs makes quite a few places unpleasant to visit. There was no sign of diminished business in any of these pubs, in fact all were going like a fair, but the quality of the beer and the general "offering" is outstanding, so why should it?
The figures in the photo are in the schwemme in Zum Uerige.
There's been a lot since I went away I want to comment on. I'll do my report on my travels later, but I want to concentrate on my observations of the German pub scene. It was booming. I think I understand why it is, and how it might influence or compare with the UK.
I need to think it through though before writing it down. I doubt if it will give much hope to publicans here though.
After a particularly long National Winter Ales Festival Meeting, the Organiser, my mate Graham and his Deputy, his mate me, tottered into the Marble Arch for something pale and hoppy to wash away the taste of the Draught Bass we'd been forced to drink in the Unicorn. We - all of us - not just Graham and I, had supped them dry of Copper Dragon IPA and Golden Pippin. The new nine of Pippin lasted barely an hour. It left Draught Bass, a beer that so resembled Pedigree that it might have been a tweak of it. We choked one down and had no more.
Back in the Marble, pints of the daftly named "Pint" were procured and a mate of mine grabbed my ear. "Let me introduce you to a couple of people you'll like". The two lasses turned out to be the owners of Mallinson's Huddersfield Brewery and we sat down to find out a little more. The first surprise was that she knew of me; "you wouldn't be Tandleman?" she enquired! It seems Tara (right) and her business partner Elaine (left) are readers and liked what I wrote about their beers when I visited Huddersfield. We had a pleasant half hour with them, listening to their beer philosophy - scrupulous cleanliness and lots of hops might sum it up. They welcome critical feedback and confirmed that I should tell it as I saw it. They regard all feedback as useful.
Graham was interested in just how many breweries are run by women. Tara knows a few and Graham was able to add a couple more. He has a notion of getting a few of them together at National Winter Ales.Not a bad idea if they are all as enthusiastic as these two!
There is a handy list of outlets on the brewery's web site. They are also doing the house beer at the New Oxford in Salford. I'll report on it soon.
Yesterday, for our evening meal, we had my home made beef carbonade made with Lees Moonraker Strong Ale. Started off in a cast iron casserole dish and finished off in our slow cooker, it was very fine indeed and an ideal dish to come home to after our pub visit.
First Bus even chipped in by making us wait, busless, in the sub zero temperatures until we were cold enough to really appreciate a warming stew. Well done on that one!
"It’s theer mon, rake it eawt " is what the peasants are alleged to have said as they tried to capture the moon's reflection.
The "Axe The Beer Tax" campaign brings together all those with an interest in saving the British pub according to their website. The aims are as follows:
• To stop plans to increase beer tax by up to a third • To enforce existing laws – not create new ones - to deal firmly with irresponsible drinkers and premises • To end the irresponsible promotion of alcohol in supermarkets, pubs and elsewhere • To trust responsible adults to make informed choices about what they drink, not punish them for the actions of an irresponsible minority • To support the British pub as a vital part of social life in local communities.
To get it all in the public eye, there were a number of high profile launches last week, using rather fetching TV personalities. The campaign is supported by many groups including my own local brewery JW Lees. Others include Wells, AB, Punch Taverns, Diageo as well as many other trade big hitters. I am glad to see CAMRA's logo prominently displayed too.
Cynics might scoff at this, but I feel that action of this sort is very much needed and should be supported. You can do so by following various links on the site. If you agree, why not sign up? The worst that can happen is that the Home Secretary will send Plod round to have a word with you!
Pictured is Kym Marsh who plays Coronation St barmaid Michelle Connor
Lees annual festive beer, Plum Pudding, is back on sale and pretty good it is too, with dry plum skins, fruitiness and a clean, bitter, aromatic finish. I finished the session on it yesterday, having drunk some superb Brewer's Dark, the bitter being a bit off the mark on this occasion.
A footnote to this is that it was tried by accident in a way. We were expecting Lees other seasonal, Winter Warmer at the Tavern, but the brewery sent the wrong beer! Ah well, no hardship as it turns out and hopefully I'll try the Winter Warmer at the brewery when I visit on Friday.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
This blog mentions specifics; pubs and beer, good and bad. The opinions will be forthright, but you can always disagree, just don't be offended. Comments from those mentioned are particularly welcome and a right of reply is hereby offered.
Read my information and links and then decide for yourself. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes.
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