Saturday 31 January 2009

Odd Spat at Makro

Makro is a giant Cash and Carry wholesaler, selling just about everything you can think of to those who run their own businesses, including pubs and off licences. They carry a large range of drinks and have also recently been running a Love the Pub Campaign to help pubs offset the current crisis, by looking closely at the prices they pay for key products in order to make crucial savings. They say "That’s why we’ve launched the Love The Pub campaign with support from our industry partners, because in the current climate every penny really does count, and that’s where we can all help by committing to offer the most competitive prices to help pubs cut costs."

So you could, like me, just see this as a grab for market share, an invitation to break the tie and an open swipe at the supermarkets, but here comes the bizarre bit. According to, Makro has removed all 275 ml bottles of Carlsberg Export from its shelves to punish Carlsberg for the fact that supermarkets were selling it at 30p a bottle, while pubs would be expected to sell it for around £2.40 a bottle. A miffed Carlsberg retorted that they were being "singled out" and that they don't set prices, customers do. You can just about see their point a little, as they are hardly alone in this respect, though they are, quite possibly, along with Stella, the worst offender.

Frankly I can't make head or tail of these odd shenanigans, but I thought it worth sharing.

Friday 30 January 2009

Good Beer Guide Selection Meeting

Ours is tomorrow. Due to the long lead in times, we will be discussing GBG 2010 entries. I am hoping that it will be a fruitful and democratic meeting, where we will pick the best pubs for our branch and ultimately for those who purchase the product.

A lot of guff is talked about how cabals of CAMRA insiders decide in advance what is what and who will be in the guide. In my branch, despite being Chairman, I have no more idea than the next man and will argue for the pubs I support with passion, as well as listening carefully to the arguments of others. The list we will choose from has been compiled by asking every member we have what they think. The system isn't perfect, but I have no doubt, in other CAMRA branches, my counterparts will be trying hard to be fair and democratic too. Then begins the onerous job of surveying the pubs to ensure they are fit for selection and the complicated process of getting the entries to CAMRA centrally.

The work of CAMRA branches behind the scenes is never ending. It is a labour of love for most of us, so when you pick up your copy of the Good Beer Guide and agree or disagree with our selection, remember we are (mostly) just doing our best.

I am told unofficially that CAMRA membership is expected to break the 100,000 barrier early next year.

Thursday 29 January 2009

Honey Beer. Why?

I note that JDW have commissioned the respected Freeminer Brewery to bring out a new spring ale for them. Honey Dipper is made from First Gold hops from Worcestershire and honey from Fairtrade suppliers in Chile. It is a “full-flavoured”, gold-coloured, 4.6% abv ale. I presume it tastes of honey, a flavour I personally dislike. In brewing terms, honey is good. It ferments easily and imparts a noticeable honey taste, depending on amount used. I assume unless you want it to taste slightly (or more) of honey, then there is no point in using it.

Are there good honey beers out there? Do you have to like honey to like honey beers? I'd think so. Am I wrong?

Wednesday 28 January 2009

The Pope's Chair

The most comfortable chair at our Sunday table at my local is nicknamed the Pope's Chair. It is a venerable and ample beast, round, with arms. It is sought after and fought over keenly by members of our group, as it is not only comfy, but it commands an excellent view of proceedings for the avid pub watcher. For some time though it has been in a state of serious decay. The stretchers have popped, been re-glued by me and others and popped again. It was becoming so dangerous that its attraction waned. No-one wanted to be in it when its inevitable collapse came and for safety reasons it was recently withdrawn from use. It'll probably end up on the fire.

The Landlady bless her, has been scouting around for a replacement and to our astonishment, a more or less identical chair was located in a second hand shop, re-covered and placed in the pub in its normal place on Saturday. There was a cutting the ribbon ceremony performed by my mate John, who is one of the keen contesters of the seat.

Our pub is special in a lot of ways, but that was a particularly nice touch.

Monday 26 January 2009

Drunk Dry

By half past nine on Saturday night, we had been drunk dry of cask conditioned beer. There was cider and foreign beer left, but we closed the doors and got everyone out by ten. After an hour of tearing bars down and generally pulling the place apart, it no longer looked like a beer festival, more like the aftermath of a riot. A halt was called and we sat down among the debris, stunned and shattered. Then we got quietly pissed and slunk off, bit by bit to sleep. I got the night bus at 02.08. A top tip here. Do not bring a kebab on the night bus. One guy did so and his refusal to give it up resulted in a 10 minute delay while a flying squad of First Bus heavies were summoned. They gave him one chance, which when turned down, resulted in him being thrown off like a sack of potatoes, kebab and all. This is good. They should have them out during the day, but then their hands would be too full I reckon.

We had record attendance, record beer sales and unfortunately, record queues. The venue is getting too small for our needs. We signed up plenty of new members, there was excellent beer and cider and lots of very hard working volunteers. For those who believe that these events don't attract women, think again. The place was buzzing with them to a distracting level. It should be a financial success too with a bit of luck. There was over 7000 8000 customers and not one bit of trouble. The stewards did not have to ask anyone to leave, or even, as far as I know, to behave. Real ale does attract a better class of drinker. All in all, a good do.

Now I'm off to the last take down session, where we fill the very large wagon that will go back to HQ in St Albans with a lot of cooling kit, beer engines and a million and one bits and pieces. Then I can get back to normal I hope. I am looking forward to that.

The picture, from their own web site, shows New Century House.

Saturday 24 January 2009

Wrong Again

If you want to know the Champion Winter Beer of Britain, Look at Maeib's blog, not mine. It links to CAMRA HQ.

I could just delete the wrong reference and gloss over it of course, but that wouldn't be right would it?

Friday 23 January 2009

Normal Service

Won't be resumed until next week. I'm just too knackered. Had a good day yesterday though. Numbers are up, I was a judge in the National Porters Competition with Zak Avery and four others. We agreed mostly on the line up and I don't think my palate let me down. I met plenty of nice people from the trade as well as local friends and one or two others including Dave from Dave's Beer Blog, with whom I'd have liked to talk properly.

I did make it out to the last bus, stone cold sober and we start again at twelve. Why do we do this I keep asking my self and others, but the punters seem to like it.

Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild is the Champion Winter Beer though I didn't judge that.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

NWAF Update

We are getting there! A huge amount of kit and enough beer to float a battleship is now firmly ensconced in the New Century Hall, Staff have been arriving from near and far and some of us are knackered already and we haven't even opened yet. Being used to handling nines of beer, I had more or less forgotten how heavy eighteens are. I was reminded in no uncertain terms. Everyone is pitching in with both specialist and general teams meshing together. I am multi tasking like I was back at work. There is even some younger people helping us old codgers. Hooray for that.

The final touches are being put today and we are hoping for over 7000 people. The trade session is in great demand. No-one is worrying yet about getting it all back out of the hall, but hopefully, at least the damn casks won't weigh as much!

I'll try and keep in touch over how we are doing, but I can't promise. We open today at four.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Germans Supping Less and Cheaper

According to Die Welt, The German Brewers Association has released figures indicating that consumption of beer in the country is at an all-time low. In 2008 per capita consumption sank to 109.5 litres, 2.2 litres less than 2007. The heady days of the 1970's when consumption was high above the 150 litre mark are far away now says the article.

The drop is being blamed on the recession, the elimination of smoking in bars and changes in consumption patterns among younger drinkers. Brewers indicated that market conditions were increasingly difficult during the last quarter of the year. The drop in consumption will put pressure on Germany's 1,300 breweries and likely result in consolidations and some closures.

There is also some rather disturbing facts about what beer Germans drink, presumably at home. They like it cheap. The top selling beer was Oettinger, a bargain brand which is sold very cheaply. This is followed by well known brands Krombacher, Bitburger, Warsteiner and Becks. An on line survey with Die Welt shows that 50% of Germans say they buy on taste, yet the brewers figures show they buy on price. This leads to a prediction that brewers will find it difficult to increase their prices to customers this year.

In my view, homogenisation, branding, falling consumption and sheer lack of imagination is turning Germany into a beer wasteland, with just a few pockets of brightness. I have remarked on it before, but the German beer market is becoming ever more depressing.

The article is here in German only

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Talking Bollocks

I have been. The trade session is on Thursday next week (22nd) from 13.30. Not Wednesday as I alleged.


Dark Day - Almost

CAMRA business took me to the centre of Manchester yesterday. That meant having a couple of drinks. Two unusual things for me there. One, I don't normally have a drink on a Monday and two, I am almost never in the centre of Manchester on a Monday.

Business done and a comfort break needed I went into a pub I've never been in. Guess what the Bank was before? It is all on one level though and sold three cask beers. A look at the pump clip attachments put one immediate thought into my mind "Nicolsons". Yes it was run by the M&B subsidiary. My last experience of them was in Glasgow where I had a frosty reception. Not so here. The young barmaid was chatty, bright and a real ray of sunshine on a gloomy Manchester day. It makes a real difference you know. The beer choice wasn't so appealing. I dismissed the Rosey Nosey and something else so mundane, I can't even recall what it was and had a half of Ginger Tosser from Skinners. It wasn't bad and it wasn't ginger tasting. A closer look at the pump clip revealed that there is honey in it - one of my least liked ingredients in beer or, indeed, anything. It wasn't that bad is all I'll say, but I'd have left out the honey and put in some ginger.

Walking to the Northern part of the city I nipped into the Angel. A half of Green Mill Dark Side, a mild, was just as good as it was in Rochdale last week in a pub with one other customer. Then the Marble Arch where two halves finished things off. Prospect Brewery of Wigan's Nutty Slack has been getting good reviews recently. Well deserved too, for this fine dark mild, with sweetish undertones, a full body and an appropriate coal dust finish. Marble Chocolate was dark, rich and satisfying and was just enough to lift the experience of being in a very empty pub.

So I'm not missing much on Mondays, but good mild is easy to come by and all beers were in tip top condition. It's great up North. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of pub going when you can depend on the beer.

Monday 12 January 2009

National Winter Ales Festival

Did I mention here that I am Deputy Organiser for this splendid event? No? Well I am. It takes place next week from Wednesday 21st to Saturday 24th at the Co-op's New Century Hall, right opposite Victoria Station in Manchester. It promises to be good. There will be lots of excellent beer, both British and Foreign, cider and lots of other interesting things including the Champion Winter Beer of Britain. I'll be judging in the Stouts and Porters section, as well as doing a million other things. My head is swimming with it already and we haven't got going yet.

I know it is in the North, but do try and come along, drink some beer and say hello.Full details are on this link

Friday 9 January 2009

Up and Coming

When you think of the great destination beer towns in this country your mind probably starts to list them roughly as follows: Sheffield, Huddersfield, Manchester, Liverpool, Chester, Leeds, Derby etc. etc. I suppose to some extent the list you come up with will be influenced by a number of factors including where you live, how often you get out and about, what you drink and whether you are a ticker or not. Either way, you will have certain places that you will regard as worth going to, whatever your beery predilections. Almost certainly you won't include Rochdale. This may be about to change.

Historically a part of Lancashire, Rochdale's recorded history begins with an entry in the Domesday Book of 1086. Today it is a large market town of 95,000 people about 10 miles from Manchester, with some nice buildings and the usual concrete monstrosities of shopping centres somewhat dominating. It is the birthplace of the Co-op. What it also has is quite a few free houses and these are starting to wake up to the potential of cask ale. Currently in the centre there are around five decent free houses within a fifteen minute walk of each other. I don't know about you, but to me, that is a decent little crawl.

You could do worse than start as I did at the Cask and Feather. This used to be the home of Thomas McGuinness Brewing, which lasted quite a few years, producing rather bland beers until a fire stopped all that. The pub is nothing special, but two beers from Phoenix were tried and were in excellent condition. Navvy was clean with a very bitter resinous finish. Snowbound was fuller in the body with a good hop finish and made a good start to my crawl. I didn't try Thwaites Lancaster Bomber. So three ever changing beers here.

A ten minute walk takes you to the Baum in the conservation area. This is a smashing place. With wooden boards, old enamel adverts, a mature clientèle, tapas and full meals available, a good selection of foreign beers and up to five ever changing guest beers, what's not to like? It is one of the few places I know where the staff are as good as the Angel in Manchester. Lately they have upped their beer game here and yesterday was no exception. Dark was the theme and the sheer good condition of the beers reminded me what a pleasure it is to drink top quality milds and porters. Additionally you get 40p off a pint on production of a CAMRA membership card! First up was Rochdale's own Green Mill Brewery. The beer was Dark Side and at 3.9% it was tasty and moreish. I followed this up with the excellent 3B's Knocker Up, a 4.8% traditional porter which was soothing, full bodied with a long smooth, malty finish. Then by contrast Phoenix Porter at 5%. A real treat this, with a full malty body and enough hop to lift it beyond the Knocker up for this writer. The finish was resinous, but just malty enough to keep it out of the stout category. A classic. My last beer wasn't so successful. Hornbeam Blackcurrant Wheat, was astringent, thin and had a weedy finish, where you could just about detect blackcurrant. Not great in my view, but the barmaid professed to quite liking it, though she also admitted it had had a mixed reception. I didn't try the Moorhouses Premier.

Next up was the GBG listed Regal Moon (JDW) which is newly managed by a regular at our pub, He used to manage the JDW in Huddersfield and intends to build up the cask side of things. I stuck to two superb beers, both from Elland Brewery. Savannah was 3.8%, pale, hoppy and very drinkable, while the 4.2% Eden was stunningly good, with Chinook hops providing bitterness and Cascade a resiny fruity finish. What a good beer. Greene King IPA was on at 99p, but only two pints were sold when I was there. There are usually seven or eight beers here and most aren't the usual JDW suspects, though there is no choice but to sell IPA. However it seems if that is not available, an alternative 99p beer will be offered.

My last call was the Flying Horse a mere two minutes away. There I could have chosen Green Mill, Moorhouses, Landlord, Lees or Phoenix. Naturally I went for Phoenix, this time, Thirsty Moon which was clean, bitter, aromatic and downright tasty.

So there you have it. I didn't get round to the Merrie Monk which has Hydes and a guest, but around 20 different beers, all good quality in a short, tight little crawl. Rochdale is coming up beer wise. Keep your eye on it.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Joseph Holt

Have I mentioned Joey Holt's here? Only as an aside I think, but really I should do. I was prompted to tell you a little about them by a visit to their Old Blue Bell in Bury the other night for a CAMRA meeting. The Old Blue Bell isn't in the nicest area of Bury and for most of us who came by car, the nagging worry was would it still be in one piece when we came out? Still there is nothing wrong with the pub. A big solid red brick bugger with a decent sized vault and two, or was it three, separate rooms off, all comfortably furnished in upholstered benches and of course, a corridor or rather what was left of it before they opened it out a bit.

We had a nice room off the bar at the back where we could hear the mostly female hoots of laughter from the outside smoking area. Hardy lasses those from Bury. It would have frozen a yak outside, but it didn't seem to bother them one bit. The beer of choice for me was Mild. It is 3.2% and is absolutely delicious when on form, as it was on Tuesday night. Others had the bitter which is 4% and pronounced it excellent too.

Ah yes. Back to Holt's. Joseph Holt is a family owned brewer, founded in 1849 and based in the Derby Brewery, just outside Manchester City Centre. There are 127 Joseph Holt's houses. All lie within a 25-mile radius of Greater Manchester. The brewery produces a cask mild, bitter and seasonal beers in a fully modernised and flexible brewery and the company is fiercely independent. Relatively rarely for smaller brewers, they still brew their own lager too; Crystal and Diamond and, in cans only, the delightfully named "Holtenbrau". Alas they don't brew the half-palindromic "Regal" any more.

Holt's have changed over the years. They used to be very cheap, but now are catching up a bit but you'll still get decent change out of £2 for either Mild or Bitter. Mild is usually around 8p less than the bitter too. The beer, well the bitter mainly, has also changed. Once described thus in the GBG "its uncompromising bitterness can come as a shock to the unwary". It is still rather bitter, around 40 or so IBU's though a bit better balanced than it used to be. Holt's still deliver their beer to some outlets in the mighty hogshead or 54 imperial gallons. Full, they weigh in at a hefty 6cwt or 290 kilograms, so don't ever pick a fight with a Holt's drayman!

Holt's also brew a delightful Old Ale called "Sixex" which used to be available in nips, but now comes in the standard 500 ml bottle, as well as a full range of other bottled beers.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Loo Loo Land

You can be as sniffy as you like about Wetherspoons, but when it comes to toilets, the only smell in a JDW is the sweet smell of success. The company was once again a big winner in the annual "Loo of the Year Awards."

So as you "enjoy" 99p pints of horrible Greene King IPA, you can rest easy that your comfort break experience will be a good one and if you really wish to cock a snook at the company, you can just slip in under the wire for a quick pee or a luxurious number two. Okay you will most likely have to negotiate an improbably large number of stairs, up or down, to your lavatorial nirvana and according to some, risk tripping over comatose drunks and dead dogs, but you won't have to have a drink. They are far too cavernous and understaffed to even notice you.

And it'll make a change from McDonalds when suddenly caught short!

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Mortlake to Close

Seems that the last vestige of the old Watney Mann empire will be swept away in 2010 with InBev's proposal to close the Budweiser plant at Mortlake, formerly Watney's Stag Brewery. The company adds all the usual weasel words that always accompany such things: "no reflection on our workforce", "changing market conditions", "increases in taxation" "need for synergies after our takeover of AB" etc. etc.

It is always sad to see a brewery close, but this had an air of inevitability about it. A declining brand, a large and expensive brewery and the need to pay for a takeover. Nobody will miss the beer which will be trunked in seamlessly and tastelessly from elsewhere - though goodness know where that elsewhere is - but people will lose their jobs. That's never a cause for celebration. Maybe this is the beginning of the end for Budweiser in the European market, where it has no real following anyway. The King of Beers? Seems to me more hollow a phrase than ever.

The Stag Brewery in Mortlake, West London, which employs 182 workers, dates back to the 15th century and is one of the oldest brewery sites in the UK.

Sunday 4 January 2009

Seeing the Light Again

Yesterday took me briefly to the "wrong" end of Central Manchester. I was down to do "postering" for the National Winter Ales Festival, so I met with the others in the Knott Bar. I have been a bit overdosed on Lees since my illness prevented me from travelling, or rather, knocked the inclination out of me. It was cheering to start off with a very pleasant pint of Marble's Manchester Bitter. Pale, hoppy, full bodied with biscuity malt, it was just the dab for jaded taste buds. Alas it came to end before my request for a second could be fulfilled. Damn. Dilemma. The other beers were dark except Hornbeam Lemon Blosson which I had condemned in no uncertain terms before here. Still, being a very forgiving type, I plumped for it and was pleasantly surprised. The artificial "lemon" taste had gone, instead a clean, zesty beer was very welcome.

We soldiered on visiting dingy back street pubs, sticking posters up and leaving "flyers" with snotty concierges until our second beer stop. Unfortunately in the Atheneum, an impressive former banking hall, they couldn't get the Young's pump to cough up any beer and we eschewed the alternative Bombardier and had little better luck in either the Waterhouse or the City Arms where all beers were dark. We pressed on with the job and eventually, having knuckled down and completed our tasks, we finished in the Crown and Kettle where excellent pale pints of Titanic Iceberg were consumed and repeated. This brewery has come back on form after a dodgy patch I reckon. As an aside I also tried a half of Cheshire IPA from Dunham Massey which proved to be overwhelmingly, sweet and cloying and hoppy at the same time. Like most of their beers, not for me.

Two more ports of call though. The Angel brought us pints of Allgates New Year Ale which was decent but not inspiring though the usual charming and excellent service here causes me to make huge allowance. Finally on to the Marble Arch where we were told one of the beers of the century was on, a new beer called Brew 1425. This pale, 5.9% golden beer of over 50 units of bitterness was powerful in the aroma, hugely hopped and bitter, but for me harsh, unbalanced and hard to drink. Others had raved to me about it, but for me it just didn't work. I really was disappointed, though perhaps another time would have been better, but this is a "one off". Things were redeemed for me by the excellent Mallinson's Matterhorn which was fresh, lemony and zesty with a good hop finish. I had my last beer of the night from another old favourite, Pictish. This time Galena. Somehow Richard Sutton the brewer drags every possible nuance out of his hops. This was no exception and was very hoppy, very pale and a great beer to end the night on.

And hooray for First Bus. The 163 came immediately! There's a first time - no pun intended - for everything!

Thursday 1 January 2009

Out With the Old?

Well, yes and no. The New Year's beer finished well, with a couple of pints of very in form Lees Bitter in the Olde Boar's Head. The year finished with less good news, as my little mate from the pub, Tommy died last night. We had only celebrated his 80th birthday a few short weeks ago. Fittingly, it was the landlady from our pub that rang me to tell me.

I didn't have another beer last night, nor after midnight, but today we are all off to the pub as we usually are on New Year's Day. This time we'll raise a glass to Tom who of course would normally be with us.

For our added convenience First Bus are offering no transport, but one of the boys will pick us up and take us part way there. Getting back is not yet computed!

Happy New Year Everyone. Lang may your lum reek!