Thursday 30 April 2009

Micro Bar

The Food Court of Manchester's massive and eponymous Arndale Centre is a little haven from the lookalike chain stores that infest such places. Among stalls selling Chinese, Lebanese, Indian and other foods, facing the tramlines on Church St, is that most blessed and rare of beasts, a beer stall.

For some years it meandered along in a haphazard fashion selling mediocre beer from a Welsh micro in plastic glasses. Recently the lease was taken over by ambitious Manchester Micro Brewer, Boggart. Now Boggart beers aren't to everyone's taste, so is there cause for celebration? An emphatic yes. While Boggart beers do feature, it is the other arm of their operation that provides the real interest. Boggart factors beer for other brewers. It is a major supplier of cask beer to the free trade and to beer festivals. The fruits of this labour feature as guests on the stall. Despite its typical market size, it sports three handpumps for beer, plus Kupper's Koelsch on draught, as well as a handpumped cask cider. It sells a decent range of bottled beers too, including more or less, the full Brew Dog Range.

Yesterday it had a new guest. Thornbridge Cocoa Dance, a chocolate and mandarin mild. This 3.5% dark beer was correctly conditioned, cool and sparkled. Served in glass now - what an improvement - the beer was full bodied and luscious, with just the merest hint of Terry's Chocolate Orange running through it. A very good and interesting beer indeed, served by a charming and chatty barmaid, who made a change from her grumpy and monosyllabic predecessors.

Spot the error in the price list?

Tuesday 28 April 2009

The Villiers

When I lived in Liverpool I often used to frequent the Villiers when in town. A street corner Higsons pub, it was cosy and welcoming with good beer. My old mate RedNev and I, among many others, stopped a lot of Higgies going sour in there.

There was a fearsomely steep set of stairs down to the toilet, so much so, that after a few pints, it looked like a ladder. You needed these pints to have the courage to tackle it.

Like Higsons, I wish it was still there, but it made way for a shopping centre over 20 years ago.

I am grateful to RedNev for the photo and the memories.

Monday 27 April 2009


Yesterday we took a short stroll to the Highway to watch some of the marathon. Huge crowds greeted the red faced and clearly knackered section of runners we observed - the elite having finished hours ago were probably on a training run by then. We had to walk a fair way east before an underpass allowed us to cross the road and head down to Wapping High St. The Prospect of Whitby was straight ahead, so we popped in. The guest beer wasn't brown. It was golden. Hooray. It was also off, as in not available. Boo. GKIPA, Abbot or London Pride? I had the LP which tasted of little, but wasn't as sweet as it sometimes is. It was though in very good condition and at a cool temperature. No cellar skill problems here.

Our next stop was the keg only Captain Kydd. Sam Smith owned, with fine views across the river. I quite like it here and drink the wheat beer, while E drinks Pure Brewed Lager. Only problem - the glasses. I asked for a proper wheat beer glass, but was told they'd mostly been stolen. Hmm. The nonic pints and halves did nothing for either beer.

Maybe they could do a deposit system like Germany for the nice glasses, or, like some Dutch pubs, make the purchaser hand over one of their shoes? Given the fact the customers are a pretty affluent (though thieving) lot, I'd guess their footwear is worth more than a glass? It would certainly be a talking point and maybe give me a decent glass to drink out of.

Saturday 25 April 2009

Good Stuff

My last couple of days in London have been taken up with meeting fellow bloggers. The good news is that I won't bore you with the details, but I will meet Woolpack Dave's recommendation to say nice things about pubs.

I didn't get a bad pint or go to a pub I didn't like in the last two days. OK some of the beer was a bit brown and some I liked a lot less than others, but I suppose it makes a change. Happily though it was interspersed with one or two pale and hoppy beauties. Step forward Dark Star Hophead and Oakham Hareflick, the latter in particular being responsible for me overdoing it slightly last night. I did make my usual pilgrimage to Covent Garden's Porterhouse to sample my favourite Wrassler's Stout. I also tried Clotworthy Dobbin, which was a lot darker than I'd anticipated and rather sweet and fruity, though to my taste, completely over carbonated.

Oh yes, nice things about pubs. Well I found without exception cheerful and pleasant bar staff, clean and welcoming pubs and most were very busy indeed despite the recession. I couldn't even fight my way in to the Harp, as it was overwhelmed with office workers supping madly. I know the Nag's Head in Covent Garden is a pricey tourist trap and that McMullen's beers aren't outstanding, but the pub itself is rather fine, with great views through large windows. I liked the Castle in Furnival St too, where Tyson and I had a pleasant chat with the manager in mid pub crawl and subsequent pubs were no less enjoyable. I even liked the massive JDW we supped in last night - I reckon that for sheer grandeur the Crosse Keys takes some beating and it was going like a fair as most inner London pubs seem to be. One thing really does make a pub buzz and that's a throng of customers and there seemed to be no shortage of them anywhere we went.

So yes, London really does have great pubs with great atmosphere and if you put aside that life doesn't always need to be one big beer festival, you can really have a good time in them.

Thursday 23 April 2009

BBPA Slams Fair Pint

The big brewer and PubCo dominated British Beer and Pub Association has laid into the Fair Pint Campaign over its assertion that it is high rents and the beer tie that is causing pub closures. It counters that it is increases in tax that is doing the dirty - a somewhat diametrically opposite view. Further it blames Fair Pint for letting the government off the hook on tax in yesterday's budget.

A number of bloggers have commented on the dastardly deeds of the PubCos. The knives are out for them and they know it, hence this water muddying exercise. In their present unequal format they are sucking the lifeblood out of pubs and have been doing so ever since the Beer Orders. Now they recognise they've been rumbled.

PubCos and their apologists can huff and puff, but they are on the retreat and not a moment too soon.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Maybe It's because I'm a Northerner

My trip to the Goodman's Field was everything it shouldn't have been. The place is crap. The beer was crap, with the condition of the beer being pitiful. I only had the Finnish Porter. It was flat, tired and a pale shadow of the beer I had tried in Rochdale. I left most of it.

So then a ten minute walk to the Liberty Bounds, a JDW right by the Tower of London. Funnily, despite the location, this is quite a good JDW. It has decent staff, is well laid out and is not at all cavernous and has a reasonable selection of beer in good condition. The list today wasn't inspiring, but I rather liked the Hook Norton Jackpot, which was so old fashioned I half expected to look out of the window and see a Hurricane doing a victory roll over the Thames, as a Bf 109 splashed in a heap. I'd then be joined by Bader and Co saying "Rotten luck Old Boy" as they had a farewell drink with Jerry before carting him off to the pokey. This was, in case you don't get it, a bloody old fashioned beer. An anachronism, so treasure it while you can.

I also quite liked Titanic Velvet Curtain, though the vanilla is a little overwhelming. Last for here, I tried the Czech Lager, Lucan. Umm, yes. It was may be a good beer and had quite a lot of freshness in the nose, but it was so super saturated with CO2, it was hard to discern how it really tasted. It must have been served with at least at three atmospheres of CO2 - probably more. Not a great way to present it at its best.

So two more on this little crawl. The Princess of Prussia is a great old East End pub, but it is a Shepherd Neame tied house with all the inherent problems that brings. The seasonal was - well I can't remember the name - but it tasted exactly like all SN beers. That's a skill in itself, unless you believe as I do, that all the beers from Shepherd Neame are party gyled from a shitty recipe in the first place. If you disagree, keep on supping Shep's beers. It'll mean all the less for me, which is a very good thing.

My last call was a pub a mere 300 yards from my flat, but one which I haven't been in since - oh - ten years ago - a few years after we bought the flat anyway. Main reason being that it was closed for a lot of the time. The Scarborough Arms is in the middle of a small council estate. I enjoyed the real East End atmosphere very much. The pub has a true local following, friendly bar staff and a real community feeling. I liked it enormously. What about the beer though I hear you scream? Well it wasn't great. Fullers LP and GKIPA in very ordinary condition. Bad enough selling bad beer, but bad beer in bad nick? Oh No.

So there we have it for today at least. My thoughts are usually boringly repetitious when it comes to London. As a generalisation, London has such good pubs, but such awful beer. Sort the beer out and London could shine. It won't though, but I do detect a slight trend upwards.

More of which soon!

PS - Tyson is joining me for a slurpo tomorrow. That'll be interesting!

PPS - I love the East End and am so glad our flat is in E1

The Bree Louise

I was given a recommendation to visit this free house near Euston Station by a reader. Cheers Andy. Many years ago when I spent some time working in the not far away Euston Tower, a few us used to pop in there on the way back to civilisation, when I am sure it was called something else. Mind you, normally we went round the corner to the Exmouth Arms - I think it was called that anyway. Is it still there?

So I had a look today. Firstly I was nearly knocked over by the smell of cooking fat and vinegar and secondly, what a gloomy dump. I couldn't get near the small bar for a number of suits blocking the way and the stillage showed a distinct Marston's bias which didn't appeal. I wasn't chancing it. I fled.

Stonch condemned it roundly here. He was pretty tough on it. Rightly so - it is truly awful.


I'm off to my London flat for a few days later today. Do any of my readers have any up to date tips for me pub and beer wise?

It'd be nice to go somewhere new to me, with good beer and a decent range. My blog has my usual haunts in it somewhere .

Tuesday 21 April 2009

Budget Blues

As the country awaits one of the grimmest budgets ever, there is much interest in the trade press in whether the Chancellor will scrap the beer duty escalator. While there is little doubt that this is a regressive and unfair tax that will do long term damage to beer drinking in pubs, the fiscal reality is that Mr Darling needs cash now. Longer term damage to the pub sector (if it is ever tackled at all which is doubtful) will have to be dealt with by the next government and it ain't likely to be this one. Not Mr D's worry then.

So given the pleadings of the industry, will he scrap or ameliorate the escalator, which since the Chancellor increased duty by 18% last year has seen 2,000 pubs closing with the loss of 20,000 jobs? I fear not. The need to balance the books will overcome any such inclination.

Prepare to pay more for your pint.

Click here to see Mike (No Beard) Benner Chief Exec of CAMRA pleading the "Don't do it" case.

Saturday 18 April 2009

Doing What it Says on the Tin

Readers of this blog will know I am a big fan of Mallinson's beers. After picking E up from the station last night, we called in to the excellent Angel for a couple

I immediately spotted a new Mallinson's beer. Hooray - that's usually pretty good news. P.A.H. stands for pale and hoppy. It is. And it is bloody good too. The barmaid loved the name. We loved the beer. If you click the link above it will take you to their web site. It's called

That's very good advice indeed.

Recession Bites

Seems the recession is hitting discretionary spending in the US. The previously buoyant imported beer scene is taking a severe knock. According to the Wall St Journal, sales of imported beer fell 19% in the first two months of the year, as customers switched to cheaper domestic beer. Some craft brewers have responded by cutting some of their prices to ensure that the switch isn't to mega brewers. Overall spending is down by 4% year on year.

This one has some way to play yet, but in a perverse way presents opportunities for domestic brewers everywhere to grab back some market share. Be interesting to see how the weak pound has affected our imported beer sales.

Friday 17 April 2009

The Pub With No Beer

"It's lonesome away from your kindred and all
By the camp fire at night where the wild dingoes call,
But there's nothing so lonesome so morbid or drear
Than to stand in a bar of a pub with no beer."

Seems the Government, among others, including perhaps surprisingly the British Beer and Pub Association, want to turn some closed pubs into alcohol free "pubs" at around £60,000 a pop. The alcohol-free pubs would be aimed at 13 to 19-year-olds, could help reduce crime, address substance misuse and encourage future adults to drink responsibly. The new pubs will offer the same services as any standard public house business except for alcohol and gambling and be expected to be self financing within a year.

When I was young, no-one had to explain to me or my friends how to use pubs. You just sort of knew when the time had come. But then again, the biggest problem they had with us was stopping us playing football in the street. We had never heard of drugs, alcopops or anything much really. Changed times maybe call for changed measures and it would probably be a better use for some empty pubs. At least they'll have no difficulty in finding premises. There are plenty to go at.

Good plan or bad? Frankly I don't know what to make of it.

The excellent Morning Advertiser has the full story here.

JDW Fest

Given that I take Wetherspoons as I do all pubs, that is I recognise there is good and bad, I decided to start with one I knew to be good when seeking out the more interesting beers in the current beer festival. So, on day one, off to Rochdale and a very quiet Regal Moon I went.

The customers were mostly retired looking men and a fair number were scanning the pump clips, programme in hand. I wasn't the only temporary ticker there. On the bar were four "must haves" or "required" in tickerspeak. Wild Blue Yonder from Bend Brewing in Oregon, Lead Dog from Yukon Brewing in Canada, Palm Steenbrugge Blond from Belgium and Sinebrychoff Porter from Finland. What a line up.

I'd like to pause here to reflect a little on what JDW has done here. In importing cask versions of beers rarely, if ever, seen on cask and commissioning talented brewers from around the world to make cask versions of either an existing beer as in Synbrychoff Porter, or new beers based on beers they brew at home, they have done something different and highly innovative. Whatever your views of JDW, big brewers have been persuaded by them to open their breweries to these brewing upstarts to allow this to be done. British brewing is rightly criticised for its monochrome conservatism, but hopefully this innovation will inspire them to a little more adventure. It also enhances British pub retailing, showing as it does, some serious imagination. Nor is a premium charged for these beers. In an egalitarian gesture that would bring a tear to Karl Marx's eye (and he liked an hour out, albeit on wine, as I recall), all festival ales are sold at the same price. (£1.59 a pint in this case). It therefore provides an incentive to expand your beery horizons - a true level playing field.

So what of the beer? Well they were all in tip top condition for a start. The Wild Blue Yonder perhaps didn't show enough of its hop profile, but was a satisfying and bitter drink, the Lead Dog was excellent - very dark, full bodied, more bitter than billed and a damn good beer. Also excellent, more so even, was the Sinebrychoff Porter. Jet black, toasty and roasty, with all the coffee, chocolate, liquorice and spiciness described in the programme, it was marvellous, with a hefty alcohol hit being well disguised in a hugely complex and rewarding beer. I felt though that on my sample at least, the Palm Steenbrugge Blond, didn't really suit cask format. While full of condition, it lacked the spritziness that it needed to lift the spiciness up and show the beer at its best.

On the way home, I nipped in to my local JDW for the first time in months, expecting little, but amazingly, three more "required" beers were on tap. This time Epic Pale Ale from New Zealand, Baron's Bush Berry Porter and Flying Dutchman, a wheat beer from the Netherlands. I thought the wheat beer in this case was rather dull and lacked the lift that extraneous CO2 gives this kind of beer. It really is horses for courses. The Bush Berry Porter was fascinating, with its dry porter backbone, very smooth and luscious mouthfeel and insistent, slightly sharp and vinous berry notes giving it a mysterious and satisfying finish. Lastly Epic Pale Ale was sweet in the opening with a less than convincing Cascade finish. It seemed to have no middle really. Single hopped, to this drinker at least, it lacked something and certainly needs trying again to see if I was just unlucky on this tasting.

So I enjoyed JDW's Fest and I will be back again before it ends, though likely in London rather than the North. As always I'll compare and contrast.

PS - A shout out for Elgoods - the only "normal" beer tried. I thought their CXXX, based on an 1878 recipe, was tremendous in showing how to use the classic Fuggles and Goldings combo to great effect.

Wednesday 15 April 2009

(Don't) Take Courage

For more than 50 years beer drinkers have been urged to “Take Courage” at their local pub, but now the brewers of the famous ale may have to find a new slogan after the advertising watchdog banned a poster promoting the brand.

The offending poster depicts a man with his partner and the implication that she is about to ask the inevitable "Does my bum look big in this?" The Advertising Standards Authority agreed that the poster implied that " the beer would give the man enough confidence to tell the woman that the dress was unflattering."

Wells and Youngs, the brewers said they believed the poster depicted a scenario many men could relate to and that it did not imply the beer would give the man courage, change his mood or give him confidence.

Another bit of political correctness? Would anyone genuinely be offended? I kind of doubt it. And if most people needed a drink to tell their better half her bum looked big, I'll bet they'd choose something other than Courage to give them courage.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Down the Drain

I was persuaded by herself that the garage needed tidying. It did. In the course of doing so, many dusty and not so dusty bottles of beer were uncovered. Although they've been kept in the dark, I rather doubt if most were drinkable, though I rescued a fair number that might well be. Among those biting the dust were beers as diverse as Young's Special London Ale - gone sour - a pint bottle of Hartley's XB, a bottle of Ward's Yorkshire Classic, a Tsing Tao Dark and a huge bottle of an Anderson Valley Ale from goodness knows how long ago. I couldn't resist a sip of this and it didn't seem too bad. The recycling bin was chinking merrily this morning as I put it out for the binmen.

Many survived including a clutch of elderly Orvals, a number of bottled conditioned French artisanal ales, a genuine brewed at Morland's Hen's Tooth, a bottle of Belgian Guinness that expired in 2004, a bottle of Guinness Triple X, (I wonder if that's drinkable) a number of assorted barley wines and various others of all styles.

I must tackle these. It really is a shame to see good (or once good) beers going to waste. I guess some will follow the others down the drain, but some might just be decent still. We'll see, but I need to overcome my home drinking aversion.

Sorry for the poor photo. I must get that new camera soon.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Happy Easter

For most people, this will be a holiday weekend. Disappointingly the weather forecast doesn't look great, so indoor drinking in the pub, rather than outside in the garden or beer garden, will be the order of the day.

This blog will be taking a break over the weekend and early next week and will return committed to talking about beer and beer related matters. Meantime, I'll be in our pub from time to time, communing with my mates who have endured a Lenten fast from the amber nectar. They'll be making up for lost time, so we'll join them. It would be rude not to. I wish all my fellow bloggers, readers and commentators a happy and peaceful Easter, filled with great beer of your choice.

Have a good weekend.

Beer of the Week - So Far

I see others have noted that JDW has ended its 99p promotion. I noticed this yesterday when on a brief two pub crawl of Rochdale. For once my visit to the Baum proved disappointing. Three beers on offer here. One was a honey beer from someone or other. It wouldn't do. I wanted something pale and hoppy for my first drink. Flowers IPA (didn't know it was still listed) was the other choice, before settling on my chosen beer, Hoppy Blonde from Williams Bros of Alloa. Did it do what it said on the tin? Alas no. It was pale, thin and weedy with a slight phenolic finish. I made my excuses and left. Even the best pubs, and the Baum is one, have a day when the beer doesn't suit you.

The Regal Moon is a large art-deco former cinema owned by JD Wetherspoon, is a GBG entry and is usually good for choice. Today was no exception. In addition to Triple F Alton's Pride, current Champion Beer of Britain, the superb Phoenix White Tornado, beers from Allgates (hmm) a special from the dependable Elland was available, as well as more standard offerings.

Bearing in mind the recent criticism of JDW on some blogs, I looked carefully around this large pub and did observe one small group of ne'er do wells. About five in number, they sat and chatted and if they smelled, it didn't reach me at the bar. Shoppers popped in and out, young couples, whispered in corners, two old dears nattered over their late afternoon meals and the only thing in the air was the buzz of conversation. There was a distinct lack of comatose bodies on the floor and no aggression or scrapping going on. No-one seemed to be getting tanked up before going on elsewhere. OK it wasn't Friday night - but let's face it, it seldom is! It was disappointingly normal.

Back to beer. Phoenix White Tornado was dependably good, Allgates Groundhop Day was ordinary, as their beers increasingly tend to be these days. There is often a strange chemical finish in them which I just don't like. I had to try the Alton's Pride. It was in excellent condition, an old fashioned full bodied brown beer, with a strong malt base and a good hop finish. A very good beer, but champion? Must have been great on the day I suppose.

Last up for me was the oddly named Elland Drakens Eld. This is a pale, ginger beer with a full body and a very strongly bitter finish, with a distinct ginger bite. It might not be to everyone's taste, but it was a very interesting and enjoyable beer to finish on and my beer of the week so far. But of course Easter weekend beckons.

Monday 6 April 2009

Campaign for Real Lager?

Seems CAMRA is going to get a run for their money. An English lager brewer is attempting to launch an organisation that would be to lager what the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is to cask beer. LOBI - catchy innit - it stands for Lagers of the British Isles will be launched by summer if current canvassing is successful.

LOBI is the brainchild of Staffordshire's Freedom Brewery and aims to "let British bar owners, the British public and indeed the world, know that they can sell and drink micro-brewed British lagers with confidence." They aim to change the perception of British lager as a "mass produced drink with little individual character."

Well good for them. If it shoves a few Carlsbergs or Carlings off the bar, it would be a good thing. Do you think it'll take off?

I tried all three of the Freedom lagers at the Northern Bar Show. I liked the pilsner, but the organic and dark weren't as good.
The Publican has the story here

Trading Well

Good pubs always do well even in a recession. Only three pubs visited this weekend. Firstly the Marble Arch on Friday night, where we simply couldn't get in comfortably it was so choc-a-bloc with customers. We fought our way towards the bar, but really there wasn't even elbow room, so we shot out the side door and round to the Angel, where despite it being busy, we were able to get a couple of pints, albeit in my case the last pint from two different casks. How unlucky is that? Both were just about OK, but had started to pick up a little bit of taste from the sediment and had that tell tale flatness.

On Sunday my local was busy to bursting with all the beer being in excellent condition and food doing a roaring trade. It was even warm enough for the hardier amongst us to sit outside. There were no polecats and the Landlady assured me they had been barred. Good. They have no place in a pub.

So three different but good pubs, the Marble a brew pub, the Angel a gastropub and the THT, a remote tied house, all doing well. The moral is that give the customers good things and a reason to be there and even in hard times, you'll do well.

Saturday 4 April 2009

A Lesson from Australia

Last April the Australian Government slapped a 70% tax increase on RTD's ( Ready to Drink) or to you and me, alcopops. The aim was to curb youth binge drinking, allegedly fuelled by such things. It has been successful in one way, in that it saw a drop in sales of alcopops, as youngsters turned to other drinks to fuel their alcoholic desires. Beer sales rose.

Now the party is over. The Australian Senate has ruled that rather than a genuine attempt to curb binge drinking, it was merely a tax grab. In a March vote they overturned this, costing the government AUD 1.6 billion (EUR 835 million) which it had expected to collect from the increase in tax over the next four years. It may also mean the government will have to hand back an estimated AUD 300 million (EUR 156 million) it has already collected since it gazetted the law last April.

Now I rather thought all governments were just tax grabbers, but maybe that's just me. The Australian Senate is obviously made of more thoughtful stuff. But it shows that when you tinker with alcohol duty to attempt one outcome, you are just likely to shift the problem elsewhere, leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill.

I hope HMG is aware of this and taking note.

Friday 3 April 2009

The Healey Hotel

The Healey is a neat, well appointed, three roomed Robinson's house in a rather nice part of Rochdale. It should be a roaring success and indeed with the same landlord for years, it was. Now he has retired through illness, which saw the pub going through something of a decline.

Today it gets a new boss. Those who drink in the excellent Baum will know Simon the owner. He is taking over the lease of the Healey. Watch out for big improvements. OK it is still going to be Robbies beer, but it will be served well. He intends to do two permanent beers and one guest from the Robinson's list.

Good news for Rochdale drinkers I'd say

Bottling It

My recent poll on how many bottled beers you drink at home has ended. The results are as follows:

One or two
13 (14%)
Three to seven
32 (34%)
Seven and above
24 (26%)
I rarely drink bottled beer at home
23 (25%)

It probably isn't that surprising, but I was kind of pleased that as many as a quarter don't tend to drink any bottles at home. Rather more surprising is those who drink over seven.

I wonder how many over seven that is?

Thursday 2 April 2009

Hans Up

As I arrived at the Dog and Partridge in Royton for my quiz match, at the same time as I pulled into the little car park, a German registered car arrived. I observed it and thought no more about it.

The D&P is very much a locals pub, neat and attractive with an experienced licensee. The place gleams. Lees Bitter on cask and various smooth versions are sold. Cask seemed to fly out on a very busy Tuesday. It's the sort of place where groups still buy big rounds and the pub was trading well. We were in a side room getting stuffed, when someone threw his head round the door and said goodbye to the opposing team. A lot of arms shot up in mock Hitler salutes. "See you Hans" and "Bye Hans" was shouted. Hans grinned happily, clearly enjoying the satire and left.

It is a cracking pub with top notch bitter, good natured locals and a visiting German who "gets" it. Brilliant.

The Dog and Partridge is at 148, Middleton Rd, Royton, Oldham, Lancashire OL2 5LL