Monday 31 August 2009

Top Beer of the Trip

Sitting here in grey Manchester, after pretty good weather in Bamberg, I recall saying to E, "this reminds you that ordinary people elsewhere in the world actually get a real summer." By that I meant one with sunshine and high temperatures, an outdoor lifestyle and not just slightly warmer rain.

On one such lovely day we traipsed off on a rail replacement bus to Forchheim, followed by a local bus out to a four keller set up at Kreuzberg, where a large, steep hill has one keller (beer garden) at the bottom and three more up a fairly steep track, a kilometre or so up an equally big steep hill. More of these later, but at the first Brauerei Roppelt of Stieberlimbach, having short cutted through the brewery yard with our mate Erlangernick, our guide, I encountered the best beer of the holiday, Roppelt Keller Bier. Served in a traditional steinkrug, it was off pale, hoppy and delicious. Proper lager, the likes of which you will most likely only encounter in Franconia. We had plenty other decent keller beers, but this was truly a stand out. I can see why Nick makes the 26k cycle ride there more or less every Friday. I would too, but like Nick, I'd take the train back from Forchheim. You'd be too full of good beer (and pork) to cycle back.

Sunday 23 August 2009

No Catch Up

I'm off on my hols to Bamberg tomorrow, so you'll have to do without me for a week or so. As I have to pack now, it's too late to tell you about the pub today, where the Ashes was watched with rapt attention, or Leeds yesterday, where a lot of beer was supped, not all of it on top form. In the latter case, Tyson was there, so maybe he'll spill the beans?

Be good.

Friday 21 August 2009

Protzy on Oldham

Roger tackles the Panorama portrayal of Oldham in his Morning Advertiser column.

Worth a read.

New Brown Beer for London

As if there isn't enough brown beer in London already - with a few honourable exceptions - Greene King has announced yet another.

Launched today, (YAWN) Royal London (4% abv) is billed as rich, fruity and full of flavour, combining crystal malt with challenger and golding hops.

Read all about this cutting edge stuff here.

A Level Celebrations Banned

It seems my neighbours, Oldham Council are at it again. They stepped in and banned a night club "Mink" - great name - from running drinks promotions, including free champagne, free vodka jellies, and buy one, get one free on selected drinks. The operator was told to cancel the promotion or face immediate closure for failing to carry out a risk assessment - one of the licensing conditions imposed by the council.

I don't like Oldham Council's overall approach one bit. It seems to me they opened the Pandora's box some years ago and are now desperately trying to close it. The late night scene and ghettoisation of the Town Centre started well before the new licensing laws, with bars being encouraged to apply for late night extensions. It's being going on and growing for years, but a couple of things occur to me in this getting the genie back into the bottle exercise. Aren't most A level students under 18 when they get their results? And anything that saves the poor buggers from "vodka jellies" is probably a good thing.

The Publican has the story here.

Thursday 20 August 2009

First and Second Chances

I had my first bottle of Brew Dog Zeitgiest yesterday and have to report that it was absolutely excellent, fully living up to the praise heaped on it by various bloggers. Like a hoppy version of Kostritzer Schwarzbier agreed my drinking companion, friend and commentator on this blog and others, Erlangernick.

We had earlier started the day with a brilliant 3.5% beer from Hawkshead Brewery, which shows what a skilful brewer can do with a relatively weak beer. Windermere Pale was straw coloured, crisply hoppy, and thirst quenching with a lasting hoppy finish. The aforementioned Nick and his wife Becky both loved it, as did I. Well done Hawkshead. I also had two excellent halves of Meantime London Pale Ale, which was smoothly hoppy and full bodied, with a bitter resinous finish. Much more like it, worlds apart from my previous experience, and well worth that second chance.

This was a flying visit from Nick who was heading off for a few days holiday in Lancaster and the Southern Lakes, but I'll see him again on Sunday and next week in Bamberg. Did I mention I'm going to Bamberg next week? Well I have now.

I had a couple of fly pints of Pint in the Marble Arch on the way home. This beer is in knock-out form and must be one of the best cask beers in the UK at the moment.

Photo is Nick and Becki in Micro Bar

Tuesday 18 August 2009

The Rake

I am in London, briefly. I came down for a social meeting with Eileen's colleagues and a trip to see "As You Like It" at the Globe Theatre. Despite reservations, I thoroughly enjoyed that, aided and abetted by the fact it was a lovely night, which helps in an open air theatre. Being at the front in the top gallery, some of the best seats, helped too.

At the interval which was short - they ought to get Shakespeare to sort that out - he certainly knows how to drag things out - I noticed with horror that the only beer on sale is canned Fosters. WTF? I stuck to water.

We walked home through Southwark and popped into a quiet Rake. Quiet in number terms, though not in noise, provided by a very drunk young American, whose political views would have earned him a smack in the mouth in some places I know, and to be fair, a round of applause in others. I watched the two women behind the bar. They served me civilly, but with no customer interaction other than telling me the price. They seemed a little cheerier a few minutes later at 10.40, when, without any call of "Time", the fridge lights were turned off, the lights on the fonts the same and they emerged for a sit down. Now I have never found the Rake staff anything other than just indifferent. Not good, not bad, just apathetic, though others have written about worse experiences. With the beer range (and prices) they have, wouldn't it be nice if they were full of enthusiasm and cheer? It'd make the experience a lot better for both sides of the bar.

So what did I have? Dark Star Sussex Extra Stout which was decent, with roast malt dominating, though there was little by way of hop bitterness. Needs some work I'd say. It was in average condition. Like the service, not good, not bad.

An interesting pumpclip.

Monday 17 August 2009

Blast from the Past

I won't bore you with the history of Mackeson Stout except to say that the beer was originally brewed in Hythe, Kent by Mackeson's Brewery in 1907 and was taken over by Whitbread in the 1920's, many moons ago. The brand is presumably owned by InBev now, though I don't know who brews it, but until the demise of the Ram Brewery, it was made by Youngs. Maybe it is now made by Wells and Youngs. I simply don't know, but maybe someone out there can tell me?

Anyway the landlady has been unwell recently and being the impressionable type, thought a milk stout would pick her up a bit. A phone call to Lees revealed that they stock Mackeson and a crate of this beer, once available in nearly every pub was duly ordered. She has managed to persuade a few of the regulars to try it too, usually mixed with the bitter. I had a swig of it yesterday and it isn't bad at all. A stout like roastiness and a creamy sweetness defining it. I must say it's interesting that this has taken off in the pub, though I suspect it may be a passing fad.

It contrasted greatly with the other stout I was given in the pub. The long awaited Brew Dog Tokyo. 18.2% or 3%? We'll see.

The photo shows the bottle and a pint of the Mackeson/Bitter mix.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Where I Was This Morning

I was in Leeds, at the Palace, retrieving my jacket that I left behind yesterday.

Only around 78 miles in total.

Where I Was Yesterday

I was in the Palace in Leeds for a few beers with my former deputy from work. Eileen was getting her hair done. It was a lovely afternoon in the company of a smashing person. The only thing I miss about work is the people. Oh and the power. Good beer was welcome but incidental.

The newly coiffured Eileen drove home.

Friday 14 August 2009

Light at the End of the Tunnel

After a meeting to talk about the beer part of the Manchester Food and Drink Festival, a beer was in order. One of our number gave us the glad tidings that Thornbridge and Meantime both had beers on at Micro Bar. Good enough. We hot footed it over there, dragging our thirsts behind us.

We all plumped for the Thornbridge Julius to start and we seized (geddit) our glasses eagerly. What a disappointment. On this showing, no world beater, just an ordinary, dull, vaguely mandarin tasting, brown beer with no distinguishing features. We grumbled our way through it and ordered the Meantime London Pale Ale. Another shocker - vaguely wet dog smell, a lot of odd and off flavours - just grim. Two of us four, me included, couldn't finish it. Now the beers were a bit warm. The barmaid confided that though an engineer had allegedly fixed the cooling system, he'd have to come back, as the beer was still too warm. I'm giving both these beers the benefit of the doubt and will try them again. I just don't believe they were a good sample. That happens.

Things got no better at the Angel where Hornbeam Lemon Blossom was at its toilet cleaner worst, though the Dunham Massey Stout was thoroughly admired by one of our party. No such problems in the Marble Arch though, where Pint was on stunning form. When we'd drunk that dry, we switched to Summer Marble which was a bit of a stunner too. Good things come to those that wait. That could be an advertising slogan eh?

Thursday 13 August 2009

Worried About Autovacs?

Then a good job you didn't live in times gone by. A possible bacteria hit was the least of your worries it seems.

From a card in my own collection.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Chang Beer

Like Pencil and Spoon who was also sent some Chang Beer for review, I don't feel obliged to say something nice about it, just because it was free. To be fair I don't do much by way of beer reviews these days, but having tried some Chang with food before the GBBF, I thought I'd do a much more difficult pairing today - accompanying Wallender on TV, in Swedish with subtitles.

My first pairing, a couple of weeks ago for the handsomely bottled Thai pretender, was with my home made spicy pork and vegetables with noodles and I thought it did its job quite well really. The sweetness and lemony citrus doused the fires and it was a pleasant if unexceptional drink. It was a bit more exposed in the company of the Swedish detective, where its underlying dry, metallic twang struck a harsh note amongst the sweetness of the malt and the citrus annoyed rather than complemented. Now this really is an issue. While I can see it selling in Thai restaurants as an alternative to the hoppier Singha, I can't really see it as a beer to drink on its own, unless you are in some sweaty Thai bar, drinking it from the neck.

The importers have to face the fact that it is up against a lot of competition and to my mind it will only sell on its authenticity, not its taste. Since my authentic noodles were made here in the UK, I would probably have found a sweet UK brewed premium lager doing the job just as well. Would I buy it just for its authenticity? Unlikely, unless "forced" to in some late night Thai Restaurant. Would I buy it in preference to Singha? Almost certainly not. Would I neck it down in a sweaty Thai bar? Of course I would.

It's about place really and its place is probably back in Thailand.

Monday 10 August 2009

GBBF Photos

I've added some photos to my blog entries for GBBF. Here are some more.

From left to right.

1) Part of the bottle bar on BSF
2) A mountain of pork scratchings
3) German tubs for sale in the traditional manner
4)BSF prepares for opening
5)Cider stretches off into the distance
6) This was popular


Or economisers as they are otherwise known, are still in use in some parts of the country, mainly Yorkshire. What are they and how do they work? "Beer economisers enable beer which overspills during dispense to be re-introduced into the dispensing pump where it is mixed with beer freshly drawn from the cask. In some cases the beer is filtered before it is re-introduced, in other devices no filtering takes place. In some cases the device re-introduces beer which has been deliberately spilt during the process of achieving a light creamy head, in other cases, beer which has been overspilled unintentionally is collected and resyphoned back into the next glass of beer. The prime aim of such devices is to prevent wastage of the beer by overspill."

On our recent trip to Holmfirth, Yorkshire, Bradfield Farmer's Blonde was presented thus. (Sorry I can't remember the pub name.) The picture, taken by me at the time, shows the settling process, down to a perfect head. These devices don't suit everyone and need a fair bit of skill in pouring, but you get a great tight, creamy head.

Undone by Dark Star

I felt pretty good yesterday despite my mixed night of kipping on the sofa and a few hours in bed. Bacon butties were the order of the day and then a walk. Over Tower Bridge and along the South Bank, skirting Borough Market and its overpriced beery attractions, we crossed the Millennium Bridge and past St Paul's Cathedral and headed down Fleet St towards the Strand. Instinctively I knew where we were heading and duly, we appeared outside the Porterhouse Brewing Co. A pint of Wrassler's XXXX was procured while E had the Oyster Stout. Is it just me, or is this beer getting better and better? It was deliciously smooth and very bitter, with a strong Goldings finish. Great stuff, so another was needed.

We sensibly just had two, then E suggested we take a look at the goings on at the spare plinth in Trafalgar Square. Our route took us past, a for once not too busy, Harp in Chandos Place. I looked in. Dark Star American Pale Ale was on. This had to be sampled, so a couple of halves were purchased. It was hoppily delicious, well balanced, cool, in perfect condition and moreish. When the coveted chairs looking out of the open front became available, our fate was sealed. We had a few. What a great pub this is. A good selection of beers, some friendly regulars and the most coveted thing of all, great and cheerful service. Noting my repeated ordering of Dark Star, the barmaid mentioned that two more handpumps are on order. Dark Star Hophead will become permanent and there will usually be one other from that brewery. That's not bad news.

We left later than intended in a cab. Worth every penny.

Astonishingly the owner of this gem turns out to be the dreaded Punch Taverns, though no complaints from me on this occasion.

GBBF Day Five - The End of the Affair

Another busy day and an unfamiliar journey to Earl's Court thanks to engineering works on London Underground. No problem really. I got a seat on the incredibly busy, small and stuffy Piccadilly line which made it tolerable, reading on the way CAMRA's beer magazine, which really has improved such a lot.

There always seems to be a different crowd on a Saturday - geeks don't tend to turn up on a Saturday as they know choice is limited. (It is a general rule of beer festivals in case you didn't know it - get there early.) Saturday's crowd was less knowledgeable perhaps and possibly less discerning. The repeated question of "what's your strongest?" is rarely heard earlier in the week.

I stuck it out to the end and when "Time" was called, we sat briefly at the back of the bar, sipping a beer and glad to have saw it through to its gruelling conclusion. A curious mixture of regret and relief really. After half an hour or so the announcement that the hall was clear of the public came and our quiet reflection ended. Within seconds we were dismantling the chairs and table we sat on and stripping the bar. Within minutes the Festival Site Team were out, a mass of whirling fork lift trucks and cages for the various fittings. Within half an hour the public would not have recognised it. Bars were being collapsed, handpumps stripped and removed the sounds were of clattering metal. I wasn't doing the party this year, so I said my goodbyes to my friends and colleagues and made my way upstairs, casting a glance back to the feverish activity below me. These guys deserve their party later on believe me.

At home E had a cool bottle of Pinot Grigio waiting for us. We supped that and then went out. I couldn't be bothered with a sit down curry and was all beered out, so a shared bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc did the trick instead. Then an excellent take away curry and, slightly pissed and completely knackered, I nodded off on the sofa, waking up, mildly disoriented at 04.40. It somehow seemed a fitting end to a busy and successful week.

Saturday 8 August 2009

GBBF Day Four

Hectic. You needed to be there. No you didn't actually. There was enough there already. Our giant leader Goliath announced that a touch under 20,000 attended yesterday. A record. Just think of that figure. Twenty thousand in one day. Who says there is no call for good beer and a good time? This was "just" a giant pub getting it right - the same as any pub really; do the right things and you attract the punters, though admittedly GBBF is a fantastic special case, made so by a dedicated bunch of people who do it not for self and cause, but just because they do. They couldn't explain exactly why if you asked them. Just to walk around that huge venue when empty gives a sense of wonder. We did all this? Wow!

BSF was swamped and there isn't a huge lot of bottles left, though we have, relatively speaking, quite a lot of draught. I have no idea of the cask position, but there will be enough to see us to the end I'm sure. I'll post some photos here of the gobsmackingly big crowds and queues seen from behind the bar. I really must remember to bring that USB cable next time mustn't I? The staff throughout the hall were magnificent and the crowds amazingly good natured and exuberant. The atmosphere was brilliant and infectious, even for hard pressed staff.

I am sounding a bit enthusiastic here I suppose and I am. Tired as I feel, I look forward to the day and more so to the final call of "Time." Then we'll sit as we do behind the bar, shattered and stunned beyond belief that we have pulled this amazing feat off once again.

I won't be at the party tonight. As soon as I've done my bit in serving, I'm off for a curry with my lovely girl. It is my birthday after all.

Friday 7 August 2009

GBBF Day Three

Thursday. Midway for me and the dedicated band that work the actual festival. Ten hours plus on your feet and it begins to tell. Still we are a cheerful bunch on BSF and we plough on with scant regard to our personal aches and pains. It wasn't too busy to start with, which allowed time to walk around the hall again with an eye to the way the festival is organised. I think personally we need to look at how the beers and bars are organised - I am not sure geographically is best - and talking to a couple of stallholders, some thought may be needed there too, to ensure best use. I advised them to feed back their concerns, which to me, seemed constructive.

No problem with my first two halves of beer. First was the delightful Purity Mad Goose which was beautifully cool, well conditioned, spicy and aromatic, with a good hop finish. It was even served through a sparkler, but alas the server didn't know how to use it. You can't have everything, but the beer was up to the mishandling. Next was Crouch Vale Brewer's Gold. I probably should have had them the other way round, but this was good too. Again clear, cool and good condition.

That was it for cask beer - German all the way for me - other than a large taster of Bridgeport IPA. I liked it, with its complex malt and hops balance. Not extreme, but no worse than that. I had a (private) tour round the brewey in Portland some years ago with the brewer. It is a good outfit with some excellent beers. It was there that the brewer Karl explained the principle of "opalescence" - cloudy beer to you and me. I remain unconvinced on that one.

I had part of last night off to have an early night in preparation for the Friday blitz. Tube problems due to heavy rain delayed me, but a quick couple of relaxing pints in the Dispensary in Leman St were a great contrast to the hectic beer festival. This is the East London CAMRA Pub of the Year. Harvey's Bitter was rather good, but I didn't care one bit for Adnam's Explorer. Nor did I have the guest, Brodie's English Best. I figured it would be unremittingly brown and it was!

The next guest was to be Purity Mad Goose. Talk about lucking out?

Thursday 6 August 2009

GBBF Day Two

It was busy. A lot busier than Tuesday and on BSF we were like British soldiers at Rorke's Drift. Wave upon wave of thirsty punters swamped us. We saw them off and the next wave appeared. Unlike Rorke's Drift, there was a happy ending for us though. We sat down stunned and satisfied. The customers seemed happy too, or was it just pissed?

Given the stick GBBF gets in some quarters I looked carefully at the dynamics of it all. There were very few beardy weirdies, though of course you could seek them out. There is a LOT of women. I wouldn't like to say exactly how big a percentage, but knocking on for 40% I'd guess. Believe me few were roly poly types - serving a lot of them is very distracting even to a dedicated bar professional like me. And know what? They all seemed to be having a very good time and were drinking beer of a standard and variety that they will rarely see elsewhere. Isn't that a good thing?

"Talk about beer" Tandleman I hear you say. Well in the interests of you my dear readers, I did some serious American tasting. I liked the beers from Cricket Hill a lot, thought Deschutes Twilight Ale, a good solidly balanced beer, felt rather better about Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA than Zak Avery did - a lot better in fact - disliked Gritty MacDuff's beers, disliked Sly Fox, The Tap's Berliner Weisse take off was only fit for putting on your chips and I didn't care for the plasticine nose in Victory beers, but underneath the beers were good. Tuckerman's Headwall Alt, was far too grainy for the style and just didn't capture the essence of alt at all. Opa Opa Pale was a bit dry, but otherwise good and Redhook Sun Rye was a excellent beer using a malt that can overcome everything in a beer. It deserves great credit to it's brewers and only3.8% too. I also had various tastes of some of the monster beers. A lot suffered from too much alcohol burn and too much crystal malt. The dark beers fared better and though most were drinkable in a sort of "force it down" sort of way, you can tell they don't ring my bell that much.

Moving on, I tried some Irish beers. Galway Hooker was my first target and I liked it's hoppiness and general feel, though perhaps it slightly thin. I'd guess though in a pub cellar it wuld be a grand beer. Franciscan Well Blarney Blonde was all talk and no action, being rather thin and tasteless. Two stouts from Carlow were both appealing, with Celtic Stout getting a big tick from me. I think the other earthier stout was just called "Stout". I must try more of these beers today if there are any left.

So what's ahead today? More hard work and a litle light schmoozing. And maybe some beer?

Two or three subnotes. I picked up a bottle of Nigerian Guinness and a couple of Yankee bottles - both stouts - Stone Imperial Russian and Rogue Shakespeare. Do you see a theme here? I had a lovely Italian beer whose name I can't remember, but was part of a Woodcraft Series, poured some Belarus Olivaria Beloe Zoloto wheat beer down the sink - don't give up the day job boys - and lastly for Erlanger Nick, Greiff Annafest was a mess that nobody behind the bar liked.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

GBBF Day One

Day one of the GBBF is always a funny one. The Trade session is a nice gentle intro to the week, but being less pressured for the worker, can result in getting accidentally pissed. Fortunately I avoided this, despite being slightly jaded through lack of sleep. See previous post for the cause.

Still the benefit of it all is that you tend to meet more people that you know on day one. The list is long, but I'll mention a few. Tom Fryer from the Oxford Bottled Beer Database was there. I may have persuaded him to start a beer blog. Wait and see on that one. The ebullient Beer Nut was there and there and there. I do hope he caught that plane back. I thought he was leaving it tight, but he seemed confident. I had more than one chat from Dave of the Woolpack Inn. He is a thoroughly nice guy trying to do good things in Cumbria. I even met Jeff Pickthall briefly and Mark of Pencil and Spoon even more briefly. Zak Avery was there and in good form and Bailey of Boak and Bailey was getting stuck into the 8% stuff like a good 'un. Impy Malting was there too, knitting and supping. And why not? I musn't forget erstwhile bloggers Maieb and YCC Dubbel. There was brewers to talk to and other trade people. I even served some beer.

Yes beer - I haven't mentioned that yet. Beck Brau Pils was soothingly bitter, Dark Star American PA did was it said on the tin. I had some excellent mouth puckeringly dry and sour draught lambics and tastes of various Yankee casks, some of which were good. I will have a proper look at those today, though there is a tendency towards crystal malt loaded hop bombs which don't always work. I had one or two tastes of Italian beers too. Those I had were, to be kind, not very good, but I'll have another go and this time try and remember what they were.

The hall looked good. Food seemed varied and interesting. There's loads of beers still to try. So I'm girding my loins for another day. Amazingly I'm looking forward to it again.

Champion Beer of Britain was Rudgate Mild. Hmm. It isn't even the best mild in Yorkshire, but it's all about form on the day.

Photo is of me and my fellow ROB colleague and Deputy Chairman, Mike (Perry Mason) Robinson

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Noisy London

I' d forgotten how noisy it can be here where our flat is. Hoping for a good night's pre GBBF sleep, I managed to ignore the noisy drunks and police sirens on Leman St, but was woken at around half past two by a distinctive sound. Someone in the upstairs flat was attempting the world bonking record. This went on with accompanying female moans for far too bloody long if you ask me. I drifted off, but was woken around three by the same couple. This time, a blazing row at top volume. Talk about fickle? Top tip to the bonker. No point in telling a woman not to repeat herself. Top tip to the bonkee. Moan loudly if you must, but just go to sleep after!

Anyway, I'm reasonably OK and looking forward to the festival. See some of you there.

Sunday 2 August 2009

Strawberry Beer

In replies to the post below, Phoenix Strawberry Beer was mentioned. Tony Allen of Phoenix revealed this beer to some of us who were at his brewery in July. It was made from both strawberry pulp and strawberry juice and a base pale beer. It was thick and luscious when sampled straight from the cask, though the trade version is kegged and gassed. The cask version was a delight and I've now tasted the keg version at the New Oxford. This had lost some of the sweetness and taken on a distinct Belgian fruit beer edge. It was lovely too. Tony plans another couple of fruit beers, depending on how the strawberry one goes. Judging by the reaction so far, he might have to make a habit of it.

The photo shows my lovely lass, Eileen, with Tony and the beer.