Wednesday 30 September 2009

Bonkers Brown

It seems I was a little premature in my last post, saying that Broon was just repeating an old mantra. Well he was in some of it, but he proposes wider changes, though it is likely he'll be kicked out before it comes to that. The key is allowing councils to object to licences on a wholesale basis and shut whole areas down if they see fit. Hang on you say, "Don't councils decide licences in the first place?"

Indeed they do - that's why it's bonkers. The MA has the story here.

Muddled Thinking and the Anti Drink Lobby

We all know that the vast majority of drinkers drink responsibly don't we? Well more evidence to support this has come from that drink sodden place Scotland, whose Government seem to think has slipped beyond the pale, judging by their hysterical behaviour. Latest figures show that those consuming more than the Governments arbitrary figures fell by 4% for men and 3% for women. In addition, the number of offences of drunkenness recorded by police fell 10% and the number of drink-driving offences fell by 8%.

"These figures are very welcome, although they seem to fly in the face of some of the comments on alcohol and health being made by the Scottish Government," said Scottish Beer and Pub Association chief executive Patrick Browne.

Mr Browne goes on to say that the police should be using their existing powers to tackle anti social behaviour rather than seeking new ones. Isn't that what the PM was saying yesterday in his farewell speech to his party conference while at the same time giving “power to Local Authorities to ban 24-hour drinking?" He needs to wisen up; that power already exists in the current Licensing Act, put through parliament by his own government. Shouldn't he know that? If there are problem areas and pubs, shouldn't the authorities be tackling that using the powers they already have? If they aren't, why aren't they?

This muddled thinking infuriates, but I doubt if it'll make a jot of difference to the anti alcohol lobby.

Monday 28 September 2009

Twother Anyone?

The Government is set to change the law and allow two thirds of an imperial pint to become a legal measure in the UK. The industry believes it will offer greater flexibility for serving draught beer and cider, especially those with a higher alcohol content. “There is no question of replacing the British pint, but introducing the option of a new imperial measure is good news for consumers, providing them with more choice," said Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson.

I suppose there is a logic to this as thirds are a legal measure, but I suspect this is not so much a widening of choice, but a part of the continual demonising of alcohol by pushing smaller measures overall. I don't know of anyone who has campaigned for this and I've never heard it as a topic of conversation among drinkers, or indeed the trade. Will it make a difference? Well being of the persuasion that suspects the worst, it may be that some unscrupulous sellers of beer will use this as an excuse to either sell two thirds for the current price of a pint, or will sell two thirds not at pro rata, but at a premium. I can imagine that glass manufacturers will be trying to design a glass that looks as much like a pint glass as possible. I rather doubt if it will be done by using lined glasses with the two thirds being an option. The on trade has always resisted such glasses and as the push apparently comes from the trade, who have never bothered with using thirds, you have to suspect motives, especially when the Government goes along with it.

What do you think?

It isn't known when this will happen, as it needs a change to primary legislation.

Manchester Food and Drink Festival

This annual food and drink extravaganza is currently under way. For beer fans it will culminate with the choosing of the Greater Manchester Beer of the Year at a mini beer festival which will take place in Albert Square next Friday and Saturday (9th and 10th October). It is interesting in that each brewer in Greater Manchester is invited to submit one beer that will be judged against the choice of other brewers. This means for example Marble will be up against Pictish (current champion with Alchemists Gold), Lees and others. Which beer from their portfolios will they choose? I don't know, though along with a colleague, I'll be setting up and looking after the beers and will chair one of the judging panels.

If you are in Manchester or can get there, do come along. It's a fun event with plenty of nice grub to accompany the beer and of course, you are near several good hostelries should the need arise to widen your horizons. Bonus - I'll be there.

There will also be an Oktoberfest at the same time, sponsored by Lufthansa and organised by Kro Bar, with genuine German beer, so plenty of variety.

Thursday 24 September 2009

Enterprising or Not?

I understand that Enterprise Inns were one of the biggest beneficiaries of Cask Ale week, with sales of the real stuff increasing by 10.7% for the 20 odd percent of their pubs that joined in. Good news and one that gives you hope they will see this as something to build on. Enterprise are the biggest customer of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) Direct Delivery Scheme and now wants SIBA members who take part in the scheme, to undergo accreditation for the taste categorisation system Cyclops by February 2010. The accreditation is designed to help educate both staff and customers about how a beer tastes, its colour and bitterness etc.

I can see where they are coming from and clearly if it is done to educate and promote cask ale, it is a good thing, but of course there is a cost to the brewer, though SIBA will pay for 60% of it. There is a risk too that some brewers will lose out as the vast majority aren't registered yet and you do sort of wonder if this is an attempt to restrict choice, or charitably, inadvertently result in it.

Frankly I am not sure what to make of it, other than cask beer is on the up again one way or another.

Tuesday 22 September 2009


Its gone mad. It is showing loads of stuff from people I don't know, so I'm removing it for the time being.

Anyone else having problems?

Surprising Sheps - Cheap Guinness - Good Times

On Sunday our little group had a jaunt down the river to Greenwich, going down there on a boat and back on the DLR. We met at Tower Pier, so that gave me an opportunity for a swifty. O'Hanlon's Yellowhammer was surprisingly tasty, though for me it needed a bit - OK - a lot more bitterness.

In bright sunshine we hopped off our boat, passed what is left of the Cutty Sark (built in my home town) and the party immediately split up, with most of the men heading straight to the nearest pub to watch the Manchester derby. We chose the Spanish Galleon, a Shepherd Neame pub, on the simple basis that it was showing the match. Most of us drank Master Brew which was rather good and a surprise to me. Not outstanding in any way, but decently drinkable. Some of our party switched to Spitfire which was only considered "OK". The pub was well run and packed, with an equal bias for each side. A good couple of hours, except for the result, though our two Man U fans wouldn't agree.

After some sightseeing we met up again in the Greenwich Union, where most enjoyed the Meantime London Pale Ale. I personally thought it kind of died in the glass and switched to the Wheat Beer which was served with no head, in an incredibly chunky and heavy glass. This very good beer deserved much better presentation, as did the pale ale in fact. Some of us ate and the food was pronounced as excellent, so a good visit all round.

Yesterday saw our visit to the Houses of Parliament which was fascinating and concluded with drinks on the terrace of the Strangers Bar. No cask ale while Parliament is in recess, but Guinness did the trick. It really is one of the best places to drink beer in London with spectacular views over the Thames, though sadly I won't be making a habit of it. Later we walked to Zeitgeist in Lambeth, where German beer was thoroughly enjoyed at happy hour prices of £3 a pint.

Not as cheap as the subsidised Guinness (£2.20), but you can't have everything.

Saturday 19 September 2009

Good Little Boozer

I am always looking for new pubs to try in London, particularly near our flat. Yesterday, being let loose on my own, I set off to Brick Lane for my daily walk and found myself strolling into the Pride of Spitalfields, hoping to find Crouch Vale Brewer's Gold. It was on, but a few degrees too warm, which had knocked a little of the condition out, but it was still palatable enough. I sat outside watching the amazingly varied passers by in this very multi cultural area, while chatting to a Cockney Sparrow, who had also availed himself of the sunny weather for some al fresco supping. This is one of the delights of pub drinking, the casual conversation about this and that which makes you feel part of things.

Continuing along Brick Lane, I noted with pleasure that that there are still a number of little Asian caffs where you can get a cheap curry based snack or a couple of samosas. These, like their Manchester cousins, provide value and genuine home cooking. Far better than the flashy lookalikes which predominate in Brick Lane now. Passing Truman's Brewery is always a bit sad I feel. The mighty place still stands, much as it was. The registered office with its black eagle emblem is still there, but it now is full of arty farty cafes, galleries and clothes stalls. Times change.

I pressed on until I came to Cheshire Street and went along, simply because I had never done so. More clothes shops and galleries, until I happened on a little pub, the Carpenter's Arms. It looked neat and clean, so in I went. It was a typical old back street boozer, gentrified and gastro pubbed, but in a pretty good way. Original fittings and bare boards had been augmented by pot plants and candelabra, to tasteful effect. I liked it. Three handpumps dispensed two beers from Adnams, plus TT Landlord which I had and which was excellent. In addition there was draught foreign beers, with Duvel Green catching my eye and a number of bottled beers too, some interesting, but all maybe a tad expensive. I was the only customer, so had a good look round. There was a room at the back too and I noted with some surprise an etching of the Kray brothers on the wall in the bar. The barman told me the pub used to be owned by the Krays, with their mother as license holder, as they were ineligible due to their criminal records. Interesting.

I had to try the Duvel Green, given that Boak and Bailey had talked about it recently and did so for a reasonable £2.50 a half. Quite spicy from the Styrian Goldings, soft and very drinkable, but oddly vegetal in the finish, I marvelled at how the alcohol was so hidden. You wouldn't know it was nearly 7%. It was good. I'll have it again and will certainly visit the Carpenter's Arms again too.

Walking back home, I slipped into a little cafe for a couple of samosas. Gorgeous they were, but 50% dearer than Manchester. Expensive place London, but yesterday was still perfect. Sun shining, a nice new pub and a walk round my favourite East End. Marvellous!

The photo is from the Carpenter's Web Site.

Friday 18 September 2009

A Fool to Myself

Now I am more open minded than most when it comes to JD Wetherspoon, though well aware of their limitations and faults. I kind of regard them as a distress purchase - good in certain situations. A bit like Guinness, not something you'd actively choose, but if there is nothing better, it'll do.

Last night we decided to nip along to the Liberty Bounds for their curry night as one of the few times I have had a curry there, I've quite enjoyed it, but there is a big caveat. I've always had their "thali" - a load of little sampler dishes of various curries - and though I am well aware it is microwaved, nonetheless, not too bad. First problem; they have stopped doing the thali. I also looked at the beers on the bar - an unremitting sea of brown. This is where I really got it wrong. We should have left at that point. After all the reason for going there in the first place was gone. But, fool that I am, we didn't.

I ordered the chicken jalfrezi. Poor beyond belief. It was a three or four chilli dish. Bollocks. I've had hotter cough sweets. The free drink should have been Pedigree, but luckily there was none. I chose Exe Valley XXV, mentioned here by Paul Garrard, who found it "a complex beer that keeps you guessing". No Paul, this tasted like fermented farmyard sweepings and was by a long way the worst beer I've had this year. Undrinkable rubbish. Feeling distinctly crabby by now, I took it back where it was exchanged for the second worst beer I've had this year, Goff's Tournament. Who let that out of the brewery? Determined to salvage something from the night, I orderd a Weston's Organic Cider. It had gone off. "Would I like Thatcher's Old Rosie?" "That'll be fine." No. That was off too.

We left with me in a bad temper, having had in spades the sort of experience that others frequently complain about. The only thing missing was the chavs. There isn't going to be much let up either. I picked up the JDW magazine which lists the forthcoming guest list. Brown, brown, brown, brown and fecking brown. They even boast about their darker autumnal range. What on earth is the matter with these people? Recommended by East-West Ales it seems. What's the matter with these people?

I know. It serves me right, but if Timbo had been there, he would have got a piece of my mind.

There are three really good beers on the list: Oakham Mompesson's Gold, Thornbridge Jaipur and best of all, the delicious St Austell Proper Job. The rest are a mixed bag of hopless wonders.

E's chicken tikka massalla - I know- was considered OK.

Thursday 17 September 2009

Not Greene King Bottles Out

Greene King is to close its bottling plant at its Belhaven subsidiary in Dunbar and move bottling of Belhaven beers to Bury St Edmunds. Of course they say that this will allow Belhaven to concentrate on brewing and that the brewery is safe.

We'll see.

Green note: tankering beer from Dunbar to Bury St Edmunds and bringing bottled beer and empty tankers back. Not green at all.

Drunkards Protection Law

As the Oktoberfest approaches (two days hence) the German courts have stepped in to protect those who have had one too many and cross the road against red lights. (Visitors to Germany will know that most Germans are scrupulous in not crossing roads until the green man appears.)

It seems that one such drunk did so three years ago and was run down by a motor bike proceeding at legal speed. The motor cyclist sued the drunk for damages and in a court hearing came out with half the blame being apportioned to her. A Munich court ruled on Monday that she "was 50 percent responsible" for the accident at the festival, which attracts millions of revellers every year. "During the Octoberfest it is well known that a large number of drunk people are on the streets at night, who can not always be trusted to observe the rules of the road," the court said. "The motorcyclist should have adjusted her speed to be able to avoid these people."

The woman was ordered to pay half the damages, estimated at €2,500, and her bid for €1,000 compensation for minor injuries sustained in the accident was refused. The man she hit - who was fighting her demand for damages in court - was held responsible for the other half of the money because he was crossing the street illegally.

Commenters on this story were split on the outcome, but most, presumably putting themselves in the drunk's shoes, backed the drunk. It seems like here, you must expect the unexpected when driving and drunks are, oddly enough, to be expected at Oktoberfest.

The 'drunkards protection law' is usually referred to as the Strassen Verkehrs Ordnung, which protects all road users be they drunk or otherwise and requires of everyone that they take reasonable care to avoid causing accidents.

I am grateful to for the story.

Wednesday 16 September 2009


I'm a big fan in case you didn't know and the good news is that the hop harvest estimates this year show that shortages are unlikely. The UK shows an estimated 4.2% drop and the overall world crop will reduce by about 4.6%; not enough to cause problems overall it seems.

Looking over the figures and drooling over the various types is a joy to me, but there are a few surprises. Hands up those that know which hop is most grown in the USA? Or what hop is the rising star? Or the German hop that is their number one? It won't be what you think. Can you name the 13 main varieties grown in the UK? " Why would you want to?"I hear you say.

Now if I was Ron P, I'd offer a prize for this, but as I'm not, I won't. I might just tell you though.

I should add, unlike Ron's competitions, you can look all this up on t' interweb. Ron could be making all his stuff up you know.

Mixed News from Germany

German beer sales plummeted to a new record low in the first six months of this year according to the Federal Statistics Office. Sales over the corresponding period last year were down 4.5% - a worrying 230 million litres. Poor weather, supermarket prices and the smoking restrictions are cited as possible reasons; where have we heard this before?

One silver lining is that sales of beer-mix drinks (and the Germans have some disgusting mixtures) fell even further, by 7.4%.

The Germans like to mix their beers with cola, lemonade and even fruit juices. Alt bier with cola is called "diesel". I haven't tried it.

Monday 14 September 2009

Williams Brothers

For those of us that grew up in Scotland, the name Alloa is synonymous with brewing. Youngers, Maclays and of course the biggest of them all when I was a lad, Ind Coope, brewing in the former Arrol's Brewery, famous or infamous for Skol Lager and whose Diamond Heavy was an erstwhile favourite of mine. Now of course it is all gone and only one brewery remains, or rather, has emerged; William Brothers known hitherto mainly for its Fraoch Heather Ale.

They kindly sent me some of their beers to sample and finally I got round to trying two. First up after mowing my grass - I wouldn't call it a lawn - was their lager, Ceilidh (4.7%) which seemed a reasonable place to start. Dull gold in colour with a lasting white head this beer had a Southern German Helles nose, but there the similarity ended. Lemony/lime citrus and spiciness are the dominant flavours, though I didn't get the sesame referred to by the Bitten Bullet. Lemon is foremost through to a dry, citrus finish with just a touch of grassiness and a slight aromatic hint of hops. The malt base underpinning all this could be firmer, but this is a decent enough beer, though not one I'd rush to buy. Not all the Tandleman household agreed. E tried it and summed it up pithily as "horrible." A bit harsh I'd say.

A different kettle of fish is the same brewery's five percent IPA. They set out to achieve a beer for the novice and hophead alike, which is a tricky one. Well I liked it. Big, booming alpha hops give it a grapefruit nose and a resiny, quenching flavour throughout to a dry, bitter, lasting, resinous, hoppy finish. I couldn't detect the tell tale blackberry (or should I say bramble?) flavours from the Bramling Cross hops and I'm glad of that. Instead Amarillo dominated, which is just fine by this writer. The grain bill is lager malt with some wheat and that worked well too. This was a beer of some poise and I'd certainly buy it again. Oddly it refreshed far better than the lager.

Lawnmower beer? I should say so.

E loved this one too.

Phoenix Arizona

My cultural day on Saturday did eventually turn into a bit of a booze up, but not before admiring the various attractions of Rochdale Parish Church, with its defaced (literally) figures, vandalised by scandalised Cromwellians as "false idols" during the English Civil War and of course the extract from the parish register of the birth of one Gracie Fields.

The Pioneers Museum was a touching and humbling tribute to the far sightedness of the founders of the Co-op movement who were appalled by the way the poor were cheated by suppliers of adulterated and short measure food and were determined to do something about it. The displays were interesting and the young curator informative. I made a mental note to do more of my shopping in the Co-op from now on, remembering as a child, going to buy things for my Mum and always of course, quoting our "divvy" number. Anyone of my generation will remember theirs as I do ours I'll bet.

But man does not live by culture (or indeed nostalgia) alone, so we slipped next door into the Baum, the only other building still standing on Toad Lane. There are now six handpumps, but my eye was immediately caught by Phoenix Arizona, particularly as Simon the owner mentioned it was a new cask. This pale, straw coloured beer was clear as a bell and was cask ale on top form. We all savoured its divine bitter hoppiness and full malt base. So much so that we stuck with it for the next couple of hours, before a quick visit to the Regal Moon where a number of top form hoppy Elland Brewery beers sent us home rejoicing.

There are those who are calling for pale "summer" beers to be replaced as autumn approaches with mellower, fruitier beers. Replace Phoenix and Elland? Ignore such siren calls. Beers like these are always in demand.

The photo is the beer garden in the Baum. Not bad eh?

Saturday 12 September 2009


This weekend and next sees buildings that are not normally open or fully open to the public being available for visiting. My chums at the THT are a cultural lot who also like a bevvy. A good mix. So today we are touring the 800 year old Rochdale Parish Church and then the Pioneers Museum, which commemorates the birth of the Co-operative movement in Rochdale in 1844.

Now the Co-op Museum just happens to be next door to the splendid Baum, my CAMRA Branch's Pub of The Year, so we'll be in to check quality.

It's a gorgeous day here and there is a beer garden. Sounds like a good day out to me.

Next week we are all off to London for a few days. Pub suggestions welcome. They've already sorted out culture.


I mentioned here about one of our better pubs not doing so well. As E had a work appointment in Manchester and was therefore at home earlier, we found ourselves walking up there again. We got there about seven and the pub was quite busy. When we left around a quarter to ten it was very busy indeed, with a celebration of some sort going on in the function room and the bar packed with ordinary drinkers. The smokers outside seemed to be plentiful too, a beautiful evening making up for their banishment outside. But let's not dwell on that.

Ironically the aforementioned landlady had a night off, but no doubt she enjoyed counting the takings later.

Thursday 10 September 2009

Holt's Nine

Ten years ago Holt's Brewery did some special stuff for their chosen charity. I remember paying a fiver to visit the brewery - by and large they don't do tours - and recall visiting the roof where hundreds of hogsheads (54 gallons) were stored. Our CAMRA lot, well some of them, visited nine Holt's pubs on 9/9/99.

Our Membership Sec recreated this yesterday on 09/09/09 and while due to other things I couldn't go on the whole crawl, I joined them for a quick burst of three pubs, two of which I hadn't been in before. The beer was good in all three and I tried both mild and bitter. It was great to see pubs busy at "tea time" and mild flying out across the bar. I haven't drunk Holt's for a little while now, but that'll be rectified. The mild at 3.2% is fairly bitter, but what a good drink. I can't recall the price, but both mild and bitter were substantially under £2 a pint.

For the record, the pubs were:

The Welcome, Whitefield; The Foresters, Prestwich; The White Horse, Prestwich.

The photos were taken last night. The poster just tickled me and was a Fire Brigade warning. Likewise the name of the pub above, still tricked out in Wilson's regalia, amused me too.

Wednesday 9 September 2009

Oh Dear!

E has just phoned from London. She is unwell and though she reckons it it just a cold, she's been looking up swine flu symptoms on NHS Direct, so she must be worried. I hope she is right and that it is just a cold, but as she is due back here tomorrow night, I'm turning the spare room into an isolation ward, just in case.

And ordering a bell for her to wear round her neck.

Sing Something Simple

In Hirschaid, a dead and alive little town near Forchheim in Franconia is Brauerei Kraus. It has a good reputation and a decent sized beer garden. We located it easily enough and walked in past the pub itself and into the pleasant, tree shaded beer garden which doubled as the brewery yard. The brewery, a traditional tower affair, looked a good size.

Ordering from the hatch, I had an excellent kellerbier, while E started off on the pils which she liked. The place was busy at two in the afternoon with a good mixture of types. Suddenly singing started. From one corner, a group of old men, conducted by another old man, burst into song. These were traditional folk songs and were sung with obvious enjoyment, while being warmly appreciated by the audience. We all clapped at the break, while the old guys refreshed themselves with bier and schnapps. The final piece was recognisable as our National Anthem though obviously with different words. This confused some US Army civilians who clearly thought it was an American tune. It confused us for a moment too.

We supped our beers and enjoyed the simple pleasures of beer and bonhomie and joined in the well deserved round of applause when it all finished. Germany is full of surprises.

Tuesday 8 September 2009

Proposed Advertising Ban

You can say what you like about an advertising ban on alcohol, but not to have clever stuff like this would be tragic, even if it does advertise some Carlsberg pisswater.

Good Greif

Our trip to four brewery Forchheim was uneventful despite the rail replacement bus that took us there. As the S Bahn line was being extended, no trains were running, but the efficient buses were fine, though DB seemed to have decided to oversee the operation with their dumbest employees, particularly at the Forchheim end.

Forchheim is a quite lovely town, with ancient buildings everywhere and a poignant Jewish memorial reminding us of darker times. A little river runs through it and we enjoyed the stroll round until, by happenstance, we arrived at Sattlertorstrasse where it seems there are two brewpubs. Actually, I'd been looking forward to this. We've been selling Neder beers at the GBBF for years and here was a chance to try them in situ. Next door was Brauerei Hebendanz which Ronbo mentions fondly and accurately here.

We started at Hebendanz, though noting it is now a smoking pub, E sat outside on the self service tables, while I braved the smoky interior. My first impression was that everyone had at least two cigarettes going at once, some maybe three. There is a corridor and one room and as Ron remarks, it is simply full of oddballs. I looked though the gloom, seeking out Ron's waxy faced pal, but he didn't seem to be there. No worry, there was plenty Adams Family escapees to be going on with. The kellerbier was tasty and cheap. I had two before we nipped along to Neder where no smoking is allowed and contrastingly, everything seemed normal. The kellerbier was fine, but not as good as that of Hebendanz. E didn't like it, so asked me to fetch her a bottle of pils. This is well within my German capabilities. A bottle was duly produced and I was then asked a perplexing question. It perplexed me, as I didn't understand a word of it. My blank look brought a reply in German. "Would I like a glass?" Now this part of Franconia has some impenetrable dialects - just try reading some of the handwritten notices - but this was it in action.

Having established that Greifbrau's pub along the street was closed for good and that Eichhorn was on a ruhetag (rest day) we walked up to the Josef Greif Brauerei where Ron mentions you can get a beer. You can. In an odd little garden, sandwiched beween the keg and bottling plants, there is a few tables and a hatch dispensing pils and kellerbier. Both were excellent and we watched the various beery goings on at the brewery happily enough, before a meal and some more beer in town.

Forchheim really is a great little town and recommended very highly, just watch out for the denizens of Hebendanz.

On our return to Bamberg I settled the conflicting information from the two DBahn eejits posted there about which of two buses left first, by simply asking in German "Is this first? Yes or no?" That sorted it!

Tories to Kill Cheap Beer for MPs

If the Tories win the next general election, it seems they will knock subsidised food and drink for members of parliament on the head.

That's shot RedNev's fox!

Monday 7 September 2009

Copper Dragon Going Well

The MA reports that Copper Dragon Brewery of Skipton has increased its turnover by 50% over last year. Copper Dragon managing director Steve Taylor said: “This is supposed to be a slow time in the brewery trade but we are operating at near full capacity with our hand crafted cask ales and sales of our bottled range are going through the roof." I'd have thought they'd have used the doors myself, but there you are.

Nice to see another good news story from the cask ale front line and to see that Tyson's sterling supping has not been in vain!

The Morning Advertiser story is here.

Bamberg's Bier Kellers - Mahrs

It was almost dark by the time we got to the Mahrs Keller and we realised immediately that this smaller, more intimate keller was different to the other two. Good looking food, waitress only service and candles on all the tables, made it seem more like a pub with a garden restaurant. Nonetheless I enjoyed a couple of "Ungespundets" or simply "U" if you want to appear knowledgeable. E opted for some Silvaner wine, her favourite when she gets beered out.

We stayed until nearly closing time, then wandered back down the hill reflecting that it had been a worthwhile and pleasant way to spend and evening, but I'd probably choose the Mahrs Brewery Tap over the keller.

Next: Forchheim.

You will see that the menu is typical keller grub.

Sunday 6 September 2009

Steel City Brewing

Eagle eyed readers will have noticed that from day one of this blog, I have linked to Gazza Prescott's Beer Site, Scoopergen. Set up to explain that phenonemon known as scooping or ticking, it includes in great detail, Gazza's beery adventures. It is simply a must for anyone who takes his beer travel seriously.

Now Gazza is a hop man through and through. He loves Humulus Lupulus like I love my old mum, which is quite a lot. Unlike most old mums though, the hop can do interesting things to beer and Gazza, an experienced beer man, has decided with a fellow beery type and brewer, Dave Unpronounceable, to set up his own beer company, Steel City Brewing which will be based in Sheffield oddly enough. Unlike most breweries though SCB will be piggy backing on an existing brewery to produce beer, but the beer will be brewed to their own recipes by Gazza and Dave. Full details on the Steel City website.

The first brew will be brewed on 26th September and be ready two weeks later. It will be called Hop Manifesto to set out a stall for the new company's philosophy which is "We know what hops are for...". That should give you all a clue. Expect pale and very hoppy and NO crystal malt. The boys say they are inspired by Brewdog among others. Let's hope for great beer without great hype. I wish them all good fortune and hope they'll succeed, but even if they don't, there will surely be some hoppy marvels along the way. Can't wait to try some.

Good Luck Lads!

My thanks to Wurst for alerting me to this.

Hard Times

I had a long chat with one of my local landladies last night. In the best pub in town, on a Saturday night about eight o'clock, there was perhaps fifteen customers, so she had plenty of time. She tells me her trade has slumped since July, though she had previously been doing well. Weather is one possibility, but she reckons even in our somewhat down market town, it's the recession. Those with money are paying off debt and those "working class" people that are still employed, are doing their sums and buying at the supermarket. As she said to me when we worked out my four pints and E's four halves would have bought a bottle of cheap vodka and four cans of cooking from the supermarket, "for a lot that's a no brainer."

She is a manager running a tied house, so all is well for her at least? Not really, as she, rather than go with the company's standard menu, opted to rent the kitchen and do her own food. She has tried all kinds of meals and deals, but for her, it isn't working. Her salary subsidises the food operation. My advice? Hand that back to the company before the losses become unsustainable. She wants to hang on until Christmas though and her latest wheeze is a carvery. Good luck there.

This is an optimistic lass that knows what she is doing. She is not new to this game and should know about food, as she ran a restaurant in Ayrshire for six years, but you can see she is worried. Tenants are even more worried. It is a world away from £6 thirds of Brewdog at the Rake and drinking fancy dan beers at home and pontificating about them on blogs. This to me is the reality of drinking these days and I don't like where we're at.

For me beer and pubs are synonymous and I know whose side I'm on. I'll keep going to the pub and do my bit, but as I said in my title, these are "Hard Times".

One of the good things about going to London is, despite the general (but improving) lack of good beer, is that there is still a significantly better pub going attitude. It's partly geographical, but it's mostly about money. Still makes for a better pub experience in some ways.

Saturday 5 September 2009

Bonnie Gallowa'

Dumfries and Galloway is Scotland's overlooked corner. People zoom past it on the way to Glasgow, Edinburgh and the North, but it is stunningly beautiful, with neat little towns and villages that time has changed little. I (sort of) come from there. My grandparents lived in Castle Douglas until they died and my mother until she married and I spent all my summers there. It is brilliant, friendly and the beer is crap.

I took E there on a couple of nights of sentimental journey. It's the sort of thing you do as you get older and the reaper's figure is no longer such a speck in the distance. These things can be disappointing, but not here. CD is (externally) virtually unchanged, except for the Tesco which replaces the Railway Station, scandalously closed down by Beeching in 1964, taking my grandfather's job as signalman with it and some might say, his life too.

One thing CD didn't have when I was young, was a brewery. Sulwath Brewery is in the former home of Smart the Bakers. It doesn't tell you that, but I know. It has a neat little shop cum pub which dispenses brewery apparel, bottles and, from the bar, cask beer. That's the good bit. The bad bit is that frankly, the beer is pretty ordinary. Two cask ales were available on both days we called in. Black Galloway is a porter with potential, but had a sourish edge which was way too acetic for my palate, while The Grace was a so-so bitter of no distinguishing features, which did little for me. On both visits the place was full of English tourists presumably seeking a decent pint, plus the same two or three drunks blocking the bar. One might have been the owner I reckon. That wasn't good either. This brewery is missing tricks on all levels. It needs to sort out its beer and find a way of getting it in pubs. The area is jumping with thirsty English people, huntin', shootin', fishin', golfing and just touring. Tap into that I'd say.

You could do the enries in the GBG for Galloway in a day and a half if you tried hard. We tried three. The first was the Farmers Arms in Clarencefield. A nice little pub. The one beer? Greene King IPA! What's the point of that, but the place was festooned with Belhaven signs, so a bit of a clue there. The next was much better and a pub I was last in around 35 years ago. Had the Laurie Arms changed much? Blowed if I know, but I kind of doubt it. Pleasant service, good food and decent beer. Trade Winds from Cairngorm was pale and hoppy while we chatted to a long retired Royal Marine Colonel and his wife who were having a quiet lunchtime bottle of red. A good pub which also had Youngs Bitter on.

The next day brought two more GBG pubs. In Kirkcudbright, we visited the excellent and sparkling Masonic Arms though I passed on Roosters ( I haven't been impressed with their beers for a long time) in favour of Hoegaarden. The barmaid was very friendly and we eavesdropped on the local gossip on which small towns thrive. This did not intrude on excellent service.

Our last GBG pub was in beautiful Kippford on the Solway, where yachts bobbed on a twinkling sea. We passed the lifeboat station and its poignantly half mast flag, wondering why and into the Anchor Hotel. Sulwath Criffel which we'd already had elsewhere and is a weedy Black Sheep Bitter taste-alike, had to be passed over. The other offering was Deuchars IPA. I waited at the bar in a pretty empty pub, while the landlady tried to get a signal on the card terminal while not acknowledging my presence. When she finally got round to me, her one word was "Yes?" We supped our diacetyl bombs while she carried on loud local gossip with a man at the bar. The next customer got similar treatment, with the landlady - and it was the landlady I'm sure - continuing her conversation with the regular at the same time. We left the almost empty bar without a "thanks or a goodbye". It's touristy there, but that isn't an excuse. It is touristy everywhere there, yet we were met with courtesy, friendliness and interest everywhere else. This woman let the side down and that part of the world is important to me. She should be ashamed.

I'm not knocking gossip. It is the very life blood of a small community, but there is a right way and a wrong way!

Tuesday 1 September 2009

Bamberg's Bier Kellers - Wilde Rose

Passing the famous Schlenkerla Brauerei where the best known of Bamberg's smoky beers is brewed, you walk up another impressively steep hill to the Wilde Rose Keller. Now this former brewery's keller is big and it is popular, particularly on a glorious evening. It is all self service which is to my mind, how a keller should be. We got a good seat in the middle to watch the dynamics of it all - a most diverting pastime. First we obtained beer. For me kellerbier, brewery unknown, though it seems to be made for Wilde Rose. Bloody good it was too. For E, Keesmann Herren Pils which while maybe not on top form, supplied her with a satisfactory drink. To accompany this we had a "kellerplatte" from the food counter. Thick slabs of black pudding with tongue, ham of various sorts, pate, cheese, a touch of salad and thick slices of course rye bread made a veritable feast, though E wouldn't touch the black pudding. All for €5. the beer was around €2.00 a half litre.

A lot of people were eating. Some from the food counter and many from their own picnics, which is a traditional and acceptable thing to do. These were most interesting. Old ladies all chipping in this and that while supping kellerbier and gossiping heartily, young families with their evening meal brought to be eaten in the dappled sunlight, a birthday party, with delicious looking (and huge) quantities of food, completed the scene with candles and tablecloths and stunningly pretty women. As the evening went on, the before work crowd of retired people made way for the after work crowd and families. One guy read a book while consuming a few beers and a kellerplatte and to our astonishment, later went up and bought a plateful of leberkaese - a meat loaf. Where did he put it? We were completely filled with our shared meal.

Later younger people arrived. All drank beer more or less. The atmosphere was convivial and jolly. It was delight to watch such a mixed crowd enjoying the outdoors and beer in such a civilised way. There was no horrid and unwanted music, no shouting, no drunkenness and no litter. The crowd was self policing, the children played happily in the play area while parents enjoyed a break. All was well with this Franconian world. We reflected sadly that such a thing wouldn't work in the UK. Our society just isn't structured that way any more.

We left with some regret. We had one more keller to visit.

Bamberg's Bier Kellers - Spezial

Much is written about Bamberg and its beery attractions and I did most of them again this time. One thing though I hadn't done much of before was to go to three of Bamberg's loveliest kellers, high above the town. It is a fairly steep hill which takes you up to the earliest opening keller, that of Spezial. Good job this was open, otherwise, we'd have had none - not a problem in E's view - as the Spezial pub was closed for "urlaub" or holidays. Yes my friends, the pub shuts for a couple of weeks at one of the busiest times of year, while they go on holiday. What you must remember though, is that a lot of German establishments are family run and that's just how they do things.

Once you get to the gate of the keller, promptly at 15.00, you walk up another steep gradient to the keller, where to your surprise, the place is already quite busy. How is this? Well there is another gate higher up on the road where the wise can go directly into the keller, thus stealing five minutes on those of us choosing the hill. This keller commands lovely views of the town and has two areas, one with waiter service and one without. We chose the latter and enjoyed - well I did - the slightly smoky kellerbier and the slightly smoky hefe weizen. Now I am not the biggest fan of smoked beer, but compared to my girl, I love it. Our visit was therefore relatively short, as E found the beer undrinkable. Nonetheless for its setting its well worth a look and if you like smoky beer, a must.

The top photo shows the self service area of the keller.