Thursday 31 December 2009

My Wish List for 2010

Well, I said it's a list, so I'll list them. They aren't really in any particular order, except, probably, the first one:

On Beer:
  • Cask Ale quality and quality control. This needs to be upped massively in most micro breweries and in a hell of a lot of pubs. There is too much beer that should never have left the brewery and too much that shouldn't either be put on sale, or remain on sale
On Industry:
  • the beer industry needs to start speaking with one voice before it all goes (even more) tits up. Pete Brown mentions this a lot and I agree with him. I don't personally think the BBPA is the answer any more though. They are so tainted by their PubCo connections that they lack credibility
On Family Brewers:
  • Family Brewers have a unique position in the UK. They own pubs and breweries and need to make the most of that simple fact. No-one expects them to change from bread and butter brewing, but they need to be bolder, at least on occasion. Too many samey brown beers and a "we know best" attitude from some, is wasting opportunity. They need to be careful that beer life and fashion doesn't pass them by and consign them to the dustbin of history. In short, they need to wake up
  • CAMRA needs a complete "purpose review". It is becoming clear that nationally it is a lobby group, while locally it campaigns for pubs and beer. That needs to be looked at. The fact that no matter what it does, it can't please everyone shouldn't stop an independent look at its purpose in a changing UK beer world with resurgent cask consumption. It needn't be expensive, but it does need to be neutral in authorship and it needs to be done. Too many are sniping at CAMRA and while a lot of it is just lazy stereotyping, some of that sniping has justification. CAMRA needs to respond to the concerns. It is so much bigger now. It needs to change for that reason alone
On Bloggers:
  • Not writing about the 95% of beer drinking is as myopic as not writing about cutting edge stuff. Arithmetically more so. Some too, need to get out and about a bit more, particularly to the pub; they need to raise their heads up and look around them. So I'd like to see broader blogging
  • I do worry that there is a developing blogging clique. There are a few signs of that already. Blogging should (at least at times), be fearless and opinionated, not introspective, "me" and consensual. Swapping exotic beers is fun of course and it is a great idea to bring people together, but we need more than that to push the beer message outwards. Independent thinking is needed. Praise needs to be tempered by criticism where appropriate. It can get a little too "I had this lovely (extreme) beer" and "aren't Brew Dog/ Thornbridge great" for my taste
  • The best beer writers (Pete Brown, Protzy, ATJ etc.) are beer people in the old fashioned sense of the words. They build up their beer knowledge of what makes beer drinkers tick, from the inside, from understanding people as well as beer. From nattering at the bar, from watching how it all clicks together, from travelling and visiting pubs and breweries. And countries. Most (but by no means all) bloggers are home drinkers and really need to get out more. There I've said it again.*
On Twitter:
  • Twitter less and comment and write on blogs more. Comments are needed to encourage bloggers. No comments = no point in a lot of ways. Surely there are enough things on blogs worthy of comment?
On Pubs:
  • Visit them
On Me:
  • Hope fully I will continue to blog as long as it interests me and my readers. I will call it as I see it, like it or lump it. I'll get it wrong, but hopefully, it will be worth reading, at least sometimes
A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all my readers.

* As an observation, look at Impy Malting. She is building up her British beer knowledge from the bottom and though not British herself, has a keen sense of the pub and how it fits into our society. Her most acute observations about beer don't stem from sitting in her living room with a bottle of Double IPA, but by getting out there amongst it. It doesn't always work out for her, but she doesn't have scales over her eyes. (I only wish she'd let me comment on her blog, but for some reason, I can't. Go on Impy - explain)

A Surprising Winner

Our beer tasting went well. A shiveringly cold mile walk up the rutted lane to the pub was rewarded by the eager boys being ready for the event, a cheerful landlady with glasses, beer ready to go and a roaring fire. A warm up pint of mild to lubricate the old innards and we were off.

We started on the Potton and Everards Tiger, the latter provided by the landlady who hails from Leicester and is a former Everards licensee. The Potton was mid brown, inoffensive and easy drinking. Middle of the road, or rather, middle of a very conservative road. The Everards was thought to toffeeish and not hoppy enough, the landlady chipping in that it is better on cask. It was IPAs next; first up a ten year old bottle conditioned Bridge Port from Portland Oregon. It had been kept cool and in the dark for all of these years and opened with a satisfying hiss and a whiff of hops. All agreed the hops were somewhat subdued though the bitterness was there. It wasn't stale or oxidised and it was good. Next was Jaipur which got an all round thumbs up. It was delicious and a revelation to those that hadn't had it. Punk IPA was thought harsh and one dimensional in comparison by most, though I liked it, but not as much as the Jaipur. Meantime IPA again divided opinions with the majority, me included, feeling that it somehow missed the mark, but it was an interesting beer, being an attempt to reproduce an older style of beer, rather than a modern interpretation. Clearly though and interestingly, it was the modern Jaipur that struck a note of approval.

Stouts next, though we agreed to leave Tokyo to the end on account of its strength. Whittington's Black Cat Stout was liked by all. Tasty and full bodied, though I'd have liked a more hoppy finish. Meantime Chocolate (Porter) split opinion. Its intense chocolate reminded one drinker of a stout to which an infeasible measure of drinking chocolate had been added. One or two loved it. The sensation was though the Bridge Port Black Strap Stout. Not bottle conditioned, it was intensely black, smooth, bitter, treacley, hoppy and belied its ten years in the dark; we all wished for more. It was a unanimous "yes".

At last we reached the one I'd been really waiting for. My five year old Orval. It poured clear, had an orangey nose and a deep orange background, little brett character, but just enough to lift it and a wonderful perfumey lavender note throughout. It was lovely. We all without exception liked it. Outstanding Barley Wine at 7.4% was powerful, intensely hoppy and again an opinion divider, but just getting a positive nod.

Schlossbrauerei Doppel Hopfen provided the palate cleanser before the Tokyo. Good it was too, with a typical South German Pilsner profile lifted by a good dose of noble hops. Likeable and very drinkable. Tokyo poured with an off white head. It was black as the ace of spades and had an explosive alcohol kick, with intense liquorice and roast malt flavours, as if the whole thing had been reduced like a cooking stock. There is a lot going on here, but in truth nobody liked it. It was just too much, too intense, too strong and difficult to drink and to this author at least, drinkability is the name of the game in beer.

We had a vote at the and for fun and the one, two, three, was:

Bridgeport Black Strap Stout; Jaipur / Orval

Mike our vote counter said that really, the Orval and Jaipur were neck in neck, so a joint second was agreed. I should mention the only beer we hated, though it isn't mentioned above. Leyden Forever Bury! Bottom of the poll.

So, in conclusion, it wasn't scientific or professional, but it was a lot of fun. Well done Bridge Port and Orval. Old beers can be delicious and of course Jaipur was just great, even bottled, as I'd only ever had it on cask previously. I was personally pleased that the Black Strap won, as it is brewed by Karl Ockert the founding brewer of Bridge Port who was once kind enough to give me and E a private tour of the brewery. I'll drop him a line I think, to see what he makes of it.

I still have two more bottles of that Orval. Lucky me.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

Tasting Beers

Well we all do that don't we? Tomorrow I'm conducting a fun tasting of beers at the pub. It's a chance to put some of the beers I never get round to drinking at home to good use. It's just for my mates and there will be around a dozen beers. One of the boys is chipping in a Brew Dog Tokyo. The landlady will be joining us and providing the third of a pint tasting glasses and will see what bottles she has. There won't be any scoring, but it should be fun at least. For those interested, here is the provisional line up:

Brew Dog Punk: IPA and Tokyo
Bridgeport (US): IPA and Stout (These are old so we'll see)
Meantime:IPA and Chocolate Porter
Outstanding: Barley Wine
Orval (Belgium): A five year old sample
Potton: Shambles Bitter
Schloss Brauerei (Germany): Doppel Hopfen (Thanks Nick)
Thornbridge: Jaipur IPA
Whittington: Black Cat Stout

Friday 25 December 2009

Bloody Pete Brown

Guess what I got for Christmas from the lovely E? A hat trick of Pete Brown books. I was going to take a photo of them surrounded by the wrapping paper, but E, in a rare fit of tidiness, has chucked it all away - I mean recycled it.

So instead of wasting my time drinking beer and watching crap TV, I need to get stuck into some reading. Life's a bugger at times.

Happy Christmas to all my readers, even Pete Brown.

My proper present was a SatNav.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Dancing Bloggers

Due to overwhelming demand - well Dredgey, I am forced to appear in this latest capture of bloggers at play. Exclusive - name all the bloggers and win....... cock all.

Update Feb 2010: The dancing bloggers are now time expired. More next year!

Bloggers in the Snow

It's snowing heavily here at the moment, but it seems the blogging lads don't mind at all:

Try JibJab Sendables® eCards today!

Monday 21 December 2009

The Beer Blogger Awards 2009

Mark Dredge asked on Pencil and Spoon for bloggers to name their "awards" under the following categories. I thought, despite my mumblings about such stuff, I'd not be a miserable old git and give it a go. So here we are:

Best UK Draught Beer
: Marble Pint. Honourable mentions to: Phoenix Arizona and Lees Brewer's Dark.

Best UK Bottled Beer: No idea at all.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Brauerei Roppelt, Stieberlimbach, Franconia; Keller Bier. Lager perfection.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Girardin Gueuze, but most gueuze would get my vote, as it is just such a change and contrast to my normal drinks

Best Overall Beer: Marble Pint. As good as it gets really. Bitter, hoppy, decent body, right colour, cask conditioned. What's not to like?

Best Bottle Label or Pump Clip: No idea.

Best UK Brewery: Marble. It just has to be. They are on blob at the moment; pale or dark, they can do it and do it really well. Honourable mentions to Phoenix for consistently great beers and Mallinsons for brewing excellent examples of my favourite beer style - pale and hoppy.

Best Overseas Brewery: Brauerei Roppelt. To experience their keller beer is to see how good and how drinkable bottom fermented beer can be.

Pub/Bar of the Year: The Baum Rochdale. Just a great and welcoming pub with fantastic staff and superbly kept and varied beer. Honourable mentions to the THT of course and Zum Uerige, Dusseldorf, the best pub in Germany in my humble opinion. I never tire of it. But in truth there are a lot of great pubs if you know where to look.

Beer Festival of the Year: GBBF. What could be better?

Supermarket of the Year: No idea at all.

Independent Retailer of the Year: As above.

Online Retailer of the Year: As above.

Best Beer Book: GBG 2009. Only as I use it a lot and I haven't got my mitts on Hops and Glory yet.

Best Beer Blog: Mine of course, but I do like Cooking Lager for a laugh. Best other "serious" beer blog has to be Pete Brown's. A proper beer man him (and that counts for a hell of a lot in my book) and it shows in his writing. Honourable mentions go to Impy Malting's deliciously observational blog. (Why can't I comment on it?) and Boak and Bailey''s thoughtful stuff, which always interests.

Best Beer Twitterer: It's all a bit silly really.

Best Online Interactive Brewery: Neither know nor care. Sorry.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Lees Brewer's Dark and Smokey Bacon crisps.

Open Category: You Choose: Oddest Beer Moment: Visiting Brauerei Hebendanz in Forchheim. It is just utterly weird! See my blog entry for details. Biggest wish (1): that my fellow bloggers would get out into the pub more. Biggest wish (2): that the pound would start kicking the euro's arse. Fat chance of that one.

Next Year I’d Most Like To... Be around to drink good beer wherever I can find it


We didn't make it to our remote pub yesterday. Our Sunday table was bereft of us. E and I set off in hope of getting there though. An effort had to be made. We walked the mile or so to Midd in deep snow and snow showers and got a 17 bus, the first for a long time according to the impatiently waiting queue. The traffic was gridlocked. Rochdale Metro had not it seemed, gritted the roads. Snow had fallen on already icy roads and they were treacherous in this hilly town of ours. Cars slithered and wheels were spinning impotently. The bus took 20 mins to go 300 yards. In the meantime phone calls were received from the boys. The lane was very dangerous; Colin had gone on his arse twice while walking his dog. John had fallen too. Dave's missus had decided it was too dodgy to take him. We were stranded in Middleton. In short, the game was over for today as far as the THT was concerned. I texted the landlady to have the attendance book duly noted.

Feeling slightly cheated, we baled out of the bus, me grimacing at paying £7 for the privilege of a 300 yard journey and repaired to Middleton Cricket Club for soothing pints of Lees Bitter, then down to the Old Boar's Head for more of the same. We enjoyed the beer, but missed the familiarity of our pub, the welcoming roaring fire, the conviviality of our friends and the usual banter and conversation that we'd have had. That's why we go there, why our local is so much part of our lives. Without it, Sunday just wasn't the same.

Later we walked home, back up the hill in more snow. We just missed two 17's leaving the bus station at exactly the same time. Insult added to injury.

The photo shows a well wrapped up E outside the Cricket Club

Friday 18 December 2009

More of the Same

The dodgy Christmas beer list continues with a texted contribution from Tyson, which woke me up at 00.43 this morning. Cheers Mate. He advises thus: "2 more 4 ur list. Blakemere xmas cracker shld read xmas crapper and u wld hav 2b a pudding 2 enjoy old bear xmas pudding"

So that's Blakemere and Old Bear added to the list of dishonour. I can chip in some more too. Allgates Samhain was certainly not an ordinary beer, but it was very difficult to drink. Goodness knows what was in it, bramble stems or raw cranberries maybe? Either way its sheer harshness didn't appeal to me. Three B's Santa's Skinful was a very nice beer, but as Christmassy as a barmitzvah, while Hawkshead Jingle Fells, a blend of Brodie's and Red, was excellent in every way, but its claim to taste like "Liquid Christmas Pudding" is, shall we say, stretching it a bit. And the bloody stuff ran out after one delicious but non Christmassy pint.

There was one jewel in the crown though. One of my local breweries, Greenfield, had Rudolph's Tipple. Dark, five per cent and subtly tinged with cake spices, it hit all the right notes. Seasonal, warming and delicious. Well done Peter and the lads - you are one of the few.

PS. A comment has just arrived from Tyson. Wonder if he's forgotten that text?

"Blakemere Xmas Cracker-it wasn't. And Old Bear Xmas Pudding-you'd have to be a pudding to enjoy this copper coloured xmas disaster. Basically two dodgy beers from two dodgy breweries."

Thursday 17 December 2009

Back to Geekery

When I left the Gasmen, I fancied a look in to Micro Bar. I was in luck. Apart from the two Boggart offerings, my first Steel City Beer awaited me. Well come on down! Worcestershire Sourced was 4.6%, pale and exceedingly hoppy, as you'd expect from the serious hop heads that produce it. A good solid Marris Otter body with a touch of wheat and a lot of big C hops (Worcester grown Cascades and Magnum) would about describe it, but sadly, it just tripped over into a slight soapiness for this imbiber. Still, nothing to put me off trying them again and if the beer had been a touch colder, it might not even have been noticeable. A great big hoppy effort, well worth seeking out.

Then to the Marble Arch where I spotted Ginger 6 on the bar. Not one to start with, so I had the superb Chocolate Porter ( or is it Chocolate Marble?) and a half of the stout. They were both really well made beers, with the Chocolate being in much better condition and therefore edging it. So, Ginger 6 to finish with? Alas no. It was, like a thief in the night, gone. He who hesitates is usually lost, but maybe not, as in this case there will be other days.

I reckon Marble must be up there as the current best cask ale brewer in the UK currently. There. I've said it.

Back in the Past

I spent a couple of hours drinking Joseph Holt's beers with retired Gas Board men yesterday. My mate Steve has an ex gasman's pissup every Christmas and occasionally, I pop in to see the old codgers, who all like their ale. The choice of pub is fixed now, It is the Ape and Apple, a rather nice old fashioned (though it isn't that old) Holt's tied house in John Dalton Street. After some rather haphazard Christmas shopping and finding my way out of the Arndale with great difficulty, I met up with them. Most were drinking mild and all were standing up, as befits men of their drinking seniority. They are of an ilk where you sup your beer on your hind legs, a position favoured by most of the customers there.

It was a bit of a throwback in many ways and if you want to get the feel for how drinking was in the seventies and eighties, I suggest you go there. No music, just laughter and banter, mild and bitter flying out from the wickets and a couple of truly excellent (and pretty) barmaids handling it all with consummate ease. A pleasant couple of hours were spent and I left with reluctance having switched as you do, from the excellent cask mild to the very good bitter after a few.

It was one of these occasions where you weren't being a beer geek, just a guy drinking straightforward good beer with pleasant company, in a great boozer. Trust me, that's still worth doing.

On the way to the bog I spotted this rather old fashioned, or sexist, or whatever advert for Holt's lager. I thought I'd share it with you.

Monday 14 December 2009

Most Definitely in the Christmas Spirit

I haven't written much about our pub for a while. It just ticks on being happily good, but I want to share this with you. We have a few old regulars who used to serve in the Lancashire Fusiliers and the pub supports them and the Royal British Legion in the usual way in the build up to Remembrance Sunday, by selling poppies and providing a free Sunday Lunch to the old servicemen when they return from the Cenotaph.

This year the landlady wanted to do something extra. The usual festive Christmas tree is up, but this year, instead of the normal baubles and tinsel, it is decorated solely by poppies. These are the big ones and are signed by the purchaser who then pins them to the tree. Minimum donation is a pound. The photo shows a small section of the tree, which positively bristles with poppies. I think this is rather fine and clearly, judging by the number of poppies, so do the customers.

Sometimes the term "place in the community" is used in a vague way to describe how a pub fits into its locality. I reckon this illustrates it perfectly.

More Non Christmas, Christmas Beers

I think it is becoming the norm rather than the exception. I have come across the following without even trying. All are ordinary brown beers with the only seasonal thing being the pump clip.

Named and shamed are: Cotleigh Red Nose Reinbeer, Hydes 3 Sheikhs, Green Mill Sleighed, Lees Christmas Cracker.

There will be more I've no doubt and of course feel free to add to the list as you come across them.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Bah Humbug!

I've only had two Christmas beers so far. OK, I haven't been really trying and I promise to do better, but both have been ordinary mid brown beers of (by co-incidence) 4.8%. It doesn't augur well.

Now is it just me or am I wrong to expect a Christmas beer, specially issued for the season, to have something, well, special about it? Wouldn't you think that at a time when everyone wants to treat themselves a bit, the brewer would pull all the stops out? If they don't believe in the premise, why bother going through the motions? What do I expect? Well, something different. Maybe a mildly spiced old ale, or one with a little fruit of some sort in it - bitter orange would be good. Maybe even something dark and toasty? Something stronger and warming definitely, but not just a bog standard premium, mid brown bitter of no character or seasonality.

This isn't the first time I've raised this point, but it is still worth saying I think. Put some bloody thought and effort in please brewers. Stretch yourself and your imagination. It's only once a year after all.

I first complained about this in the early days of my blog, two years ago. Post number 21 in fact. It still makes a good read!

Monday 7 December 2009

Woods and Trees

I was struck by something Mark Dredge said in his blog the other day and I've been thinking about it off and on since. It was a throwaway line in a discussion about beer glass sizes and I think it reflects something that I am rapidly becoming aware of and which dominates the thinking of the new wave of younger bloggers. It was mentioned as a "given", a statement of fact. The line was this: "The nature of British beer is evolving and I think the vessels it is served in needs to evolve too." The question that arises in my mind is "How true is that statement?" No, not the one about different glass sizes, but the first part about the nature of British beer evolving. In what way is it evolving, if it is to any great extent?

I guess those that think there is a sea change, would put forward Thornbridge and Brew Dog as evidence that a different, more innovative (that word again) way of doing things is emerging - evolving perhaps?. Brew Dog is certainly a case in point, though I'd venture Thornbridge are in Brew Dog terms a little more conventional, while in overall terms, still nudging the more adventurous end of the spectrum. What about Marble, Outstanding or Pictish? Maybe Steel City or Mallinsons? There may be backers for a small number of others, but after that you start to struggle a bit. In numerical terms and even in influence, the evidence just isn't really there. Most of the brewers I mention are conventional enough. They are just lots better at making good beer and it is usually that which makes them stand out.

"Aha" say you, "what about all these lovely strong bottled beers that are emerging?" Nothing new there I'm afraid. It is the return to bottling that has brought these stronger beers back, not an evolution or revolution in brewing. The rush to home drinking has recreated a market that always existed, but in a slightly different form. Once all breweries produced a barley wine and a strong or old beer, in recent times, usually as a chaser to more standard strength beers. Christmas versions weren't uncommon either. Change the name from Blogg's Old to Blogg's Imperial Stout, bump up the abv and you've still only tweaked and renamed a strong beer, not created an evolutionary brewing step. Perception may be changing for some (more of that later), but it isn't really new.

So how could this this evolving British beer scene be defined? The biggest change in British brewing in recent years (apart from hundreds of samey micros of course) has arguably been the emergence of "golden ales" and with them, the more generous use of hops, as well as the increasing use of foreign hop varieties. To a limited extent too there is a resurgence in strong dark beers, though the quality of some of these are doubtful. (You can hide brewing faults and recipe disasters much easier in a dark beer and then sit back and smirk as the geeks call it complex or challenging.) Nonetheless those do provide welcome variety, but they are far from new in either concept or actuality. Of course if you read Ron Pattinson's blog, you will know that in so many ways, beers like Imperial Stouts, are recreations of a lost brewing world; not innovation or evolution, but an adapted reclaim of the past; a lot of it too from within living memory. Those who try to be a little different, aren't doing much more than exploiting a niche, but a niche is what it is. What is different though is an expanded take home market, though that is still firmly mired in cheap lager. To make the evolution (if it exists) more firmly verifiable, that would have to change seismically too. Given the actual rarity in percentage terms and lack of general availability of these "new" beers, it won't be any time soon.

So is British beer evolving to the extent that some claim, nay, assume? I rather doubt it. Too many seem to be looking at the British beer scene through the wrong end of the telescope, charmed and enchanted by what seems to be new and exciting. Drinking strange new beers matured in odd barrels, visiting progressive free houses and beer festivals can result in extrapolating that atypical experience and the enthusiasm it generates into something it probably isn't. We should welcome the new niches that are being created (or rediscovered), but it shouldn't blind us to reality. Enthusiasm and bonhomie are marvellous. They can propel us forward. A shared outlook, buoyed up by beer, while infectious and enjoyable, can however mislead and cause feet to be less firmly placed on the ground than otherwise they might be. Though niches will certainly expand, British brewing remains solidly middle of the road and it is likely to continue that way for a long time to come.

This just scratches the surface of what is likely to be a very deep mine. Views welcome of course.

The bottles in the photo are all over 20 years old to illustrate my point.

A Seasonal Gift

I know a lot of beer geeks go into paroxysms of hyperbole over Lees Harvest Ale, the once a year brewed strong ale (11.5%) made with the first of the new season's malted barley. It isn't widely available and is usually much sought after, particularly in the US, where some variants are also made available. Previous vintages (of which I have quite a few) are collectors items, as they all remain drinkable for many years

On a visit to the brewery last week, I was presented with something a little different - a Harvest Ale Christmas Pudding, made exclusively as gifts to Lees customers (and some others), in strictly limited numbers. This will add a touch of beery one upmanship to our Christmas Lunch and I will be fascinated to see if the taste will shine through. Should it be accompanied by a (shared) bottle of the same I wonder?

I'll let you know how it turns out of course.

I was also given a preview of Lees Christmas Cracker, a 4.8% beer, well hopped with First Gold and Styrian Goldings, but not dark surprisingly.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Not Beer for Once!

Did I ever mention that I love Cadbury's Tiffin? No longer made here for at least 30 years, maybe more, but still made in Ireland, it is an occasional treat for me when I can get my hands on some. In return for picking her up from the airport a few weeks ago, I now have a supply from Eileen's mum. I notice a new wrapper and "Tiffin" isn't in such big letters. Is that worrying?

Lovely aren't they? I'm saving them for Christmas as a present for myself.

They have proper foil and a waxed paper wrapper. None of your shrink wrapped bollocks.

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Bad News for the Sniffy Brigade

Timbo Martin has announced JDW will open another 250 pubs in the next ten years,taking the total to around 1000. He will create 10,000 jobs in doing so.

That'll be more for some to to avoid, but it isn't bad news for cask ale at all.

Getting Old

I've just realised. This blog has now entered its third year. Its birthday was on the 26th November, so I am still able to say the blog's birthday was this week.

It's come a long way from these hesitant beginnings!