Friday 31 December 2010

Fast Away the Old Year Passes

Well that's nearly it. 2010 has gone bar the shouting, though there won't be much of that from me. By half past midnight the New Year will have been seen in with a glass or two of champagne, then it will be up the wooden hill. I'll have some drinking to do tomorrow. It is traditional to look back on beery highlights of the year, but bollocks to that. No. Actually I will by way of one or two bits taken from Dredgie's Golden Pints, as I think it is quite fun. So here we go:

Best UK Draught Beer

Already been said. Fyne Ales Jarl. So bloody good that you scan every bar you approach in the vain hope that it will be there. Runner up, Crown Brewery Brooklyn Heights. An interpretation of a US style IPA that few Yankee brewers could better.

Best Overseas Draught Beer

Quite a few contenders, but once again it has to go to Brauerei Roppelt, Stieberlimbach, Franconia; Kellerbier is lager as it should be and this is kellerbier as it should be. I'd also like to give an honourable mention to Alpha King which was the stand out beer of my Chicago trip, though actually if truth be told, we are doing these kind of beers better in the UK at the moment. We add drinkability and that just makes them so much better in my book.

Best UK Brewery

Mallinsons, with a nod to Phoenix and Elland. Oh I know Jarl was the best cask beer, but it isn't just about producing one beer and I know if I see the other three breweries, whatever beer is offered, I'm in for a good drink and that, rather than exotic or unusual, is what I mostly want.

Pub/Bar of the Year

I base this on how much I enjoyed it and the overall experience. I'll rule out my local on the basis of bias, but the Baum in Rochdale gets it for me. Superb place and superb beer. Runner Up: Apfelhaus Wagner, Sachsenhausen, Frankfurt. Just a must experience place, steeped in tradition.

Honourable mentions go to The Jolly Butchers (assuming the beer is no longer warm); The Rovers Return, Douglas; the Hop Leaf, Chicago and the White Lion in Delph.

Beer Festival of the Year

National Winter Ales Festival

Best Beer Blog

Apart from my own very under-rated bog? Hard this one really, but here's the one two three:

1 Oh Good Ale - Well written, non conformist and feet on the ground. That's a winning formula for me.

2 Tasting the Pith - Ignore the fact that it's highly unlikely you'll ever come across any of the beers he drinks. Just grab the hem of his frock and go along for the ride. It's worth it. This guy is seriously good.

3 Rabid About Beer - I like a fellow moaner, but he also genuinely likes beer and people and he's one of the nicest guys you could meet.

Honourable mentions to Paul Bailey and The Beer Nut. Paul writes about stuff I like to read about and The Beer Nut is incomparable as a beer taster.

In 2011 I’d Most Like To

Get some free beer sent to me like the rest of the blogosphere!

So that's it for 2010. Happy New Year to one and all and lang may yer lum reek!

Thursday 30 December 2010

2010 Wish List Reviewed

I said earlier that I was going to review my wish list for 2010 that I published on 31/12/2009 and I will, but was also going to slip in one or two other thoughts, though I am wary of doing so, given Pete Brown's fatwa on opinion, individuality and writing on your blog, just what you fancy. (As an aside I don't agree that discussing on the web, those aspects of beer that interest you most, will remotely put off new drinkers of beer. They aren't the target. I've converted quite a few in my time and it is the age old way of "try this, you might like it.") So just shut up Pete.*

So back to where I started and what I wished for in 2010:

* 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

Not much improvement there at all, if any. I continue to be surprised at the low standards in some places and in places that really ought to know much better. This is a game that has to be considerably upped.

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

Not much improvement there at all, if any. Sniping at CAMRA and SIBA for example seems to have increased.

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

More positive here I think. The success of the micros and bigger "small" brewers is starting to rattle the family brewing fraternity. They are producing more interesting beers. Adnams and Fullers have led the way, but others are following, with Thwaites returning to cask in a big way, Robinsons building a new brewhouse from which great things are being hinted at and even JW Lees making its export only ales such as variants on Harvest Ale and Manchester Star available in the UK and producing next year a hop laden feast of seasonal brews. So, some hope there of further progress.


* 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

Well we have the review and I'm on the committee. I doubt if our conclusions will shake the world to its core, but the things that people complain about, are being discussed, debated, defended, countered and considered. You'll have to wait and see on that one, but one thing I can say; it was a motion that I seconded at the CAMRA AGM, that brought this about and neither I nor the proposer intend to support the outcome if it doesn't fairly cover the concerns that brought about the motion in the first place. That doesn't mean that we expect to get our way on everything, but we do expect a reasoned discussion of all concerns and so far, that has certainly been the case. And one more thing: I am now much more aware of the impact CAMRA has behind the scenes. The best work isn't always shouted from the rooftops.

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

This is a work in progress, though the odd chink of light appears!

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?

If anything this has gone backwards. It may be beer blogging is in terminal decline, though one or two new blogs, such as Oh Good Ale give me a bit of hope.

On Pubs:

* Visit them

You know, I think bloggers are doing a bit more of that, with quite a few exceptions of course.

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

Yes I'm still getting it wrong and right. I'm happy enough with most of what I do and I think that some of my stuff has actually improved. Also my readers don't complain that much and I'm still up there in the ratings, which is nice.

Well there you have it. Some good, some bad and some things just don't change. I won't be doing a look forward for 2011, I think I'll go for a drink instead, but I will leave you with my top three cask beers of 2010.

1 Fyne Ales Jarl

I was alerted to this by Mark Dredge. He was right. So good to drink, with a beautiful citra led nose and despite heavy hopping, no harshness whatever. It's a beer I could drink all day and one from which it is really difficult to tear oneself away. This is (almost) beer perfection.

2 Crown Brewery Brooklyn Heights

A perfect balance of hops and malt which simply enthralled me. A real treat.

3 Lees Plum Pudding

The brewer tells me that this year he has toned down the sweetness, tweaked the bitterness and fruitiness to make it better balanced and more drinkable. He is right. A wonderful refreshing, complex, fruity/bitter beer with an aromatic dry, bitter finish. One just isn't enough.

* This is entirely tongue in cheek of course and I will be naming my top three blogs tomorrow and maybe more!

Friday 24 December 2010

Happy Christmas

Before I get myself off to the pub, a quick posting to thank all my readers for their support throughout the year, especially those that took the time to comment.

I'll have a couple of days away from blogging (probably) and return with my thoughts on 2010 and a review of how my wishes and hopes for 2010 went. So, eat, drink and be merry and for those going down the pub, please remember a pub isn't just for Christmas.

But whatever you do, have a great and peaceful time.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Blogging Annoyances

One of the best pieces of advice given to me blogging wise, was from Jeff Bell aka Stonch. "Forget all that moderation and password stuff. You won't get enough spam or nutcases to make it worthwhile and people don't like it." He was right.*

It is annoying enough to have to re-record infeasibly long and indistinct word verification when you comment, but then up pops "Your comment will be published after blog owner approval." WTF?

If it is you (and you know who you are and there are quite a few of you) please let me know why on earth you do it? It's bad enough doing the former, but then more hoops to jump through? Why? Is it a power thing? I get the odd bit of spam, but I just delete it. Simples. Best of all, just stop it. It is pointless and irritating.

*It's a paraphrase, but that's the gist of it.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Cains in Trouble Again?

It seems the RC Brewery in Liverpool, formerly Robert Cain and Company may be in difficulties again. This follows a loss of £896,000 and warnings about cash flow from their auditors. I won't write further about the circumstances, as the Publican fully covers it here.

My particular interest in Cain's is as a former Liverpool resident and of course, the fact that this was Higson's Brewery in the past. I do hope this wonderful brewery survives. Whatever you think of the owners, the Dusanj brothers, they are a wily pair who will no doubt be working on a solution, but if you care as I do about the magnificent brewery itself and cities such as Liverpool having its own large commercial brewery, you better start crossing your fingers.

I have written about this company in the past, notably here and here.

Monday 20 December 2010

It's Bloody Lovely!

My bread that is. To recap, a standard white loaf recipe of 500g strong bread flour, 3 tablespoons olive oil, half a teaspoon of salt, 7g fast acting yeast and 275ml of Sharp's Chalky's Bite.

Method: Measure flour, add salt and yeast and mix. Make a well and add olive oil. Mix in a large bowl, add beer ensuring all the sediment goes in too. Mix well with a spoon, then turn out onto floured surface and knead minimally. Shape into a ball and let rise on baking parchment for a couple of hours.

When twice original size, turn out onto floured surface, punch it down and knead gently for about 30 seconds. Shape into a ball and place in a lightly floured glass bowl and cover with oiled cling film. Place somewhere warm. When twice size again, bake in a pre-heated oven at bread temperature (usually maximum or around 220 -230C)for 35 minutes. Spray with a fine mist of water from time to time to create a good crust. When loaf sounds hollow to a tap on the bottom, it is ready.

Cool for at least an hour on a rack.

So, does it taste of beer? It tastes quite malty, slightly herbal and am I imagining a faint whiff of hops? I must try this with another kind of beer to see if that makes a difference, but boy does it taste great and as I have used this recipe before with water instead of beer, I can say without a doubt, the beer version is better. The crust is superb, as is the crumb and texture. I'm going to have some with pastrami I think, but no beer. Today is an alcohol free day.

I reckon though it would go well with any wheat beer.

Beer Bread

Something came over me and I felt remarkably creative this morning. I thought "I know, I'll make some bread for later." (I'll make lentil soup to go with it too, but that will be done this afternoon as it is so easy.) Now this being a beer blog, I wondered if I should use beer instead of water? Why not, so a bottle of Sharp's Chalky's Bite was dragged out of the cellar - well garage - and duly popped in. It is proving now. I did this by hand rather than my bread maker and following something I saw on TV, didn't over knead it, as after all it is a chemical process. Or so the theory goes.

My thinking was that being bottle conditioned should help the rise and being pale and flavoured with fennel should give an interesting taste. I haven't used beer before in bread making, but I'll keep you informed of progress.

Mustn't hurry this. Give it time I tell myself, but you know, I'm quite excited about it.

A Good Thing Too

I've been in Manchester a fair bit over the last week due to meeting various mates for Christmas drinks. One thing has been noticeable in the pubs I've been in. That is the relative absence of silly named Christmas beers. There have been one or two for sure, but on the whole, not so many.

Why this somewhat curmudgeonly stance? Just that last time I wrote about these, they were not particularly in the spirit of special brews for seasonal purposes, but ordinary beers with a daft name.

I'd rather do without these frankly, though something traditional and warming would be fine.

Thursday 16 December 2010

The Gasmen Cometh

Every year in recent years, around this time, I'm invited to an exclusive do. The Retired Gas Men's Annual Pissup. When I say retired gas men, these aren't the meter readers, or the guys that shovelled coal into hoppers to produce coke for town gas, but the mob that investigated "gas incidents". Explosions, carbon monoxide suffocations and the like were their bag. They are a funny lot with a wealth of tales to tell, including how the Bridge at Heap Bridge, Bury, a pub I used to frequent, blew spectacularly apart in the middle of the night, though fortunately, the landlord and landlady walked through the falling debris unscathed. This apparently is often, but not always the way. The pub was never rebuilt though and is now a block of flats.

My old mate Steve, who was a forensic chemist God help us, is the source of the invitation. The venue is always the Ape and Apple, a tied Holt's house in central Manchester. It is interesting and instructive to see the old guard in action. It takes you back to how things were and in a lot of Holt's pubs still are. Not one was under 65 and the oldest was almost 80. To a man they stood on their hind legs, drinking proper beer like proper men always did. Cask Mild was the predominant drink, though a few drank bitter. Pints were jugged down in the casual, practised manner of ones to the manor born. Banter flowed, photos of families were examined and Christmas cards exchanged. I was even given some advice by one group on my recalcitrant central heating, while another group avidly discussed the recent massive gas explosion in Salford. "It wasn't the gas pipe". Old habits die hard in more respects than one.

The Ape and Apple was the perfect venue for such a gathering. Old fashioned (though not that old as a pub) and everything a proper tied house should be, with charming, efficient bar staff throwing casual banter around to the many regulars and pouring perfect beer from the wickets. In a very busy pub, waiting time was non existant and pints were topped up automatically. The Holt's Mild was in superbly drinkable nick. At 3.2% this is the perfect lunchtime pint. After four, I left. I had a quiz later and anyway, these guys needed to catch up.

I wonder how it all ended up? Or when?

Tuesday 14 December 2010

The CAMRA "Do"

It's ours tonight at Phoenix Brewery. Should be three beers on and we are promised something special as well. Could be one of Tony's warming winter ales as well as some swigging beer. Either way, we are in safe hands beer wise. It's all doable by bus, both there and back, so should be a fun do with people who all know each other.

Might have a preparatory kip later. I'm an old man me.

Monday 13 December 2010


What's that then? Well the dictionary would say "the attribute of being easy to meet or deal with". "Accessible". Now hands up those that think (most) beer should be seen within those (reasonable) definitions.

On Saturday I had two beers at opposite ends of the approachability spectrum. First was the 3.5% pale, citra infused swigger, Hawkshead Windermere Pale, then, a few minutes later in a different pub, the strong, 6.5% hop bomb, Hoppiness from Moor Brewery. In the Angel, I was just beaten to the door by a group of six, three men with their female companions. They wanted to drink cask beer, so asked for tasters. I watched as they went through two or three. "Ooohs" and "aaahs" announced the result - Hawkshead Windermere Pale all round. I ordered it too, as it is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine.

In the Marble Arch, I had a pint of Pint. (As an aside, a gentleman beside me in the standing room only crush asked me what I was drinking. "Pint" quoth I. "I know" he said, "but which one?". Tedious explanations followed about arcane beer naming practice! ) I had however spotted that on the bar was Moor Brewery Hoppiness. Now this is 6.5% abv. Not big by some standards, but a beer requiring caution and respect I'd say. By then I'd found a seat and nipped to the bar for a half. The first thing I'd say is that it was a very well made beer. It was clean, no obvious brewing faults and clear as a bell. But boy was it hard to drink. The sheer amount of big C hops and obvious alcohol precluded anything but sipping and each sip required more effort than you should have to put into beer drinking. I'd struck up a conversation with two of my table companions. They were drinking cask, so I offered them a taste. I think it fair to say, neither liked it. So a very well made beer, but not very approachable on this very unscientific observation.

So why am I saying this? I suppose the background is the recent posting by Dave Bailey and the Publican piece by Caroline Nodder. I rather think this aspect (approachability) is related. Am I saying then that all beer should be 3.5% quaffers? Not at all, but I am saying that for most "ordinary" drinkers and for new ale drinkers, the attraction of drinking beer will be more slanted towards the weaker, easy drinking beer, than the other example I quote. Maybe that's obvious, but the need to reflect the likes and dislikes of the mainstream is sometimes overlooked in the search for the exotic or unusual. (That is possibly what Caroline Nodder was on about.) I'd contend that the gateway to a more diverse and appreciative view of beer is through better made beers that the ordinary punter can sup a fair bit of, understand and build upon. To read some beer commentators though, you'd think ordinary people, ordinary drinking and pubs are so "yesterday". Not so I'd venture. You don't get the egalitarianism of the pub so easily in upmarket bars or from drinking at home, nor do you get the easy chat that can lead to tasting beers with strangers elsewhere. (I don't subscribe to the view either that pricing people out of certain types of beer is a good thing, but that's not for now.)

To spread the word about beer, (assuming one thinks there is a point to that) we need to increase the quality, range and diversity at the everyday level, as well as swooning with pleasure over big beers the vast majority of us will never even come across and which, if we did, probably wouldn't like. Even for for niche markets, to ensure sustainability, we need a better focus on "entry level" beer, for that is the gateway to all beer for most, whether that beer is consumed in the pub or at home. Micro brewing is already challenging mainstream brewing and thinking very successfully now and is forcing change elsewhere. (I mentioned this in my response to Caroline Nodder). It looks possible too that smaller brewers will have the opportunity to sell their wares to a wider audience, as further pubs will become available as pub groups retrench and become smaller. Pubs aren't dead yet and those that survive will have pretty good prospects if allowed to do their own thing. (There is possibilities too in this for the niche by the way and though the big opportunities will always lie with the bulk of drinkers, I for one don't see why these things can't run side by side, rather than as separate posh beers bars on one hand and "bog standard" pubs on the other.)

So, summing up, while there is opportunity for all, ignore, or even worse disdain the majority at your peril. They are the niche drinkers of tomorrow and should be nurtured.

Most of what I say refers to pubs and bars. While soulless home drinking will increase, the need to nurture the majority applies there too, even though most are drinking Carling!

Thursday 9 December 2010

The Joys of Smooth

Remember Woolworth's? Woolies to us old'uns. They used to be big around here and had a large distribution depot a few miles from where I live. Now big businesses (remember them?) spawned social clubs and Woolies had a fine one, up a leafy (well not at this time of year obviously) side street, not far from the now closed depot. This still carries on and I read in a notice in the bar when we called for our quiz match last night, that the club has been bought from the receivers, which is good news. As part of that new freedom, they have immediately tied themselves (by loan I assume) to a brewer. Oh well, needs must and all that.

I have rather a long history with social clubs. It started with Denny's Social Club in Dumbarton, another club which long outlived its parent (shipbuilders in that case). In Liverpool it was the Docker's Club and through my years in the Liverpool Social Clubs Darts League, many others. Almost without exception, the ale (old fashioned CO2 keg) was bloody awful, requiring recourse to that old Scouse favourite, brown bitter, which accounts for my almost encyclopaedic knowledge of North Western bottled brown ales. The one exception was Walton Ward Labour Club, where a lone unmarked handpump dispensed Burtonwood Dark Mild. I don't recall cask in any other club back then.

Things have changed. In our quiz league, we often come across clubs with cask beer, though bright fonts still dominate. Back to Woolies. Their new supplier is Hydes and all the beers are smoothflow. I had the Hydes Black, a mild which knocks Guinness into a cocked hat flavour wise and doesn't taste "just cooked" and which, despite its Arctic temperature, was a decent beer well worth drinking. The boys had various Hydes' smooth beers and professed themselves as more or less content. As they pointed out, Hydes aren't known for pronounced flavour, so it was put uppable with.

My own view is that smoothflow only really suits milds and stouts. If only it wasn't served at 3 or 4° C!

Wednesday 8 December 2010

She Knows What She Likes

There's an interesting and somewhat provocative article by Caroline Nodder who is the editor of both the print and on-line versions of the Publican, in the Publican On Line today. Basically when you boil it down, she is saying that there's too much beer geekery around and it and the brews it spawns are doing the industry a power of no good at all. She says "I’m worried that the revival of the cask ale sector has gone to some people’s heads.....What we have is a wave of over-indulgent niche brews that are only going to be of interest to beer geeks."

Now I'd say she's wrong on a number of points when she expends her argument, as clearly the niche brews she is concerned about are not likely to be on cask and anyway, no real ale brewer is going to risk its future by a deliberate dependency on brews that are of limited interest and saleability. Nor for that matter will producers of such bottled exotics as exist. They have their own markets and that's what they aim for. Not that I'm hugely bothered about most of them, but I don't think experimental or adventurous bottled beers - for that is what most of them are - are likely to change the brewing industry as a whole, for better or worse, despite the wishful thinking that I have remarked on before. Nonetheless there is an underlying point that building the on trade with modern interpretations of classic British brewing is the way to go for most. Where she is wrong again is in her assertion that few such beers and brewers exist. Clearly she is unaware of the activities of Phoenix, Pictish, Dark Star, Purity, Elland, Crouch Vale, Thornbridge and many more. Even Adnams are branching out a bit and the slow moving Family Brewers are starting to turn their own Titanic round, little by little. Horror of horrors, I'll even give a nod to Lovibonds here.

Caroline goes on to say "I’m not going to be overly popular with some of my fellow beer writers for saying this but they haven’t helped the situation by indulging brewers in their shoe-gazing activities either." Now I've always argued that brewers should concentrate on their pub trade and producing beers that people want to drink in volume and have argued the toss with fellow beer writers on these points many a time. It's still a bit of a departure though to see some of us accused of counter productive fawning and doing actual harm to beer and pubs. I do know that most beer writers and bloggers care deeply about the future of beer and brewing and indeed, pubs, despite leaning sometimes too far in their indulgence of certain brewers and over-reverence of the exotic. I can therefore imagine quite a few being a little miffed by her opinion of them when they read the article. Still, comment is comment and needs to be looked at seriously when it comes from such a source.

While we may disagree with her conclusions, there is a lot to think about in what she says. It is (among other things)a warning that as beer writers, we shouldn't move too far from the majority and and that we need to think a little more clearly of how we can sometimes appear to those who agree with her statement " I am passionate about beer, just as passionate as they are, but from a drinker’s perspective. That doesn’t mean I don’t know what I like. "

We are all just drinkers in the end and the more we move from that to geekery, the less we'll matter. The majority isn't always wrong.

Her Jamie Oliver analogy is interesting too.

Tuesday 7 December 2010

When Every Town had a Brewery

My interest in beer started a long time ago, but it wasn't until meeting Charles McMaster, the former curator of the Scottish Brewing Archive, that I found out my own home town had a brewery. Whisky of course, but a brewery? I didn't know. Charlie was able to give me photo copies of the labels, unfortunately in black and white, but I know where the originals are (in the University of Glasgow Archives) and I dare say colour copies could be obtained these days.

The brewery was Gillespie and it was taken over by Scottish Brewers (or maybe even McEwan's or Youngers pre merger)and inevitably closed, probably in the 1940's. My curiosity has been piqued though and I've written to the Scottish Brewing Archive (within Glasgow University) for more info.

The name was briefly resurrected in the 90's with a stout no less from S&N. God knows why.

Rare Beast

It is on these shores anyway. I've never seen it, but here we have a bottle of Lees Harvest Ale, Sherry Version. It was brewed in 2008, though the one in the picture was brewed in 2004. ( I can't bothered photographing it so this was nicked from the webosphere). I was given it by a mate, though it came from the brewery, not from abroad.

Not sure when I'll drink it, or who with, but I've been promised one of the Calvados versions too.

Anyone ever seen these on UK shores other than as a personal import?

Monday 6 December 2010

The Start of the Revolution?

Not many who read this will know of Brendan Dobbin. Many will know of the Marble Arch and the Porterhouse Breweries though. Brendan designed both of them in their original incarnations. He was an advocate of heavy hopping and more than that, long before it became a usual thing to do, twenty years ago, he used American and New Zealand hops in his brewery in the bowels of the King's Arms in Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester. (That's the rough one, not leafy Chorlton-cum-Hardy in case you are wondering.)

I knew Brendan a little as he supplied the pub I used to drink in, which sold among other beers of his, Ginger Beer, a forerunner of many. His bottled lagers (all done laboriously by hand) were interesting too (the diat pils had an OG of 1040 and an ABV of 5.5%) and his Guiltless Stout cocked a snook at a certain large Dublin brewer. His Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, later changed under threat of legal action to Yakima Grande was the stuff that set him out from the crowd. If you tasted it, you'll remember it. He even brewed an ESB as I recall. Famous "scooper" Gazza Prescott, now of Steel City Brewing rightly has him down as one of his "hop heroes". You can read what Gazza says here. There is also some interesting background about the area the pub was in. If anything Gazza is kind to it. It was decidedly scary.

The guy was a legend and still consults and builds breweries apparently, though he was also known to be growing bananas in Ireland! Why this nostalgia? The labels again. When I visited Brendan many years ago for a tour round the brewery, he gave me a few labels. Some of them are in the photo.

So was the micro brewing revolution started by Brendan Dobbin? Maybe not, but he was a pioneer and where he went, others have followed.  That's worth raising a new world hop filled glass to surely?

Guinness took Brendan to court for alleged infringement of copyright. Read about that here. I won't spoil it for you by telling you who won.

When Tennent's Brewed Stouts

A few years ago, well 15 or so, I was given some old Scottish beer labels. Writing about Belhaven the other day made me nostalgic for a quick look at them. These caught my eye.

I'm guessing they are early sixties. Anybody know?

Another Top Tip

Those of you lucky enough to live in the Manchester area will know that the Waterhouse by the Town Hall is one of the better Wetherspoons around. It just got even better. The house beer (Waterhouse Pale) is rebadged Hawkshead Windermere Pale, which though only 3.5%, just bursts with Citra flavour. It's a tremendous beer and my usual advice in such situations applies. Seek it out.

That's it.

Disregard a lot of the above - well the house beer bit. See comment. This is live and updated! Still seek the beer out though.

Friday 3 December 2010

A Few Good Beers

Like much of the population, I've got a cold. Not one of these streaming horrors, but one that just lurks there making you feel a bit off and sore throaty, but not by any means ill. However, apart from a quick trip to the quiz match, I haven't been out this week, or had a pint. A quick phone call to my mate Graham corrected this anomaly and for a change it was Rochdale, not the Northern Quarter, that was our destination.

The Baum has only been a pub for 30 years and is flourishing. It sells a varied range of beers and importantly, it keeps them well, so we entered with eager anticipation. Phoenix was on the bar, so all was well. Here's a thing for you to know. It doesn't actually matter that much which Phoenix is available. Like potatoes, in the McCains's ad, they're all good. This particular Phoenix was Pale Moonlight and I'm guessing you know already that it is pale and hoppy, but in this case with a very firm malt base which holds the whole thing together very nicely indeed. Simon the owner proffered an ominous word of caution though. "I think it's near the end." Damn. Before we finished our perfect pints, another couple of pints pulled for others saw it off. So what next? Dark Star Espresso Stout of course. This was a rare chance to have this fabulous beer served through a tight sparkler, emphasising the coffee and coal dust notes. Lovely stuff.

In the Regal Moon (voted on Sunday as Wetherspoon Cask Ale Pub of the Year) the line up was mouth watering for a man in severe need of refreshment. More Phoenix on the bar included the strong Wobbly Bob and despite the temptation of Elland, Milestone and others, Phoenix it had to be; this time in the tantalising shape of Flash Flood. It didn't disappoint, with a very hoppy finish to a very enjoyable beer. However man does not live by Phoenix alone, though of course he could, beer wise at least, so good is the range. Next up for the full pint treatment, after some tastings, was Adnams Yuletide, with spiciness throughout, which suits the distinctive Adnams yeast so well. This divided opinions though, with Graham and Steve the cellarman being unconvinced. Trust me on this one, it is good. Having seen that off down red lane, one more had to be sampled before the 17 bus and so it came to pass, that for the first time in two years (it wasn't brewed last year), I had a Lees Plum Pudding. This dry, fruity, bittersweet beer is one you either like or don't. I do and the good news is that it will be on in my local soon. Seek it out on the guest trail and do ask for it to be sparkled.

So there we have it. An ordinary drinking session in Rochdale and some tip top beers and tip top tips. Drink any of them. You won't be disappointed.

Belhaven Blues

I see that Belhaven Brewery in Dunbar is to be "fully integrated" within Greene King. While the brewery will be kept open , it means the end of the company, founded in 1719, as a separate operating identity. The 300 odd tied pubs will be subsumed into the current Greene King estate. The integration will save a (measly) £1 million a year.

This is in marked contrast to the way that Marstons manages its owned breweries such as Jennings and Ringwood and the cynic in me would predict that this is merely a prelude to the inevitable closure of Dunbar, which rather than an operating division of Greene King, becomes just another (the other in fact) brewery in the company and thus rather vulnerable. If you want to predict the future, look at the past and you will see that Greene King has a record of closing every brewery it takes over. Think Morlands, Ridley etc. Don't suppose that recent investment at Dunbar will make a jot of difference. It won't in the long term.

This is another nail in the coffin of major brewing in Scotland and a good reason, as if you needed any more, to regard Greene King as a merciless devourer of breweries.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Ordering by Numbers

So that's two visits to the Euston Tap and I still haven't been upstairs, but my scouting party (the lovely E), said "Nice room up there." That'll do for me then. Why traipse up the winding metal hill? I know now. What about it then - that there Euston Tap? Well it is small, but perfectly formed. The cask beers I had were excellent and I like the place. I even tried some Real Keg. Thornbridge Kipling it was and very nice too. Not as subtle as the cask version and it was spikily carbonated and very cold. E was more forthcoming, for it was her half that was the experiment, much against her will. (Retrospectively against her will, as I'm sufficiently versed in her habits not to ask beforehand.) It is fair to say she didn't like it, or see the point in it, or me for changing away from her original choice. But using the "fair" word again, in fairness to Kipling it was up against Fyne Ales Jarl, which was simply sublime, bursting with Citra hops and very dangerously drinkable. A train misser - if you have an open ticket that is. Incidentally this had been a recommendation from young Dredge to me at GBBF, but by the time I'd got there, there it was, gone. He isn't often wrong, but he was right again.

So return again Tanders? Too true. Just try and stop me. Nice little place, dead handy, great quality ales and for the cask efforts at least, fairly priced. Any negatives? Only ordering by numbers and only because I wasn't looking carefully enough. Well they were next to each other and I ended up with Piper's Gold instead of Jarl. My own fault, but I was over excited by the Jarl. E wasn't having any of it though. She re-ordered and the barman, sympathetic to my stupidity, gave me it on the house. Don't you just hate it when you have no-one to blame but yourself?

Piper's Gold* was good too, but a pale shadow of its stable mate. Much like the Thornbridge keg*, the problem for it was, that when you have Jarl* on top (cask) form, what's the point of it?

* Feel free to substitute your beer of choice here.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

The Write Stuff

It's nearly British Guild of Beer Writers do - my first one and I'm quite looking forward to it - though not to a night in my suit again. Since I wore one for thirty odd years (not the same one you understand), an evening in one doesn't much appeal any more. Suits, since I retired, are confined mainly to funerals, when really the attire isn't uppermost. Still, I'll put my best foot forward and see how it goes. I've been wondering about what beer we'll be served to go with our upmarket kebabs and a clue is offered on Stuart Howe's site. He mentions American style beer. Has he let a cat out of the bag? What is American style beer anyway? It suggests to this writer at least, hops, which is fine by me. I'll find out tomorrow. The lovely E will be accompanying me and is looking forward to meeting some of the writers of blogs she reads, so if you are there, be nice to her and me of course.

Of course this means a trip to London and a chance to see the Euston Tap for myself. I'm looking forward to that and expect good things. I also plan to recheck the Draft House, which didn't impress on my first visit, but which has had good reviews since. A return to the Jolly Butchers would be good too, now that the weather is cold and warm beer less likely, so a lot to pack in, as unusually, due to other commitments, we'll be returning on Saturday to the Grim North. Friday daytime will probably and inevitably involve a hair of the dog!

It makes for a busy day though today, but hopefully worth it. I've a feeling it will be.

Tuesday 23 November 2010


I wasn't going to enter Zak's competition, but this piece below (or a piece like it) has been in my mind for a while, so here it is:

It is one of those piercingly cold, but cloudless days. The low winter sun slants directly into my eyes with an annoying persistence, even though it is that self same sun that makes the day what it is. That and something new. Something different.

It is January 1979 and as I walk, I take in the unfamiliar surroundings. The yellow brick houses, interspersed with red, are tall and seen through my eyes, strangely exotic. The double deck buses sail past, green and cream, with destinations that are foreign to me. The air is different too, though the cry of seagulls is the same, an insistent, shrill and plaintive "ceeaw ceeaw" sound. If I close my eyes for a second, I am back in my own familiar High St, with the same call of the gull, but there accompanied by the sweet barley scent of whisky in the making.

Aware of the difference and the thrill of the unknown, I walk on passing pubs too which evoke interest, but the brewery names mean little. This isn't home, where I know everything and everyone; where pints appear at my elbow, acknowledged by a nod to my benefactor, whom I've probably known all my life. Here I feel slightly ill at ease and out of place. I know almost nobody, or much about this city, its people, its pubs, its history; but that will come and this walk is part of the process. At a large junction, I take in the view that is now below me. The river gleams in the distance, but the city, spread out before me is an unknown quantity. I don't know the landmarks, its districts or its people. I don't know how this place works. What makes it tick.

I hesitate. If I walk on I'll end up in the centre, but that isn't the aim. I look left and survey the imposing pub before me. "Gregson's Well" is picked out in white letters on a red background. I pause indecisively on the step. It is half past two and they'll be shutting soon. I take a breath and enter. It is almost empty and remarkably Spartan, with greying, scruffy floorboards and an imposing, unvarnished, wooden bar. The alien handpumps are clad in red vinyl. The barman is idly scanning the first edition of the Echo and glances over. "I indicate the pump." Pint please" I say as neutrally as possible. The beer is almost flat, and uncompromisingly bitter. I sip tentatively, standing at the bar. Nobody speaks to me and I speak to no-one. As time is called, I sup up and leave.

This first ever pint of Higson's Bitter was followed by countless, more convivial ones in the next nine years, as Liverpool became my home. Lamentably Higgies is gone now though and Liverpool just isn't the same without it. It would be my desert island beer and those who haven't drank it, have missed one of the classic bitter beers of England.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Taking a Stand

It's Bury Beer Festival time again. This time we (CAMRA) aren't running it, but hiring a stand from the organisers, so we can sell beer and recruit members. Back to the day job of persuading people that good old cask beer is worth a go and CAMRA is worth joining. There will be keg too, though not from us, but it will almost certainly just be lager from Outstanding, who are also having a stand - I think. It is all a bit arms length for us and a complete change. We just have a 16 ft bar with a 4 ft end and stillaging for 12 beers with 8 for handpump on the floor on sleds. There will also be ten ciders and perries and a membership area. It should be a piece of piss relatively speaking. No door to worry about, no glasses, tickets, cash or entertainment. Just serve beer, take the tokens and collect the cash later, minus the fee. It should be easy, but we'll see.

I've chosen the beer from a very tight budget. When you look at the prices that beer agencies charge, it is quite frightening. Still we have some good stuff. Beers from Mallinsons including a Chocolate Stout with Green and Black chocolate, Crown Brewery Stannington Stout, Nightmare on Henry Street from Steel City (featuring Magnum hops for bittering and Amarillo, Cascade, Centennial and Citra hops for aroma. Dry hopped with Citra and Amarillo.) Phoenix, Ossett, William Bros, Marble Ginger and Manchester Bitter, plus a few other beers from Greenfield, Riverhead, Fernandes, Holdens, Howard Town and Jarrow don't sound too shabby at all do they?

Should be fun. We open on Friday.

Bury Beer Festival, the Met Arts Centre, Market St , Bury. Friday and Sat 12 -11.
50% off for CAMRA members. Pay at the door.

Follow Follow

I notice I have crept up to 96 followers. It would be nice to have one hundred. If you have always been meaning to click that button, now is the time to do it.

Roll up. Don't be shy.

Friday 12 November 2010

No Real Case to Answer

Pete Brown has stirred things up a tad with his piece about CAMRA and dogma. It contains a few assertions that I'd sum up as "CAMRA should change to encompass the new wave of brewers and brewing practice". Pete also says "Because this is the nub of the debate: the Campaign for Real Ale was founded from a genuine belief that cask ale tastes better than other beers". Well, sorry Pete, it wasn't. It was founded as a protest against the poor quality keg beers that had by and large replaced cask beers. A small but significant difference. It also explains the Campaign's long distrust of keg in a way that your assertion doesn't. Now let's examine the issue in two ways: firstly this new wave of brewing sweeping the country and then: CAMRA itself.

The New Keg Revolution

There is a new wave of approximately three keg brewers sweeping the er, well, not country, but two or three selected outlets. Of these only one (Lovibonds) is actually a solely keg brewer, one of the other two (Thornbridge) sometimes kegs the same beer they put in cask or one off specials and seems to do it, not as as you might imagine, for those "hard to put cask in" places, but for the gratification of beer geeks, side by side with the cask version, where lots of other keg beers are sold. The other, BrewDog adopts a policy of saying their beers are better in keg. Go and try that theory out at Wetherspoons. Oh you can't. It's all cask BrewDog there, so somewhat confusing. Now at this point you'll be saying "Hang on Matey" you've just said that there is lots of keg beer being sold in some of these outlets". I did and there is, but it is all imported keg beers. Apart from British brewed smoothflow beers, British keg beer is as rare as hen's teeth. Quality British keg is even rarer. To all intents and purposes, as a nationwide drink, it doesn't actually exist, as you'll never come across it. Hold that thought. It is important when we come to part two.

CAMRA's Aims

What aims does CAMRA have? I'm guessing here that most readers don't have a clue. I'm pretty sure most CAMRA members are unsure, but here they are:
  1. Protect and improve consumer rights
  2. Promote quality, choice and value for money
  3. Support the public house as a focus of community life
  4. Campaign for greater appreciation of traditional beers, ciders and perries as part of our national heritage and culture
  5. Seek improvements in all licensed premises and throughout the brewing industry
The fact is that CAMRA has grown and changed from the organisation that was dreamt up by its founders many years ago. This has been an evolutionary process, democratically decided by its members. An important point, which I'll return to later. Some (mostly outside CAMRA) call for a return to those heady days, where a few fought the many to give us back decent beer from the tide of poor fizzy keg that prevailed and brought about the Campaign in the first place. These are the siren voices that suggest CAMRA needs to widen its base to include all craft beer.

CAMRA's Real Ale Success

You can of course argue that the main problem that CAMRA was founded to tackle has been completed. It has to the extent that we now have more breweries than for centuries, more cask ale availability and more consumer choice. CAMRA has always been about choice and it is still there firmly in aim number two above. Less appreciated is that CAMRA has always agreed with the right of keg beer to exist, while campaigning for wider availability of cask. That has always been policy and conflating the anti keg views of individuals with CAMRA as a whole doesn't alter the official position one bit. The Campaign isn't won though. As Pete Brown pointed out in the Cask Report, 3000 new outlets stocked it in the report period, which presumably means that before then 3000 pubs and bars stocked keg product instead, most likely John Smiths, Tetley or Boddingtons. As an aside, they sure as hell weren't selling quality craft keg. Why? To an overwhelming extent, there isn't any, that's why.

The Cask Breather

So we move on to the arcane arguments that seem to fascinate non CAMRA members and bother most CAMRA members not one little bit. The most contentious of these being the aspirator or cask breather. Now this is a complex argument but the main points run thus:

  • You don't need them
  • You need them sometimes
  • You always need them
  • Nobody can tell the difference anyway
Now if you sell enough cask beer and turn it over quickly, you don't need them is the clear and obvious winner, as otherwise you'll just be wasting your money and indulging in a pointless exercise. This is countered by those that say, "well, it extends the life of the cask and helps slow turnover beers." So does the Race spile which uses the CO2 produced within the cask to do the job. That's how the mild is served in our pub and it works. No argument with CAMRA, job done! In any event CAMRA will not exclude any pub from the Good Beer Guide on the basis of a slow moving mild or strong ale, or whatever being put on an aspirator. It will merely say along the lines of "Note: xxx Mild utilises a cask breather." There is a corollary to this, which goes along the lines of "if you need a breather on all your beers, you probably shouldn't be selling cask". I agree. Even a breather won't keep cask going forever. Quality will suffer.

The Hated Keg

CAMRA hates keg we are told. Well as I explained earlier, there is/was a good reason for this. That reason still applies in the main, though the beer sold as keg these days, tends to be nitrogen pushed and smooth. It is still, usually, pretty grim stuff though and apart from excess fizz, fits why CAMRA was founded "CAMRA was founded in the most Westerly pub in Europe - Kruger's Bar in Dunquin, Co Kerry, when four young men from the north west of England, Michael Hardman, Graham Lees, Bill Mellor and Jim Makin were on holiday. Fed up the increasing bad quality of beer in Britain that was too fizzy, no character and no taste they decided to form a Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale."

In any event CAMRA supports choice. The National Inventory of Heritage Pubs includes keg pubs; CAMRA recognises that certain non real ale types of beer such as bottled barley wines have particular value and should be supported; we recognise different foreign brewing traditions and support non cask brewers such as Budvar; we sell foreign non real beer at our festivals to promote diversity, awareness and choice; we campaign to retain threatened pubs even where no real ale is sold; we campaigned against closure of breweries even where no cask ale or very little was produced. I could go on, but you get my drift I'm sure.

The Need for Change

But modern keg isn't like that smooth stuff we are told. How does anyone at large know this? It is virtually unobtainable. CAMRA should embrace it all though and change its stance say some. Now why would we want to include a miniscule set of keg brewers and muddy our message? Who would that help? A strong message from CAMRA about what it believes in, is as needed today as it was when CAMRA was founded. If these new keg beers are that good - and I look forward to trying some - then they must stand or fall by their own merit. If they gain widespread acceptance, who knows? CAMRA can change its stance any time the members want it to. Those that aren't members have no legitimate say in what we believe in. Join and change it if you care so much about these things I say. That's democracy. (At least the Trots did join the Labour Party to steal it from its members - some want CAMRA to fall on someone else's sword? Why on earth should it? Its the members that decide.)

What Pete Brown Said

"Some CAMRA people argue that things like cask breathers, and FastCask from Marston's, are "the thin end of the wedge" - that if we accept this, we'll see a gradual erosion of real ale until it doesn't exist any more and, by stealth, CAMRA will have been defeated. "

The thin end of the wedge argument is perfectly valid. One thing can lead to another. That's not to say that every CAMRA members agrees with it, but keeping your definitions tight gives a reasonably straightforward message. Real Ale was slowly but surely being lost when CAMRA was founded. Who is to say it can't happen again?

Pubs that start using cask breathers are promptly dropped from the Good Beer Guide.

Not true Pete, but see above

I believe craft beer bars like the Euston Tap demonstrate that the definition of quality craft beer has changed an awful lot since 1971. I don't think your hardline attitude does anything to help beer drinkers, CAMRA's image and credibility, or even cask ale itself. While I'm a champion of cask ale, I obviously love other beers as well - as I think do most drinkers. But this is an issue that won't go away, and the Tap has thrown it, for me, into sharp relief.

But let's focus on the hardliners, the people who propose motions at AGMs, who campaign most actively, who write stuff like this on Cambridge CAMRA's official website:

Hmm. Who are these hardline people that I never seem to meet and Pete does? (The fact that this was a personal opinion from 12 years ago seemingly is neither here nor there to him) And why is the Euston Tap so important that it redefines things? Well it isn't of course and it doesn't do much more than sell the sort of beers, mostly foreign that CAMRA has quietly supported for years and that are mostly available elsewhere if you know where to look. (Look at the GBG again and you'll see frequently entries such as " Also sells a solid range of imported draught and bottled beers". We are already doing it Pete.

Have a look too at the latest Opening Times magazine, here in Manchester. An editorial supporting foreign non cask beers and a front page headline about them. CAMRA is a broad church, but it actually the moderates that prevail. These are the guys you bump into in Bamberg, Brussels and Prague, or at the Great American Beer Festival, or wherever. They seek out beers to enjoy whatever the provenance and are comfortable with being CAMRA members and the odd dichotomy. Why should they vote to change? You'd need a more persuasive argument than Pete puts forward I'd venture.

Others agree that cask is (almost) unique to this island and praise us for it and copy us. So, if you want a campaign for new keg, found your own, or join us and change us democratically. Don't carp from the outside.

Anyway, I'm running out of steam now. I hope Dear Reader that you will see that there is another side to the story and that CAMRA is about other things apart from cask beer and arcane definitions. The CAMRA focus on pubs is particularly important when there are so many closing. If there is one thing that Pete and I can agree on I'm sure, it is that pubs are important and beer matters enough to write about it. I still don't agree with his views on CAMRA though, for the reasons I have outlined. But if you do want us to change, join us and argue your case. I'll look forward to the debate.

Love us or hate us, its our Campaign and I somehow doubt if we'll be changing on account of a few emerging brewers, whose beer, by and large, nobody has heard of or tasted. But if the arguments are strong enough, I have outlined how to do it. That's democracy.

Hopefully this is better than my pissed comments last night!

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Beer Styles 1994

Martyn Cornell was speaking about style the other day in his blog. Beer style that is. Now Martyn is a beer historian, which I am not, but I have been around a bit, so I thought I'd look up what we were talking about on the good old Usenet in 1994, which is as far back as the records go. Bloody Hell. It was beer styles.

Now most of us kind of regard the Americans as being a bit daft when it comes to style, but it wasn't always so. My mate Jon Binkley wrote a primer on beer styles this week in 1994. He listed the beer styles that were considered the main ones then. He also dealt head on with why styles matter. Importantly he gave a historical perspective. This is what he said.:

" Beer style definitions are not written in stone, and sometimes the exceptions are more interesting than the rules. However, there are situations where they are very useful, or even essential. For me, the importance of style classification has been to make sense of what was a very confusing world of obviously different beers. Serious beer culture in the United States was destroyed on 16 January, 1920, when the prohibition of alcohol became the law of the land. Although the law was repealed on 5 December in 1933, appreciation and production of diverse styles of beer is only now being rekindled in this country, and this is on a limited scale. I, like most Americans, had never seen or heard of, let alone tasted, anything other than the standard American light lager until I was well into my twenties. When my interest was first awakened, I was confronted by an incomprehensible array of labels and flavors. Well defined style classifications provided a comfortable base from which to explore the many complexities of the beer world. They continue to be the most convenient tools for intelligently discussing and comparing different beers.

Jon went on to list the main styles which were:

III: Styles of LAGER




III.B.2. MAERZEN (Oktoberfest)







IV: Styles of ALE













It is interesting to note that so many of the "styles" now commonly in use such as double this or that, or even American IPA aren't listed. And that's only two notable examples. It is also interesting to Jon at least, that the development of written styles was, for him as an American, firmly rooted in the destruction of American brewing brought about by prohibition and the subsequent rise of micro brewing in the late 80's and early 90's. Out of little acorns, mighty oaks grow.

Beer has come a long way in a short time. Thus endeth my dip into history. For now.

The photo show Ancient Egyptians making a Double Imperial IPA.

Monday 8 November 2010

The Thornbridge Connection

So its goodbye to him. Kelly Ryan that is. Thornbridge brewer, gentleman, scholar and acrobat and possibly the greatest New Zealander since Edmund Hillary, though whether you can compare mountains and beer, we'll leave to one side. That and the fact that I don't really know of many other peeps from NZ, famous or otherwise.

On Saturday I had a pint of Lumford, which while maybe not the masterpiece that Kipling and Jaipur are, was a pretty good beer. I am sure Kelly's legacy will live on though, in the fine beers he designed and in the memories of all of us beer bloggers. But memories of a person (he's not dead though I must emphasise) have to be personal, so I'll think about him now against the background of the perfect cask of Jaipur that I experienced in the Regal Moon on Saturday 14th August this year and blogged about here. It was as near a perfect beer as I've had all year and though I'm not a brewer, I'm pretty sure that's how Kelly will want to be thought of, as he looks forward to being upside down and being catapulted back in time by 20 years or so, by to returning to his native soil.

And from my point of view, he knows how to brew a decent drop of cask. Keep that up when you go home and that will be splendid and it is worth mentioning that he brews better beers than Brewdog. That makes him an even eggier all round good egg. So Good Luck for the future Mate.

I claim a connection too. My lass works for Jim Harrison's wife Emma. Jim is the Thornbridge owner.

Friday 5 November 2010

The Great Northern Beer Festival

What makes a great beer festival? Many things obviously, but for the beer buff it has to be great beer, in good condition and lots of it. The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) sponsored event last week certainly got a straight three ticks then. This was a twofold event, with beer being judged for SIBA purposes, before being sold afterwards to the public.There was always 56 handpumped beers on the bar (The beers were all served by gravity for judging though of course)and all were served in tip top condition, though I'll add a little caveat; the beers got better as the event went on. It's real beer this; live stuff and it needs time to condition and by Friday and Saturday it was top notch, with some beers maybe being a tad less than optimum on Thursday. But that's cask beer. It behaves individually.

The cellaring was one of CAMRA's main jobs and was an amazing affair with 282 casks stillaged for judging on Thursday and miles of pythons set up and air cooling installed. It was quite a job all in all and we were certainly all in by the time we'd finished getting everything on the racks on Monday of last week. The temporary cellar was fantastic - a cellarman's wet dream in fact - and the beer cooled well, especially after Thursday, when access to the cellar was severely restricted and the need to leave doors open was gone. I have to say that even us that constructed it were impressed with our efforts and I doubt if so many casks have been stillaged that way all at once many times before. Needless to say cellar tours were very popular.

It was quite a change for CAMRA members serving the beer too, with fresh glasses being used each time and all beers served, as God intended, through a tight northern sparkler. This proved surprisingly untroublesome, as after expert tuition - by yours truly of course - staff (mostly) adapted pretty well to the new serving methods and the customers seemed to love it. We used the looser black sparklers on Thursday and mostly tighter reds on Friday and Saturday and the handpumps were new quarter pint Angrams, the King of Handpulls. Hopefully it helped shatter the myth of sparklers driving out condition and the sight of nice tight creamy heads on the beer gladdened the heart.

As well as the unknown ones I judged on Thursday, I did try a fair few of the beers, either from the bar, or direct from the cellar. Somehow I was in a dark beer mood, with notable potables being; Fernandes Malt Shovel Mild; Bushy's Oyster Stout; Bollington Nights (and Bollington Chilli Nights) and many more. On the light side, beers that impressed were; Millstone True Grit; Tatton Gold; Elland Best; Southport Golden Sands; Hawkshead Bitter and Windermere Pale and Jarrow Rivet Catcher. Speciality beers that I liked included Hawkshead Damson and Vanilla Stout, which confirmed my belief that Hawkshead just don't know how to brew a bad beer at the moment.

As mentioned above, I did have quite a few cellar runs too. Favourites from the cavernous depths were beers from Stringers - not a bad one in any category and beers from Bowland, Peerless, Elland and Jarrow also impressed across the range. While there were a few stinkers, overall the standard of brewing was tremendously high.

So, from our CAMRA point of view, it worked out well. Attendances were a little disappointing though and one or two teething troubles are always evident in a new venue, but all in all an enjoyable and different event, which hopefully SIBA will wish to repeat. If you weren't there, you missed a treat.

For a list of SIBA Competition winners, click here. A good account of the judging process by my good friend the Ormskirk Baron is here. He also mentions some of the bloggers who turned up.

Monday 1 November 2010

Beer from the Wood

You don't really see it that often these days, but once all beer was served from the wood. Wooden casks that is. A few breweries still do it, the most famous being Sam Smith, but for the most part these hugely heavy casks are gone, most of them sawn into two as planters for flowers, or just broken up as firewood. I remember well when Lees sold beer in wood and when they stopped doing so; only around ten years ago - maybe less. In those days publicans had preferences and when ordering they'd say "no wood" or vice versa and yes, you could tell the difference. I preferred metal myself and it was always a good game at the pub to say to the landlord as you sipped a pint, "Wooden cask this one is it?"

I was prompted to think of this by a reference to the SPBW. Who they I hear you ask? The Society for Preservation of Beers from the Wood still exists and being founded in 1963, pre-dates CAMRA by several years. Today it is largely a social organisation, but its aims are similar to CAMRA, though not identical.

Their logo, featured left and above is rather fetching and if so inclined, you can read more about them here.

"Once they used to brew the beer in barrels made of wood
It made you drunk and boy it tasted fine
But now the beer that's made tastes of fizzy lemonade
Give me cask conditioned bitter every time!"

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Twissup, Bitter Beer and SIBA

I knew the last few days would be busy. The twissup started in Manchester and clashed with not only the National Winter Ales Festival organising meeting, but a family birthday celebration. I'm no good at this sort of decision making, which always ends up with me pleasing no one, least of all me. So I went off to the twissup and played the rest by ear. I don't think I hit exactly the right note with everyone else who slipped a little down my ad hoc list of priorities, but at least subsequent ear bashings were softened by good beer and memories of a great time.

There was a lot of people there, some of whom I even knew! Baron Orm, who I hadn't met up to that point, had the wise idea of decorating his chosen few with badges based on their avatar. I wasn't one of this elite, but it was an inspired idea and on a wider basis, one that should be adopted for the next time. I did though miss out on meeting so many people, a lot of whom I didn't know and couldn't identify, while talking to others, but I did make some new friends. The beer was universally good and it was gratifying to see our cousins from the south lapping up the sparkled beer and being able to see for themselves that it isn't sparkling that makes for flat beer, but poor care. Though Zak Avery did bring a very fancy Italian bottle for sharing that provided a justifiably interesting talking point, it was the chance to talk more generally about beer with others that appealed most. I will brush over the fact that I was the oldest there, but seeing "young" people enthusing about beer was gratifying. It was even better to see them off their arses and in the pub, but I wasn't that sorry to miss out on Huddersfield though, purely on the grounds that I might not have survived it. While age may have its compensations and youth is no doubt wasted on the young, they do have an ability to keep going that left me long ago. I have compensated by reading the excellent reports of others on the Huddersfield leg of the game.

I haven't mentioned Lees Fools Gold have I? No? I thought not. It is very pale and very bitter and that makes a nice change for Lees beer. I enjoyed my Sunday pints of it. I guess some (late boil) new world hops to give it a more nuanced tropical or herbal hoppiness to balance the uncompromising bitterness wouldn't have been a bad idea, but well done nonetheless and more and different hops please in subsequent beers.

And of course there is the SIBA do which is taking up most of my time at the moment. It is all ready more or less. I have vented and tapped like a good 'un. SIBA Technical has installed 56 brand new Angrams (quarter pint pull) and miles of pythons and associated gear. Today we'll see if the beer is all fit to serve and be judged. I do hope to see some of you there.

The photo shows some of the 283 casks for the SIBA festival