Wednesday 31 March 2010

It isn't a Pub Stupid

Mitchells and Butlers, the Midlands based, er, um, well, Pub Company, sort of, has been outlining a new strategy. It seems they don't run pubs any more, but " licensed catering outlets". One journalist was even bollocked for calling these um, er, thingies, pubs.

Of course if you look at the "brands" they intend to concentrate on, they are right. Harvester, Toby Carvery, Crown Carveries, Vintage Inns, Sizzling Pub Company and Premium Country Dining are the future of M&B it seems. Wet led pubs will be sold to pay for more of these. They'll clearly have to change the name of the "Sizzling Pub Company" to " The Sizzling Licensed Catering Outlet Company" of course, but once that's sorted, it's job done.

Don't know why they bothered making a point of it. Nobody in their right minds would call that lot pubs anyway.

I'm not Missing Out

When bottled beer drinkers turn to cask once a year and urge others to support it, you really have to sit up and take notice. Thus it was when I read Zak's blog. It seems the great and the good are getting creakily to their feet, skirting the fridge, no doubt with a longing and lingering look and wistfully surveying the exotic bottles in the garage - sorry cellar. No reaching for the outsize wine glass or the "exciting" triple Imperial Mild for them this evening; like Guy Fawkes night or Christmas Day, a once a year treat beckons. They are off to the pub to drink the real stuff.

At the bar their Tesco Clubcard is scornfully declined, trembling hands reach for actual cash and a real pint is procured. It is consumed proudly. Some take notes and buy "I'm Supporting Cask" T Shirts. Some have a second pint of this strangely normal beer and pat themselves on the back - being careful not to spill any of this extremely rare beverage when doing so - it's bloody expensive after all - and some even consider switching from lout to pongy cask, just to get a mention on the roll of honour. It makes you proud to be British.

The real message of Cask Ale Week is clear. Get out to the pub and drink some and do so often. Bring someone who doesn't normally drink cask and get them to try it. At a time when the Cask Report (are copies available yet Pete?) shows cask is the only beer with rising sales, continue to maintain and ensure that trend by doing the pub a bit more often. Not only is cask ale a British "national treasure" like the pub itself, it is bloody good stuff.

So next time you raise your glass of Quadruppel Barrel Aged Vanilla Lambic, remember experiencing that simple pleasure of a cask conditioned pint in the pub accompanied by real people, rather than by Eastenders and Shameless and get down the pub again. You know it makes sense to nurture what we uniquely have. It can all go wrong so easily. After all look what happened to Christmas.

For the record I visited the Landlady in the White Lion and had some lovely Thwaites Nutty Black.

No bloggers were hurt in the making of this posting.

Monday 29 March 2010

A New Landlady

As expected our new landlady has been signed up (or should that be snapped up?) by Lees and duly installed in the Tavern. Sarah is a local farmer's daughter and knows the place, so all should be well at the THT. Her family has run the pub before in the dim and distant past. She is in fact related to the alleged pub ghost, though I fortunately never encountered that even late at night and alone in the pub. She has brightened the place up a little (less red, more white) and the beer was fine. The food menu has been cut back to substantial snacks rather than full meals, though what came out of the kitchen still looked good and all the meat is locally sourced. The pub was busy and it seems that on her opening night it was so full that the till shuffled off its mortal coil, or, went to silicon heaven in its case.

A host of farmer's daughters were helping her on Sunday and all seemed well with the world. We all breathed a sigh of relief as our pub is safe for a while at least. It will take some time for Sarah to stamp her personality on things and get the place the way she wants it, but a start has been made. Lees seasonal beers will appear soon and from my point of view the only negative is that San Miguel has replaced Bohemia Regent, but I'm guessing Sarah feels that San Mig will be the better seller.

My next visit will be Wednesday for our Quiz League match where after match snacks are required. "No problem" says Sarah. Good stuff.

Photo to follow. I forgot on Sunday.

Friday 26 March 2010

This and That

It's been a quiet week if you forget the budget and most beer drinkers would like to I suppose. I haven't said anything about it, but funnily enough I agree with most of what Cookie said in his blog; though tongue in cheek it had some merit to my mind, though I suspect his tough love approach won't meet with universal approval. I don't much agree with his views on small producers however, as I assume any positive action in their favour is to give them a chance to compete and grow - and why not? Competition is good and all that.

On Wednesday I encountered a rather nice smooth beer. Yes, honestly. I don't know who brews it (anyone know?) but Mann's Chestnut Mild, especially as it warmed up, was rather good for a 3% beer and adds weight to my thoughts that dark beers react better to nitrogen than others do. It was a night for odd beers with Webster's Yorkshire Bitter (smooth) also being available. Poignantly this was in the Woolworth Social Club, the only remnant of a thriving distribution network which now lies nearby and empty. One thing about clubs is that you keep seeing odd beers that you thought had disappeared.

Last night an old work colleague came to stay so I took him to Rochdale. The Baum had a good choice on, but my eye was immediately attracted to a Mallinsons pump clip. Murray-Darling is 3.8%, pale and hoppy and very drinkable. Tara, the brewster has Northern tastes down to a "T" and one of her beers is never enough. The Baum is starting to get Mallinsons more often and in my view, that's a very good thing. The barman told me an even nicer one had been on before ( I think it might have been Grand Canyon) but I had no complaints. This brewery just gets better and better, with an eclectic output of one offs which are usually pale, hoppy and bitter. Highly recommended.

Our final couple of pints were in the Regal Moon. Elland Argus was a heftier choice at 4.6% but delivered a dry, bitter and hoppy expereince. I finished on another favourite brewery. Hawkshead Organic Stout was roasty, bitter and smooth from the touch of oats in the brew and the perfect last pint.

So there you have it. Three recommended breweries and nothing brown and boring. Listen to your Uncle Tanders. He'll put you on the right track.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

A Forgiving Lot - Almost

The poll on bad pub experiences has closed. A reasonable 65 people voted and here are the results:

Shrug and put it down to experience - 7 (10%)

Complain politely and if not satisfied walk out vowing never to return - 14 (21%)

Walk out without complaint and vow never to return - 9 (13%)

Slag the place off to everyone you know afterwards no matter the outcome - 1 (1%)

Report them to Trading Standards - 0 (0%)

Give them a second chance then do one of the above - 34 (52%)

Unsurprisingly, given that most if not all voters were presumably British, our reluctance to complain, our stoicism in the face of adversity and our sheer good nature, gave a majority to the "second chance". A surprisingly healthy 33% were of a less forgiving ilk, with vows of "never to return". That is surely enough to give at least pause for thought to publicans. Bad experiences will lose you customers.

Thanks to everyone that took part.

Monday 22 March 2010

New Beer Orders Beckon

Statutory Instrument 1989 No. 2390

The Supply of Beer (Tied Estate) Order 1989

Well they asked for it, sat up and begged for it practically.
If reading the runes was an Olympic Sport, the PubCos and the BBPA wouldn't qualify for the finals, wouldn't even be allowed to run. They were on borrowed time and they couldn't really believe it, despite all the indications that in the highest circles, the Government was fed up of them. Fed up to the back teeth.

On Friday the Pubs Minister, John Healey announced he was implementing a package of proposals to help struggling pubs, given that closures are running at around 39 a week. These are mainly practical and sensible, treating the pub industry as something that has to have structured help to get it through the lean times. They include business support, a fund for communities to take over pubs, relaxation of live music restrictions and help with industry skills and training. All good stuff, but dull, though as predicted in many quarters, the Government wants the Industry Code of Practice following the Commons Select Committee Report on the PubCos which should ensure transparency and openness in setting contracts and leases, to be implemented in full within one year, or the Code will be put on a statutory basis backed by an industry enforcer if the industry fails to deliver. That's pretty severe for them.

It gets a bit more lively after that: "We will push the industry further to offer freedoms for tenants to offer consumer choice as part of their Code of Practice. The code of practice should:

* offer tenants a tie/non tie option to enable them to best reflect the needs of the community.
* offer a guest beer option for those tenants that opt for a beer tie.

The Minister then says "We will also make clear that Government will monitor progress for one year and intervene to introduce a non-tie option and legislate for a Beer Order to allow guest beers if these flexibilities are not introduced." And to really put the boot in, the Government will ask industry to ensure that the hated Brulines flow measurement equipment is calibrated by the National Weights and Measurement Laboratory, with the backstop that failure to do so, will result in Government prescribing the equipment to ensure fairness.

So, yes, you did read that right. A guest beer provision for tied tenants and in a further sting in the tail, the Minister says it will apply to all tenants, Family Brewers included. (CAMRA, which is influential within Government, is already signalling that companies with less than a 1% market share should be exempt.)

Of course with a change of Government possible, it may never happen, except it seems all parties are agreed that it should. No-one can feel sorry for the bloated PubCos. They have asked for it, as has their apologist the BBPA and while it may be a year away, we may be in for upheaval, the likes of which have not been seen since the last Beer Orders brought about the current mess and unlike the last Beer Orders, this seems to have a clear purpose, little wriggle room and the support of all political parties. Lessons have been learned and the law of unintended consequences taken into account.

In his blog, the Pub Curmudgeon also discusses this, though he takes a different view to me. I think he is wrong and the proposals are meaningful. While he may harp on about the smoking ban, "we", as my old boss used to say, "are where we are" and something must be done.

Tax increases and smoking bans notwithstanding, there is change afoot and hopefully it will be change for the better.

Cry Freedom

Cooking Lager has documented his very positive experiences about two beers from Freedom Lager Brewery in his blog here and I must reveal at this point, I was similarly honoured to be sent some samples. As always I'm a bit slow in getting round to drinking bottled beers at home, but last night seemed just the time, particularly as my Sunday session in the THT had not rendered me incapable of doing so.

I have a relationship with lager going back a long way, so despite what you might reckon I was looking forward to trying the beers, particularly as such a renowned and dedicated lout drinker as Cookie had said such positive things about them. There were four beers in the pack*, but it was the 4% new beer that I tried first. It seems this will only be available on draught, so this was a bottle of comparative rarity. Was I disappointed? No! This was a lovely lager, clean, well balanced and fresh as a daisy. You could easily imagine sitting in some sunny beer garden, upwind of the smokers and enjoying a few pints of this.

Next up was its big brother, a 5% pilsner. This was drier, more bitter and again very well balanced with lemony hops making it a very satisfying beer indeed. To me the sheer cleanliness of the beers, both of them, was a very appealing aspect. Any complaints? Not from me, but E thought both a little over-carbonated, but it was a very minor quibble in a very successful tasting.

If you are in the mood for some classy British lager, buy these extremely well crafted beers. On this showing, you won't be disappointed.

I still have the bottles downstairs, expecting to photo them, but as I will be recycling the bottles, I might as well use a recycled photo. It's from Cookie's blog. Cheers Mate.

*The two other beers are a dark lager and an organic pilsner.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

The White Lion

Yesterday I met a CAMRA colleague in the Landlady's new pub, the White Lion in Delph, a picturesque village in the Pennines just on the Greater Manchester side of the border, a fact that has this former West Riding outpost somewhat divided, as evidenced by the White Rose flag flying from the Band Club.

This is still in my CAMRA Branch area, so I'm the local Chairman which is rather nice really and makes introductions pleasant and me feel part of it, in a minor way at least. The White Lion is stone built on a corner and is warm and welcoming, having had the Landlady's 60 Minute Makeover. It has been decided, unlike most Delph pubs, to open all day and it was doing a fair trade when we arrived. One or two were even enjoying the spring sunshine outside on benches. Beers are from Thwaites of Blackburn and were a pleasant surprise, more of which later. The Landlady's first task was to remove smooth beer and install four handpumps and all are on all the time. She is selling them like hot cakes she says.

Thwaites in recent years have a lack lustre record in cask beer. Most of their pubs sell smooth these days, but things are changing. According to the Landlady, it is her record as a cask ale award winner that first attracted Thwaites to her, as they want things to change. Cask beer is booming and they are back in the game. Good for them. Before the pub changed hands the cellar was renovated with automatic tilters and new lines as well as four handpumps installed and the spear extraction used for the lone cask beer removed. I doubt if Thwaites have many pubs with four cask beers on at once, but here they have and they are selling.

What of the beers? Nutty Black is a lovely traditional mild; almost jet black in colour with sweet malt and a slight bitter edge. Very drinkable for a 3.3% beer. The Original Bitter was a surprise, though I only had a sample. Better than I remember, it was though underpowered at 3.6%, its bitterness slightly lost by a touch of wateriness. Wainwrights at 4.1% was pale, bittersweet and quaffable. It is her biggest seller so far and gaining popularity with her new locals. I didn't try Lancaster Bomber, but overall was impressed. Thwaites also do a range of seasonals and the landlady is already looking to have a fifth pump installed for that. She is nothing if not ambitious in selling cask ale.

In addition to cask there is a couple of genuine German imports in the shape of Warsteiner and Koenig Ludwig Hefe Weiss (to be replaced by Paulaner sometime in the future) and even a couple of cooking lagers, Carling and Fosters, so something for everyone, though I'll bet the Landlady will soon have cask as her biggest seller.

So, a good news story. It is early days, but we have a local pub revitalised, traditional beer success and a Family Brewer getting back to cask. See, it isn't all grumpiness and negativity here!

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Kiss and Tell

A lot of people reckon you shouldn't tell it how it is, on blogs, even as a snapshot, when commenting on beer or pubs. The arguments for this approach go along a lot of rather tortuous routes, including " It isn't fair to mention a one off experience", "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything", "It was fine when I had it in the Strangler's Arms eight years ago" and "I just had a bottle of it and they are great brewers." There are many more, but you get my drift I reckon. Gazza Prescott, the ticker and now brewer, calls it "Cheery Beery" with more than a little contempt.

What prompted this subject was a note by Tyson on his blog and on Twitter about the beer in the Marble Arch not being on top form and a criticism of Thornbridge Black IPA as a mess of good ingredients. (I can't say on this one, but if I get the chance to try it I will and call it as I see it.)

The brewing industry and the pub trade can be sensitive to even the mildest of criticism, no matter how constructively put or well intended. I can recall falling out with a Head Brewer over bad batches of beer, which I knew for a fact had been pulled from pub cellars by a special dray team. He was offended that I said so and stated that there was nothing wrong with the beer. My reply was that he was treating his customers with contempt, in that he expected them to drink the same beer in the pub night after night and year after year and then, not notice when there was something wrong with it.

Pubs have similar issues when a customer feels a beer isn't right. Too often he or she is told that there is "nothing wrong with it" or the classic "Everyone else is drinking it" and the equally poor response "Well that's how it's meant to taste". Another anecdote illustrates how it can be done much better, though I do admit it was an unusual bit of customer care. Once in the Prince of Wales in Foxfield, we complained about a beer. The landlady said she'd been in a hurry and hadn't tried it. She had some, turned the pumpclip round, picked up the GBG, phoned the brewer and told him the beer was undrinkable. "Action this day" indeed, but while not calling for that, is it too much to expect beer that isn't right never to reach the public?

I have digressed more than a little here, but my point is that bloggers of all people should call it as it is. Didn't we all start blogs to say our piece and offer opinion? Pubs and brewers should be as comfortable with constructive criticism as they are with praise and the beer industry should take a leaf out of the supermarkets book, where a dodgy product is met with horror rather than denial.

The hidden costs of customer dissatisfaction are even more and any bad experience in the pub or with beer costs the customer just as much as a good one, which is a fairly good reason to speak out.

I'm putting a little poll on. Have a go at it.

Monday 15 March 2010

Ticking Over

Our pub, bereft of Landlady continues to provide Sunday entertainment for us. It is being run more or less on a wing and prayer, as despite having departed for pastures new, the Landlady remains responsible for it until a new tenant is found. It was busy yesterday and the beer was in very good form, so we battled on regardless. I have done a few shifts behind the bar, lit fires and looked after beer, as have one or two others. We are pitching in. It isn't in our interests to see the pub close, even though opening hours are severely limited. We all hope a new tenant is found soon and we listen eagerly to the various rumours of who might or might not be interested.

This is the thing that those who don't have a long term local just don't understand, that is, why me and others are prepared to do things for nothing just to keep a pub open? But it's our pub. We have been going there for donkey's years now, seen several tenants come and go and we will be there after the next one has come and gone too. Good publicans make pubs, but good customers do too and we have some brilliant customers. There is even various talk of co-operatives if all else fails, but we doubt if it will come to that. We reckon someone from not too far away will take it and we can all relax again.

On a similar note, on Saturday night I was a guest at another landlady's leaving do in another lovely pub. Like our pub, the locals are worried about who will take over. This is a bigger operation altogether and the ingoings are hefty. Everyone who drinks in pubs sees the "Tenancy Available" signs all around and that same nagging worry that no-one will be found, eats at their regulars too. The pub was heaving on Saturday night, but you couldn't help but reflect on two things. Firstly that pubs always used to be as busy as it was that night and secondly, that if all the people that attended the farewell party had come more often, there probably wouldn't have been the need for one.

On a more positive note, the Landlady is doing well at her new pub. All the smooth beer has been dumped and four cask ales installed. The place has been made over in her own inimitable way. It is trading well. Our loss is Thwaites gain. Likewise the other licensee has gone to Robinsons and will no doubt be a success - she knows her stuff. I don't know the full stories behind either departure, but whatever it is, two local pubs to me have lost two splendid landladies and that isn't good.

The silver lining in this pair of clouds though, is that at least they aren't leaving the trade and clearly still have faith in pubs. As a pub goer and trade observer, I'm pleased about that.

Friday 12 March 2010

To Elland Back

Just so you know it isn't only the Beer Nut that can do bad puns as post titles, I thought I'd chip one in for you. Please don't applaud or make congratulatory comments, just send me tenners if you like it.

Yesterday I was in the Grove in Leeds for the Champion Winter Beer of Britain awards. The judging took place in Manchester at the Winter Ales Festival, hence a couple of us braving a horde of local tykes there to give partisan (and why not?) support to Elland Brewery, who were to pick up the champion gong. Greg Mulholland MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Save the Pub Group was there too to pick up a special CAMRA award and spoke with great passion on the subject and cuttingly about Carlsberg and the closure of Tetley's Brewery which is adjacent to his consituency. He seemed a genuinely good lad.

The CAMRA great and good were there too, with our new Chairman and our CEO in attendance, along with a load of people I've never seen before and who presumably, had, to balance it out, never seen me before. I wonder how many were disappointed by the absence of free beer? If they were, they didn't show it and most were merrily supping as I tottered off for my train back to the Red Rose County.

The Grove is leased from Enterprise Inns and despite this serves an eclectic range of beers and presumably on the Enterprise tag, a few of the usual suspects. Beers from Leeds and Elland were popular and I started with Elland's lovely Best Bitter, a straw coloured bitter beer of 4% abv. I stuck with this until it went and was replaced by the 4.2% Eden with its distinct cascade hop notes. Another cracker. Of course I had to try our champion, Elland 1872 Porter, which at 6.5% needs treating with respect. It was my last beer and was a luscious delight, with coffee and chocolate notes, a deep bitterness and a warming kick. It has to be said this beer hides the alcohol superbly and can be quaffed with worrying ease. The Grove itself is a great little multi roomed boozer, hidden amoung a lot of very modern buildings. A real gem, with superbly kept beer, so don't miss it if you go to Leeds.

I was between trains as I arrived at the station, so nipped in the the on site JDW. It was packed and had great service. Unusual, but this is clearly an after work watering hole for Leeds travellers and is very well run. A good choice of beers was available, but I wasn't about to bust my winning streak. Elland Maximum Darkness, an oatmeal stout, was another great beer, but I was jaded by then and finished this in time to get my train back to Rochdale, from where, sensibly, I went straight home.

Elland beers are top stuff and it is no hardship to stick to them for a session. Seek them out.

Monday 8 March 2010

Brick Lane

Our walk yesterday took us to Brick Lane and its chaotic market scene. Negotiating a way through the food stalls selling street food at inflated prices isn't easy and reminded us why we don't usually go there on a Sunday.

One bright spot in this chaos is the Pride of Spitalfields in Heneague St, which still seems to me a proper East End local. The bright spot within this bright spot is that it serves Crouch Vale Brewer's Gold. Or does it? Far too often when I go in the clip is turned round. Enquiries usually get an answer along the lines of "Oh we haven't got any. It always sells out." Thus it was yesterday.We didn't bother asking and we didn't have a drink, Pride being a poor substitute for the zingy, hoppy, beer we craved. Listen guys, here's an idea. If it sells so bloody well and your customers like it so much, get some more of it!

So it was onwards and upwards, to the Carpenter's Arms, which I've written about before. This time it was bustling, with Sunday lunches flying out and an odd collection of customers, most of whom looked as though they'd smeared themselves with superglue and ran through a wardrobe, such was the oddity of their attire. (Fashion has passed me by you will perceive.) Disappointingly Duvel Green has disappeared, replaced by Kostritzer Schwartzbier. There is also a great collection of very expensive bottles, with some good stuff hidden amongst the dross. Quilmes anyone? On handpump there is two Adnam's beers and TT landlord. I had a couple of pints of Oyster Stout which was in great nick, dark, full bodied, dry and moreish, though a sparkler would have elevated it greatly.

Going back was easier. The crowds had diminished somewhat, so we headed to the Chamberlain Hotel to try Bengal Lancer again. Alas it was not to be. This flagship Fuller's pub had ran out of both Lancer and Discovery which was E's choice. Huh. Again we weren't going to drink Pride, so we finished off the weekend's drinking early, with Old Rosie cider for me and a Pinot Grigio for her. In JDW of course!

Sunday 7 March 2010

Passport to Pimlico

According to "Walk It", it's 4.7 miles from our flat in the East End to Cask in Pimlico. The weather was fine, so with the promise of a new pub (to us) with decent beer, we set off in good heart, wending our way past St Paul's with it's shroud of tourists and on through the still interesting Fleet St and in to the heart of London, looking up as we always do, as that's where you see the most interesting stuff. We even paused briefly to look at Dr Johnson's house which is hidden like so much of London up an unassuming passageway. We then discovered where the RV1 bus departs to Tower Gateway, so it was a useful walk too.

We paused for a pee stop in the Lord Moon of the Mall and sampled Brewster's Ice Queen which while pale and in good nick, just didn't hang together as a beer well enough. Pity as I've heard some good things about Brewster's Brewery. On the last leg now, down the Mall, past the Houses Of Parliament, along Millbank, take a right and a left and suddenly, ten minutes from the bustle, you are in quiet suburbia, with interesting 1930's social housing intermingled with rather grand homes. This is the fascination of London - a surprise round every corner.

Cask is easy to find on a corner of rather interesting housing. Modern and clean inside with big windows, it is an attractive room with a well positioned bar at one end, bristling with interesting stuff. For a start I've never seen Rothaus beers on draught in the UK or, for that matter, outside GBBF or NWAF, Keesman Herren Pils, so you get the impression right away that these guys are on a mission. There are some interesting Belgies too and a fridge full of decent and unusual bottles. Add eight handpumps and you know things are going to be pretty good. We started on Dark Star Hophead which to be honest wasn't on top form. Six Hop next and that wasn't that great either. At 6.2% it was alcohol, not hops that dominated and it wasn't in top condition. Was this going to be a disaster? No. Thornbridge Kipling was superb. Delicately balanced between juicy malt and zinging hops, it was a melange of tropical and citrus fruit and simply delicious. I didn't try anything else. I'm of the ilk that when I find something I like, I stick to it, so I did, but it seems I just missed Young Dredge - pity that - and no doubt he'll have denuded his wallet on some of the foreign stuff and will give his views.

So is Cask good? It is, though it's a difficult room in which to generate atmosphere, even when fairly busy as it was when we left. Other quibbles include no obvious price list for the clearly expensive beers (all cask seemed to be £3.10 a pint) and the sole staff member was pretty uncommunicative, which is a pity, as you really need to generate enthusiasm from behind the bar in this kind of a place. Having said that the balance is overwhelmingly positive.

Will I go back? Definitely.

I won't mention the awful bus journey home though!

Saturday 6 March 2010

We're All Doomed

Had some decent beer in London yesterday. The Castle provided excellent Wolf Porter, a fairly good IPA called Mahseer, which reminded me a little of Ind Coope Burton Ale (and I mean that as a compliment). It comes from Green Jack brewery in Suffolk, a brewery I once had an ad hoc tour of many years ago. I must watch out for their beers . Getting served here at lunchtime is a problem, with the Peroni swilling suits braying and dominating the bar, but it is great for people (and totty) watching and has good beer, so what's not to like?

Not so impressive was the Fullers owned Mitre. Fullers beers dominate now of course, but it was to Roosters that I turned for refreshment. Alas Apres Ski was dull, under conditioned and a struggle to enjoy. No such problems at the Gunmakers where I can say without equivocation, I had the best beer I have ever had in London in terms of its presentation. Purity Mad Goose was the beer, from a new cask admittedly. It was absolutely perfect and properly sparkled too. Well done Jeff Bell. Other London pubs that aren't even on the same planet in terms of cellermanship, to note and copy.

In the Melton Mowbray in Holborn, I had my second ever half of Fullers Bengal Lancer. Like the first in the Doric Arch yesterday, it failed to hit the spot, though was pleasant enough in an unremarkable way. My view of Fullers beers is that they are becoming defined by what isn't there rather than what is. Like a poorly tuned radio, you can get the gist of it, but the sharpness and clarity isn't there. Everything in their beers is turned down a notch too far.

After a long wait for a 25 bus (every 10-12 minutes - bollocks), I nipped into the Brown Bear in Leman St, our nearest pub. A choice of Pride, Black Sheep or Sharps Doom Bar was offered. Not being a fan of Black Sheep - too weedy - I plumped for Doom Bar. This is a beer I've criticised in the past and seen criticised in blogs elsewhere, but I thought it deserved a second chance. Wrong. It's bloody awful. An unremitting brown, thin, malt driven pint of boredom. Yes while awaiting the lovely E, I ordered a pint. Damn.

Last beer of the day was the in the Empress of Russia, probably our second nearest pub. Choice of two beers in this Shepherd Neame tied house. I'm not keen on Spifire, so Late Red it was. OK in that harsh one dimensional Shep's sort of way, but what the heck is an Autumn beer doing on in March?

So, a pleasant enough wander and some excellent beer. The best thing was the mental note to look out for beers from Green Jack, the excellence of the Gunmakers and one I missed above. Young's London Gold is perhaps underhopped, but was a good refresher and I reckon it'll sell. I need to try this again as a half possibly wasn't enough to make a long term judgement.

Today a long walk to Cask as recommended by Boak and Bailey. I'm expecting great things.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Measure for Measure

Weights and Measures Act 1985

It comes up every so often doesn't it, these arguments about pub measures and whether they should be standardised or not? We had this many years ago on Usenet where it got rather heated. More recently, Mark Dredge was on about it, though his concerns seem more to do with with needing smaller measures for his beloved strong beer. (In fairness, he would I think be happy to see wider use of the legal third pint measure.) Beer Nut too seemingly has a leaning towards metric rather than imperial and is keen to urge his Irish compatriots to abandon their traditional pints and half pints for more European measures. (He'll correct me if I'm wrong). I doubt if they will though, as European subsidies for such trivialities are no longer available. Woolly Dave also dabbles in this subject on the side of the reformists.

So what are the arguments? Well on one side you have a certainty with standardised measures. It enables direct comparison, allows you to know what to expect and to have redress if you feel cheated in some way. You can clearly measure your alcohol intake without tedious addition. It commands in the UK, considerable public support and you have valuable protection in law. On the other hand why shouldn't a pub be able to decide how much it charges for a measure it decides? Well, nailing my colours firmly to the mast, for the answer, see above and below.

One mustn't forget why measures were brought in in the first place. They were to prevent exploitation by the unscrupulous. If you go to many medieval German towns you will often see on the market place, iron sets against which a loaf could be measured, because bakers cheated their customers.These date back many hundreds of years and weren't brought in because of a love of regulation, but rather, because people were being being short changed and made a fuss about it. It isn't for reasons of altruism that in America, where no such regulation exists, that when the standard 16oz US pint is eschewed, it is usually in favour of a 14oz pour. These aren't known as "cheater pints" for nothing and are made with thicker glass bottoms to give a contrary impression to what they actually are.

My problem with this is I don't see where the advantage to me as a drinker would come in change, so, having put my position clearly, I'll throw it open and ask this basic question:

What advantage would changing the current regulations on liquid measure have and for whom?"

Monday 1 March 2010

Brewed With Passion

I first encountered BridgePort beers in 2001 (I think) when I first met my Yankee chums at the Oregon Brewer's Festival. One of our friends is a head honcho at the Gambrinus Company and organised for me a private trip round BridgePort Brewery, which they own. The Head Brewer then, as now, is Karl Okert. Now brewers by and large are splendid fellows, but Karl is more splendid than most. He was kind enough to give me a tour of his brewery and on one occasion, when the lovely E was all beered out, his wife took her out for less beery pursuits. Great people.

The Brewery Tap is in a wonderful old converted warehouse alongside the brewery and we spent a fair bit of time there drinking their excellent beers. Portland is a fantastic city and I have very fond memories of it. It is a beer destination par excellence. Recently Karl sent me some of his beers to enable me to renew my acquaintance with them and to allow my friends and I to taste them fresh. Eileen and I decided to give them a go by way of quality control.

First up was Blue Heron, named after Portland's City bird. Reminiscent of an English light ale, but with more body and hops, this was easy drinking and we both liked it. Ropewalk Amber was full bodied, slightly sweet with a barley sugar and hop finish. Opinion divided here. I again liked it, but E found it a bit too gassy. The IPA was next up. This one is bottle conditioned and shows it in a more complex mouthfeel, a firm malt body and a refreshing grapefruit hop finish, with some balancing bitterness. We both liked it a lot. Last for this tasting was ESB (6.1%) and it was special too. Like a souped up English Strong Bitter with a dry character and a full bodied mouthfeel which hid the alcohol well. We had two more, but these weren't tried. The Black Strap Stout is being saved for my mates in the pub to try (along with the others) and E didn't fancy the Hop Czar, so it was down to me to go it alone on that one immediately preceding this write up.

Hop Czar, described as an Imperial IPA, opens with a zing of C hops (it has Nugget, Chinook, Cascade and Centennial in it) and has all the bitterness, grapefruit and pine resin you want against a good malt base and hides its strength very well. It has such drinkability you'd suspect it was nearer 5% than the 7.5% it is. I polished it off far too quickly. Lovely stuff.

BridgePort beers have a distinct house style of balanced understatement. They are so well crafted that you have drunk the whole bottle before you know it. Each has noticeable poise and elegance. Even the Imperial IPA hasn't any of the harshness that you find in some hop monsters. You can just tell that these guys know what they are doing. They are a class act. If you ever get the chance to go to Portland, go without hesitation and go to BridgePort. You won't regret it and they still cask condition some of their beers for the Brewpub.

Told you they are classy.

A German First?

It seems that our German friends have come up with a pretty good idea. A brewery on a cruise ship. Well nearly a pretty good idea given what they are actually doing with the idea. Brewmaster Andreas Hegny has been on board the newly launched ship MS AIDAblu brewing Hövels Original, the super-premium beer brand owned by Radeberger Group, for thirsty passengers.

The five hectolitre brewery on a cruise ship is a world first. Pity they seem to be following the usual German Brewpub formula of brewing a lot of dross.

The ship might have cost €360 million and weigh 71,000 tons, but it's an ugly looking bugger.