Wednesday 30 June 2010

Isle of Man Pubs

Returning to the Isle of Man is always good for me. It reminds me of my plooky youth, when as an 18 year old I came with my mates to drink beer (it was here I first encountered Watney's Red and Worthington E) and chase women, who unlike their Scottish counterparts, weren't wearing three of four layers of clothing, topped by an Arran jumper. This was back in the day when Douglas was as busy as Blackpool - well on a similar scale anyway - and when boats full came in daily from Ardrossan, Workington, Belfast, Dublin, Liverpool and elsewhere. Happy days.

One thing has changed. There is now little by way of wandering totty, visitors are fewer, there is a preponderance of Liverpudlians and Northern Irish bar staff (and residents) and far fewer pubs. (You see I can drag myself back to beer from my lusty reminiscences.) Such was my praise for the place after the CAMRA AGM, that my pub friends wanted to go. I did warn them it is a deeply unpleasant place when pissing wet, as it often is, but they insisted. Well we struck lucky. Sunshine from start to finish and a chance to explore the island and its pubs. We had a good time.

The Old Dog Inn was our favourite way back then, but it is long gone. The island is dominated by Okell's, owned by the ubiquitous local company of Heron and Brierly, who also have a stranglehold on pub ownership. (Bushy's is the other local brewery). Now I am generally against monopolies, but I have a sneaking admiration for H&B, who are up against it in many ways. With a resident population of only 80,000 and visitors dropping down to around the 350,000 mark, they have clearly closed a lot of pubs in an attempt to make things viable, but they did build a spanking new German equipped brewery for Okells which I toured a few years ago. I can certainly confirm it is a smasher and H&B's commitment to the IoM seemingly isn't in doubt.

In fact, even in Douglas, pubs aren't thick on the ground. You'd kind of imagine then wouldn't you that those that remain are wonderful examples of the genre? Sadly they are not. They mostly range between unspoiled dockside boozers which I love, but which most people won't set foot in, to relics from the 70's and 80's with largely indifferent beer and with vastly overpriced and doubtful food. Many appear attractive on the outside but with poor, brown, sticky interiors and a very unwelcoming atmosphere. H&B could do with having a think about how to overcome this. Maybe they need a Wetherspoons to take all the good for nothings into one central location? Hush my mouth.

But there are a few gems. I have always liked the Mines Tavern in Laxey with its simple bar and neat beer garden and views of the comings and goings of the Manx Electric Railway and good beer from Okells and Bushy's. After a trip to the top of Snaefell, it was a must visit. Sadly it is now owned by Okells and the beer range is restricted, but the beer was good. Unfortunately though, the food was ridiculously overpriced and poor. Another decent pub, this time in Douglas is the Queen's Hotel. Okell's again with guests from Across (as the Manx put it) and very good food, which though expensive is home cooked and generous.

Out in Port Erin, a pretty train ride away on the steam train, was the Falcon's Nest, full of genuine Manxmen rather than Scousers, Scots and Irish and with spectacular views over the cliffs and harbour. Bushy's Beer and guests from Across made a welcome change there. Bushy's Pure Manx Gold was the pick of the bunch, with biscuity malt and piquant First Gold hops.

Castletown Brewery is long closed, but the town itself is extremely attractive with its enclosed harbour and ruined castle. The famous pub here is the Sidings, right by the Steam Railway station and with excellent beer, both from Bushy's and from Across and its own Bushy's brewed version of the long gone Castletown Bitter. It is a nice, neat pub with a sheltered beer garden and possibly the best beer on the island. Best beer on the island? Well maybe not. A close challenger is the Rovers Return in Douglas. A sort of bikers pub, with an eclectic mix of customers and excellent Bushy's beers plus guests. Oddly far more welcoming than most pubs. Here we watched England's demise in the world cup, and drank Bushy's Pure Gold. Lovely. Apart from the result that is.

A last comment about the pubs. You certainly aren't welcomed with open arms. Quiet reserve from the native Manx and mumbling indifference from most of the imported staff is the norm, but once you get out of Douglas, there is something for everyone on this lovely island. I doubt if the beer will disappoint too much, though Okells is firmly in the Family Brewer's malty camp, but be sure to take lots of money! In good weather, picnic stuff from M & S is, sadly, a better bet than food in most pubs.

Top tip: Spend the extra few quid and stay in the Hilton. The breakfast will obviate the need for poor lunches elsewhere.

Tuesday 29 June 2010

More Lout

Fresh from my second trip to the Isle of Man in two months, I come back to find that Stella are launching a new beer called "Stella Black". The 4.9 per cent beer, which is not actually black, but pale and golden like most other mass produced lagers, will be brewed in Belgium and imported to the UK. One cheer for that.

Reading the hoots of derision from the trade in the comments area on both the the Morning Advertiser and Publican sites, it seems there might just be a credibility gap for them to overcome, but be reassured. In addition to its other redeeming features - well I suppose it might have some - but the press release doesn't say what if anything they might be - there will be "a reverential pouring ritual”. Yes that's right, a reverential pouring ritual. That's got me hooked.

Now call me an old cynic (please do), but unless by some miracle this stuff is actually good and even if it is, it's got "This is going to bomb" written all over it.

Now altogether, sing the song. "Ste-lla Blaaack Label"

Thursday 24 June 2010


I was called to the bar yesterday to watch England. A couple of friends persuaded me out of my solitary existence to watch the football with others. It was in a pub near me, but one that I don't normally go to. I don't care for the place or the beer quality, though in fairness last week when I nipped in just before the last England game to sample the atmosphere and the beer, the bitter was cool and excellent.

Not so yesterday. It tasted off, as if it had been heatstruck before ever reaching the cellar and the Coronation St was a cloudy insult. Both were way too warm which gave a clue. What to do? The family of my friends were there before me and agreed it was poor and they switched to Carlsberg and San Miguel. I tried the Carlsberg. Horrid. All carbonic bite and an odd corn edge. The San Mig was slightly spicy as if a dash of unmalted wheat had been lobbed in. I was tempted, but instead had Lees house lager, Golden Original. It didn't taste of much, but was smoother, fuller and maltier than the Carlsberg. A hefty dose of noble hop would have made this pretty good. I had a few of those and finished off with a San Miguel. It wasn't so bad either, but not something I'd like to repeat often.

I reflected on a few things. Annoyance about the cask beer - this just shouldn't be happening; that this was the first session on British lout I'd had in the pub for over 20 years; how bloody expensive the stuff is.

No wonder they all drink it at home.

And no, I didn't complain. My friends are friends with the manager and I wouldn't have embarrassed them.

Monday 21 June 2010

Follow, Follow

I've been trying to catch up with those blogs I thought I was following and which I subsequently discovered I'm not. This was kicked off when I became Fuggled's 60th follower. So today I have caught up with Pencil and Spoon and Cooking Lager. Apologies Gents, it was an oversight.

I'll be going though the rest of you too to sign up.

Sunday 20 June 2010


Lees Summer seasonal is the delightfully named Strawbeery which as the name suggests, has real strawberries in it. It was on in the THT yesterday and I asked for a taste before committing. It got the thumbs up from me, but the boys I think it is fair to say, were unanimous in not particularly liking it, but I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of pints. The nose is distinctly of fresh strawberry fruit and it's there again in the taste, but it is not overwhelming, more of a subtle hint and the beer itself is astonishingly pale and clear, with a dry, herbal, bitter (not hoppy) finish.

It is quite a departure in style for Lees and one that will divide opinions, but I liked it a lot and as today is starting off bright and sunny, I think it will be perfect later for a few.

Seek it out and see for yourself.

Sorry for the poor quality photo.

Desert Island Styles

Having recently answered Mark Dredge's question about what style of beer I don't like - it's rauchbier every time - I thought for once, instead of my usual erudite and informative postings, I'd take a cue from Mark - not about erudition - he can whup my ass there - but in simply asking what people do like, as a counter to Mark's question about what they don't.

So what's your favourite beer style? More than one answer is of course permissible, but maybe you'd like to put them in a 1, 2, 3 batting order? Or a 1,2,3,4,5 if you like. Or whatever way you fancy. I'll kick it off by saying that mine is pale, cask and hoppy. Is that a style? Well see here for an argument that it is.


1. Pale and hoppy cask beers

2. Hoppy but balanced pilseners

3. Weizen / Witbier

I guess pale and hoppy cask speaks for itself, but its lager cousin is always a strong favourite and though I drink little of it in this country, a well made pilsner beer is a delight at any time, winter or summer.Sorry for the cheat at the last one, as I can squeeze quite a lot into that range, but there you go. Wheat beer may be a surprise to some, but I do love the refreshing character of wheat based beers on a hot summer's day. It's by far my favourite tipple when in Germany, particularly when the sun is blazing down.

This has caused me to miss out mild, stout, oh and a host of others, but if I was stuck on a desert island with only three lots to choose from, that'd just about keep me from insanity. Hopefully though, I'd be rescued (preferably by some sex starved gorgeous women) before too long and head off for some darker stuff! Or of course I could just have made it a 1 to 5 list and wimped out. Thinking about your favourite styles is actually mind bogglingly difficult and something I don't usually consciously consider. It's a bit like when someone asks me what my favourite beer is. At that point I usually come over all evasive. (One answer I never give is the awful "the one I'm drinking at the moment".) The truth is that in beer favourites, as with styles, I'm a bit indiscriminate, hopping from one to the other with no regrets and limited only by availability and circumstance rather than loyalty.

So I suppose that my number four would be stout and five would be something stronger. Or maybe gueuze, or mild, or, alt or er... well, like I said it's difficult and already I'm thinking of changing my list, but then that change would probably change too!

What's your take on it all?

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Mid Atlantic Pale Ales

I have mentioned Steel City Brewing here before and noted from reading their website that they are shortly to get their own brewing licence from HMRC. Good for them. Bring some to a pub near me soon, because they are good. I note too that Gazza Prescott, one of the owners and beer hunter extraordinaire, has written an article on what he calls a new beer style, Mid Atlantic Pale Ale. This can roughly be described as very pale and very hoppy. Now I haven't asked Gazza about writing this article and heedful of his warnings about copying things from his website, I won't quote as such. Instead I'll just say that I agree with almost everything he says and urge you all to read it. His web site isn't a blog, so you can't comment there.

This is though a "revolution" that we have known about and written about in the North for quite some time and my own view is that it is now spreading and will continue to gain momentum. Gazza gives a list of breweries and beers too, just to get you in the groove and illustrate his point. When you read it, you'll be nodding and think "Yep, good brewery". Needless to say Gazza's money is where his mouth is. His beers are hoppy as hell. Another point of his I'd agree with from my own American experiences, is that of crystal malt ruining otherwise great beers and also his belief that here in the UK, slowly but surely, brown, caramel bombs are being pushed aside in the better pubs at least. I go along with his contention too, that this new style is virtually unique (I know, I know) to the British Isles.

I will add an observation or two of my own though and both of them are in the form of concerns. Too many British brewers, big and small, are still churning out the same old "toffee malt" laden cack and they ignore this new trend at their peril. Many small brewers have dismissed or disregarded the pale revolution, which has been around for a few years now and have done so at the expense of their own sales and future prospects, competing with the same kind of beers that the big boys churn out, while those like Phoenix and Pictish have forged ahead, selling all they can brew. Unlike American brewers who usually have wide portfolios of styles, too many of ours are one trick ponies and too many are stuck in the mud. Secondly, our largest independent brewers are so timid in hopping, that you sometimes wonder if they just show the casks a photo of a hop on the racking line. They need to look around them or be left behind. Just look at the success of Jaipur IPA if you doubt it.

Lastly, I'm not saying that there isn't a place for balance and for darker malts, but what I am saying is that some of the fundamentals are shifting, bringing a wind of change that can no longer be ignored.

You might find it difficult to find the article, but go to "Blog" date 26/05/2010 and click "here."

Friday 11 June 2010

Frankfurt Brewpubs

It wasn't all apfelwein in Frankfurt. We found a little time to visit three brewpubs, none of which particularly excelled in the beer sense, but were pretty competent in that subdued style German hausbrauerei seem to adopt. Two though had very fine beer gardens which were a delight to spend time in on such a hot summer day. It also reminded us, in the second case in particular, of the need to sometimes at least, separate beer from the occasion. This was all about drinking beer in the summer, outside with your friends. Can you think of a better way to sup?

Far along the U Bahn line in a quiet town, Oberursel, the first beers of the day were consumed in a perfect courtyard setting under a beating sun. Alt- Oberurseler Brauhaus had decent enough pils with just enough hop to refresh, while the opalescence was thankfully subdued. The weizen was however bang in the middle of the style and a very decent drink, more of which would have been consumed if we weren't needed elsewhere. To me wheat beer is a perfect summer drink, especially as they did in this case, when they manage to get a balancing bitterness into the clovey, spicy, banana dominated sweetness of wheat.

Bavaria Brauerei models itself on Bavarian beer. Really? Yes! They even had a keller bier which Nick our resident in Franconia pronounced as OK+ and the usual dunkel, pils and weizen. They were pretty good with the dunkel possibly the pick of the bunch. We ate hearty German food there and enjoyed a perfect couple of hours with charming waitresses (regrettably not bedecked in dirndls, but you can't have everything) the buzz of conversation, the clink of cutlery on plate, sunshine dappling through the trees and that feeling that you could happily spend hours there in this timeless German tableau. I'd say drinking beer in a German beer garden or keller has to be one of my favourite ways to do so.*

On Sunday, the more subdued and urban Frankfurter Hausbrauerei was the destination. With probably the slowest service I've ever experienced anywhere (and we were the first customers), we supped the usual dunkel and pils, which were just "all right". Well, two out of three ain't bad!

* The Germans have a word for this - "Gemütlichkeit". This connotes the notion of belonging, social acceptance, cheerfulness, the absence of anything hectic and the opportunity to spend quality time. Thanks Wikipedia. I couldn't put it better and it describes our day perectly.

They Don't Like It Up 'em!

You remember Tough Ted? I've written about him here and here. Ted Tuppin bosses that friend of the licensed trade, Enterprise Inns. Seems though he has come up against someone as plain speaking as himself and he doesn't like it. Greg Mulholland MP described Tuppen as the Gerald Ratner of the pub trade and suggested it was time he stepped down. I am sure all his many failed tenants, having had the pips squeezed out of them by Enterprise, will say "Amen" to that. Not to his face mind - he's tough. No such fears for Mulholland who did though. But he is fit as a flea and one of the MPs who knows what he's talking about when it comes to beer and pubs.

Speaking at a Tenanted Pub Company Summit, organised by the Morning Advertiser he said “I think the aggression and denial of Mr Tuppen continues to be a problem" and recounted how he and Ted have " an interesting relationship” of exchanging “nasty letters”.

There's much more. Read all about it here in the MA. It'll cheer you up no end!

Thursday 10 June 2010

World Cup Fever 2

I mentioned in my earlier post about pubs dolling up the outside with tacky and non matching England flags. Some like to take things a little further. I was driving past a pub I don't usually pass and noticed this colourful display.

You know I don't even know if they sell cask any more, as I haven't been in it for years and it was also closed for a while, but somehow I doubt it, though happy to be proved wrong.

Click on photo for a close up.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

World Cup Fever

It is building up to a crescendo as the first match approaches, both here in Middleton and in Germany, where I was at the weekend. Here all the pubs are being done up in the national colours, with the emphasis on quantity rather than quality, though they don't seem to do that in Germany. Not that Germany eschews tackiness altogether. While visiting a brew pub in the sticks on Saturday we came across a shop selling tat (in German colours of red, yellow and black of course) that might have made even a Langley lad think twice. Leprechaun hats in German national colours, Hawaiian garlands, ditto (I rather liked them), a set of three clappy hands (which I now wish I'd bought), flags for cars and a lanyard in red, yellow and black, with a whistle for getting on people's tits. (That was a euro and is now proudly in Tandleman Towers.) I rather think though that I would be unwise to wear much German gear around here, as I'd likely get my head kicked in. To add to the festivities, as we left Frankfurt the airport was besieged by fans, garlanded, Ballack shirted and face painted, waiting to watch the national team fly off in Lufthansa's new A380.

Nonetheless Middleton is not to be outdone. I noticed this rather fine bronze fellow (pictured) outside the Middleton Archer, a Lees Pub. It pays tribute to the err..... Middleton Archers (the chaps with longbows, not pints of bitter) success in mowing innocent Scots down at Flodden, a fact also commemorated in our Parish Church, by the world's first ever war memorial.

I'm getting excited too and must get some beer in. Even this pub drinker may require the odd home libation

Unexpected Pleasure

Sachsenhausen (not to be confused with the WW2 concentration camp of the same name, north of Berlin) is a suburb of Frankfurt. Unlike its neighbour just across the River Main, it mainly escaped the devastating air raids that saw Frankfurt's mediaeval, centre, the biggest in Germany, almost completely destroyed. This small piece of background perhaps explains why it is here, in this unspoiled, atmospheric, bohemian nook, that Frankfurt's night life and social quarter is based. Where we stayed, the twisted cobbled streets, with bars and restaurants galore, gave way to handsome, towering, Victorian tenements and tranquil streets enhanced every few yards by stately plane trees. Combined with the flower bedecked balconies, where residents were taking the air on a beautiful summer night, the call of birdsong and the sweet evening air, the whole area was to this author, simply enchanting.

Nestled in and around this area are Germany's cider houses. The best of them are around the grand, bustling, Schweizer Strasse and they too are quite stunning. Old, traditional and very reminiscent of Düsseldorf's Alt pubs, their narrow brick and red sandstone frontages invariably give way to a maze of rooms, corridors and courtyards. The best of them all is perhaps Apfelhaus Wagner, though its neighbour the Gemalten Haus pushes it close. In fairness, they are all damn good. Wagner has a large front room with dark wooded walls, long benches and more intimate tables, leads to a number of smaller rooms and courtyards where diners eat typically hearty food and drink the local cider. No beer is sold. On the left is the bar where all the action happens. There is a small stand up area parallel to it where you can watch the heavy stoneware cider jugs or bembels being filled. You buy cider by the glass or jug, but sharing is the way to go. At the end of the bar is a small schwemme or locals standing area, where ruddy cheeked habitués exchange noisy banter and commentary with the no nonsense waiters, who snap back gruff ripostes, but clearly love it. In a timeless scene, the multi faceted traditional glasses are filled from a height. The cider itself comes up by a sort of hosepipe from the cellar. One waiter fills the jugs, splashing the precious liquid into the waiting bembels with nonchalant ease and sliding them to white jacketed waiters who handle the heavy bembels with a casual confidence.

This is a place for the pub man as much as any I have been in. Though beer is not the drink, these are pubs. People come here to socialise with their friends and families. People watching, social discourse and laughter mix with the delicious aromas from the hearty meals. Every age is represented, from the soaks in the schwemme, to old ladies and gossipy young girls and lads who seem, on a Friday night, happy just to be there and part of it all, as was I.

I have said before in this blog that the most striking thing in Germany is the apparent social cohesion. This was it at its best - so much so that we returned again on Saturday to eat and enjoy the atmosphere again.

Oh and what of the cider? Very similar to a cider like Westons Farmhouse, with a slight cloudiness, a clean, unchallenging apple taste and a reasonable drinking strength of around 5.5%.

Thursday 3 June 2010


Cider making isn't that big in Germany, but nonetheless it exists in places. A little known fact is that Frankfurt is a bastion of not only financial dealings, but a centre of cider drinking, with a number of dedicated cider houses or Apfelweinlokal (there are other names for them too), mainly located in Sachsenhausen, where a lot of Frankfurt's night life is based. That's where we'll be staying.

Now I'm not the biggest cider fan in the world, though the odd pint of Old Rosie or Black Rat doesn't go amiss, but this will be different and I'm looking forward to the cider houses, as they'll surely be worth trying. There will be beer too of course, though that's one thing Frankfurt doesn't really excel in, being dominated by the giant Binding, but there is always weisse bier, as the weather promises to be hot. Scorchio in fact, so hooray for that.

So I'm off to London later and despite the strikers best efforts, we'll be flying BA from London City. A good move for us as not only is the BA fare cheaper than the atrociously expensive Flybe from Manchester, it is an easy journey for us direct to the airport from Tower Gateway, round the corner from our flat. We'll be there a full six hours earlier than our other 17 friends too, so an opportunity to steal a march on them and explore!

So tonight a couple of drinks in London. I wonder where?

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Taxi for Dredge?

I was reading Mark's highly amusing post blog about world cup crisps when I noticed this photo which I think used to appear more prominently in his blog.

Somehow it always used to make me think he'd smuggled his last (and unwisely purchased beer) into a black cab while completely pissed. Anyone see what I'm getting at here?

Young man, with beer, slumped in back of a taxi?

For the po faced; in case of doubt, this is a light hearted post.