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!
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.
* 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.
* 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!
* 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.
* Visit them
You know, I think bloggers are doing a bit more of that, with quite a few exceptions of course.
* 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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Disregard a lot of the above - well the house beer bit. See comment. This is live and updated! Still seek the beer out though.
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.
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.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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