Thursday 30 January 2014

Clear As a Clear Thing

I posed a question on the 14th of this month about unclear beer and what people thought about it.  Despite what some thought as the loaded and pejorative way in which my pole was framed, nonetheless it came out with an err... not exactly clear answer. Well sort of.

Out of a respectable 163 votes, no less than 51% had some doubts about beer which isn't clear, while the biggest single answer was "Not if it tastes good to me".  The results are below.

Not if it tastes good to me
  66 (40%)
Depends how murky it is
  15 (9%)
Yes I mind. Beer should be clear
  17 (10%)
If it is craft keg, I don't mind, but I expect cask to be clear
  9 (5%)

I would like to be warned in some way before I buy and then I'll decide
  53 (32%)
I don't know enough about the subject to make a correct decision
  3 (1%) 

Taken together with Mudgie's similar poll which shows an overwhelming majority would like to be given an indication beforehand if the beer isn't meant to be clear, (I'm staying well away from the word "warning"* at this point), it seems that the general dissatisfaction about the situation needs to be addressed in some way.  That may be the end, but what might the means be?  Now I have to confess, that as a mainly cask drinker,  that I'm not quite so bothered if keg beer is cloudy or not, though in most cases I'd just like it to be no more than a hop haze.  (I have already expressed my views that the case for finding good things in your unclear beer is at least as likely to be counteracted or outweighed by the bad). But when it comes to cask I'm firmly of the view that the beer should be clear, or have no more than a slight haze caused by hopping, or maybe by lack of finings, though that's a more complicated argument. 

So back to means.  Should CAMRA, through its AGM, try and do something about this given the confusion and possible undoing of years of campaigning?  I thought maybe, but having talked to many veterans recently, the difficulty would be in finding the correct form of words for a motion and the appropriate sanctions - though I don't rule out trying.  Taking a different tack, I somehow doubt that most pubs will adopt a voluntary code as it were and I have the same reservations about breweries doing it either.  Seems the only thing is for the customer to have the onus put on them to ask if they care enough, though given the paucity of beer knowledge amongst many bar staff, seems unlikely to put minds to rest.

The case for not letting this rest is well put by Mudgie and funily enough, by Cooking Lager. This quote is telling and one with which I agree "it is all too easy for a defect to masquerade as a feature. And it’s hard to avoid the thought that promoting the virtues of cloudy beer is another way to create a divide between the crafterati and the general public."

Despite what a healthy 40% allege in my poll, it isn't all about how it tastes to an individual.  There are bigger issues at stake.

* Despite dislike of my use of the word "warning", that's exactly what people mean when they say they wish to know in advance.

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Live from the Velodrome

It is nearly ready and boy has it taken a lot of effort, but the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival will open to trade members tomorrow at one, with the public to follow. The venue is most impressive and the photo which accompanies this blog entry hardly does it justice, though hopefully it captures at least some of the scale.

I'm off home for an early night.  I won't be home before midnight for the next four days and in here by around nine thirty.  Is it worth it? We'll see, but my favourite session is tomorrow's trade session as I'll know lots of beery people. I'll have the odd beer too amongst the paperwork and other tasks.

That'll be rather nice.

It isn't too late to decide to come along you know. We've loads of beer and loads of room and you really would be most welcome.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Tasty and Cornish

I've had some bad experiences with Cornish beer, so perhaps unfairly, I tend to regard them with more than a bit of suspicion. I have a mental vision of them as mostly brown, with lots of odd tastes. Still, I do try them when I see them, as deep down I believe it can't really always be so, even if unfamiliar beer is sometimes enjoyed more in the journey than the arrival.

Last night at our CAMRA committee meeting in the Good Beer Guide listed  Flying Horse in Rochdale, there was a reasonable choice, though it turned out later that TT Landlord was really rather poor.  Bland, lacklustre and a big disappointment, which I'll come back to.  I felt adventurous, so no taster, no halves, straight in with a pint from a brewery I'd never heard of.  Based near Bodmin Moor, Penpont Pale Ale from the brewery of the same name was golden, 4.2%, clear as a bell and had a good malt base, some light fruitiness and lots of leafy and resinous hops.  The brewery notes say "subtle oak and vanilla" - but (thankfully) not in the samples I had.  Instead it was a lovely drinkable beer, with enough hops to keep me going without becoming overwhelming.  Most of us switched to it.

Looking at their website, Penpont brew an interesting enough range and I'll certainly try them again if I come across them. 

Inevitably the beer ran out, so I had a pint of Taylor's Landlord.  Looked great, had great condition, but just seemed green and dull.  I reckon that's one you need to keep in the cellar for quite a while before serving no matter how bright it is. 

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Back to Unclear Beer

It is ages since I did a poll and I haven't got the hang of putting it up on the newer version of Blogger that I now have, so apologies to the person that voted.  It wasn't meant to be published until I'd done this bit. Sorry.

When you are doing this, it is difficult to get the questions as right as you'd like, but hopefully I have included most scenarios.  Anyway, while in the main it is just a bit of fun, it does have a serious background and purpose.

I may draw conclusions from it and use it at the CAMRA AGM.  So get voting.

See also my earlier blog here and blogs from Phil and Paul  who also have views on the matter.  I do urge you to read them before diving in.  They do tend to be supportive of clear beer, so if there is another link to the opposing view, let me know and I'll include it.


Friday 10 January 2014

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival

It is just over a week away Folks.  Brought to you by the same team that organised the amazingly successful National Winter Ales Festival for the last five years and from a smashing new venue, the inaugural Manchester Beer and Cider Festival takes place next week.  The venue is the amazing Velodrome at the National Cycling Centre (they insist in calling it that though everyone knows it as just "The Velodrome") but it is amazing nonetheless. Every time we go in to check something we just go "Wow!"

The Velodrome has its own tram station (Velopark),  loads of buses and for the healthy or wannabe healthy, it is only a leisurely half hour walk along the Ashton Canal from town.  Everyone is guaranteed a seat facing the action and there is the prospect of watching our Commonwealth and Olympic Games champions training as you sup your delicious pint. Training will continue throughout.  All the usual festival stuff will be there, with t shirt and book stalls, lovely grub and much more, as well as a number of brewery bars, foreign beer, a massive cider bar and real ale in a bottle. You can even do your shopping on the way home at the nearby Asda,

I won't bore you with the massive amount of work that goes into this - you can take that as read - but let's instead pick out a few highlights beer-wise that you might want to think about in advance. Let's start with Fullers, with 1845 and Vintage Ale making rare outings in cask form. Or how about Brass Castle Port Cask Christmas Kitty, aged in a port oak cask with added rum? Hand Drawn Monkey offer Red Wit, a red ale take on Belgian White.  Hardknott offer Azimuth and Dark Energy and that old favourite, the dangerously drinkable NZPA from Hawkshead will be there too. Old Ales? We got 'em.  Hydes 4X, a bit of a rarity is there, or maybe Brentwood Chockwork Orange - an old ale with orange? Chilli Plum Porter? Double IPA? Imperial Russian Stout? Milds, stouts, bitters?  We have them in abundance.  Beers from Weird Beard, Wapping, Fyne Ales, Brains, Thwaites and Hydes Craft breweries are there too, Okell's wonderful Manx Pale Ale, eight beers from Marble, collaboration brews from Mallinsons and others.  Some really cracking golden ales too. We have the lot.

Highlights from our Bière Sans Frontières bar include all the Oktoberfest beers, five from De Molen, gueuze from 3 Fontainen, Oud Beersel and Boon and Taras Boulba also makes an appearance. Ciders and perrys abound too, so there really is something for everyone and all at sensible Northern prices.  No rip off here.  A pint of Fullers Vintage Ale? Around £4.50 you'll find.

Right.  I think you get the picture.  It's the only show in town and I do hope to see lots of you there.

The Festival is from Wednesday 22nd to Saturday 25th.  Full details and the beer list from this link. Expect more from me on this and yes, I'm involved in the organisation of the event.  

Thursday 9 January 2014

Great British Railway Journeys

Anyone spot Michael Portillo standing outside the Baum, CAMRA's National Pub of the Year last night?  Well he was, while visiting its next door neighbour, the Rochdale Pioneers Museum.

If you are interested in seeing it on BBC iPlayer it is about 5 - 10 minutes before the end.  You need to be sharp eyed mind, but you do see it twice.

Worth it though and the Pioneers bit is good too.

Michael was wearing a hugely nausea inducing lime green jacket and pink shirt.

Oh Mr Porter

The choice wasn't to any of our liking last night in the Regal Moon.  Nothing seemed to appeal, or was just too strong for midweek supping, even at bargain basement prices.  Seemed some of the Christmas stock was being wheeled out too, with an unlikely looking pumpclip complete with Santa in all his finery.  Talk about the ghost of Christmas Past. So what's a man to do?  While my companions tucked in to Old Hooky, which was judged much better than expected, I chose the dark side.

Acorn Old Moor Porter is an old favourite in the Regal Moon and deservedly so.  Rich and satisfying, with good mouthfeel it was just the job on a wet Rochdale night.  I stuck with it until my last pint when the siren call of pre-bus pint Elland 1872 Porter beckoned.  For those that don't recall, this is the Champion Beer of Britain and for once (controversial) a worthy winner.  At a hefty 6.5% it is my "one for the road" beer here.  A word too about the continual appearance of this beer in the Regal Moon, as this could be considered to be a bit of a coup.  Well Manager Chris has had this beer on for years when it was champion of nothing at all, so he still gets supplies for his support. Rightly so. I won't describe the beer to you, except to say it hides its strength very well as you drink it, but gives you a lovely warm glow as you head for the bus.

So there you have it. Two tip top porter beers to recommend to you. Trust me on this.

Of course to get the full effect, these beers need to be fully conditioned, served at around 12°C and served through a tight sparkler to produce a lovely creamy head. Anyone tells you different, don't believe a word.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Two Different Kinds of Shitstorm

It has been a relatively feisty start to 2014 within the world of beer blogging -  well at least a small segment of it.  That's noticeable for its unusualness and even then it is relatively minor compared to the flame wars I used to be involved in pre blogging days.  Oh yes, I wrote about beer, at least in some form, from way back in the 1990's.  When I started blogging back in 2007  I kind of carried on from these old days.  What old days I hear some ask?  The old days of  Usenet where, from the 1990's,  we discussed the beery agendas of the day, in rather less cordial terms (at times at least) than the moderate and well mannered thing that most beer blogging has evolved into.  When I started blogging I kind of thought that it was a platform for the opinionated, for the the frustrated writer, for those that felt they had something to offer from their point of view.  I think blogging did start out that way and no doubt some still is, but now would I be that far off the mark to say that the beer blogging scene for one has become for the most part, a bit cosy? 

Anyway, enough of that for now and back to the point of the less than cosy - and therefore all the more remarkable - situation of two of our best known British beer bloggers getting a bit of flak. I am not sure of the sequence, but one is far easier to discuss than the other. Boak and Bailey got some (undeserved) stick  about being less than fulsome in their praise of the quality of a product.  Then they were unjustifiably criticised about the way they handled that dissatisfaction from some other rather hostile commentators.  This evolved into a long rule ridden debate about what you should do about either a bad beer - one that is off - and one that you simply didn't like. So far, so good, but what strikes me about this is that almost no-one that I can recall said that most simple of things "Tell it how it is."  One thing is pretty certain.  When you make an offer to the public, the public is free to comment honestly on how that offer was at the time. The customer is under no obligation to give the vendor a chance to redeem themselves after the transaction has been made, unless they choose to do so.  Personal confrontation is not what you go out for in most cases. That doesn't mean you spend time later slagging people off willy nilly and of course there are ways of saying it nicely and contextualising it, but if you think the whole experience was poor, or that a particular brewery doesn't do it for you or is poor, you should feel free to say so. It would surely always be a situation that you really feel strongly about, otherwise why would you do so? For the vendor it is also useful feedback, even if at the time, you don't care to hear it or disagree with it.

Now to another Bailey. Dave Bailey got into a lot of trouble by discussing the subject of women in pubs and in beer.  If that's not where angels fear to tread, I don't know what is.  I won't be following in his footsteps, but what was noticeable is that his honesty (if that is the word) was not appreciated and that is perhaps the common thread, though the two cases are really only linked by my observation in my opening sentence. Nonetheless it was remarkable to see this somewhat snug world rocked slightly. It reminds us that opinions of any situation vary greatly.  Nonetheless, stating yours, while difficult and uncomfortable at times and even with the undoubted potential for backfire, egg on face or humbling, is still a valid blogging approach.

Opinions are good. Let's not be too afraid of them.

It may not be noticed by many, but I offer a right of reply against my opinions of people or places. No-one has ever taken it up.

Update: This post now has a slight edit to make it clear B&B also got undeserved flak from commentators to their blog. 

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Good Brewers Make a Brewery

Can a small brewery lose three of their star brewers over  a relatively short time and still be on top of their game?  Chances are they can't.  Nothing much has been written about it, but over the last two or three years or so, Marble, one of the most acclaimed breweries around has lost Dominic Driscoll, Colin Stronge and James Campbell.  Has the beer suffered?  Well I'd have to say "yes" - at least as far as the last few months go. Recent visits have found the beer to be distinctly lacking in the usual Marble character, with Pint being almost unrecognisable and Manchester a different tasting beer altogether.  On a recent visit, as I sipped my beer tentatively, a lass beside me asked if I was drinking Ginger Marble. I said I wasn't.  "Just as well" said she. "There's none in it!"

The beers just don't seem as well put together. Though not bad beers at all, they just aren't what they were.  That of course is a common cry about breweries and worryingly, it is hard sometimes to get back to where you want to be, especially if collective brewing memory is gone. Now this isn't a pop at Marble.  Brewing is an art and a science and good brewers are always very much sought after and have their own ambitions.  They move on. That's as it should be.  Recently Marble has recruited a new head brewer, Matthew Howgate, someone I've not heard of, but whose experience includes ABInBev, Molson Coors and Leeds Brewery. It may be that Matthew will produce a complete new set of beers and maybe that's fine too. Brewing doesn't stand still and while we all loved Pint in its best known incarnation, there may well be something different and even better to enjoy. You don't have to stay the same to be good, no matter how good you were.

From a Manchester point of view, I would like to see Marble continue to be recognised widely as one to seek out, but I'd say Matthew has a hard act or two to follow. I wish him luck.

Strangely (or not actually) the darker beers suffer less. Brewing good pale beers is that much more difficult. There is nowhere to  hide.

Friday 3 January 2014

Draught Bass

Someone was reminiscing about this recently and averring that you can still get a decent pint of it here and there.  Now putting aside "here and there" and even "now and then" which is implied, what is it like now in a pub that sells it a lot and has done for a long time? The opportunity to find out came up over the Christmas period when I had a drink with a few friends.  As it was on the way back to the bus stop, one suggested, "Why not pop in to the Unicorn and try a pint of Bass?" So we did.

The Unicorn is a splendidly old fashioned pub near the Arndale Centre and attracts a mixed clientèle.  It very much reminds me of how pubs used to be and particularly, though I don't suppose they'd thank me for the comparison, of pubs in Liverpool when I lived there.  Solid and attractive, it sits on a corner with an opened out interior that still contains some separate rooms and certainly separate drinking areas, served by a circular bar.  You can see where the passageway once was and the rooms off it are still there in the main.  There is young and old there, rich and poor, the chancer and the man in best attire with his daughter, surrounded by shopping. Her Christmas presents I'd guess. Some racing paper lads, some market traders, some like us because it is near the bus stop and some types whose eye you weren't keen to catch. A proper pub.

We brought our pints into the the back room and surveyed the beer.  Served in Bass glasses, the beer was a mid brown and served Northern style. It smelled sweet and malty with just a hint of hops.  And that's how it tasted too.  It was in great nick and I could have drank a few.  We all enjoyed it, but to me it wasn't the Bass of yesteryear, but that was hardly a surprise.

Is Bass part of the present or the past.  It is a ghost of its former self, so the past I'd say, but it was nice to drink it again nonetheless.

My recollection is that Draught Bass used to be a fair bit darker than it seems to be now.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Not A Fan

London Murky may well be my favourite beer descriptor of 2013, so well done to Robsterowski who I think can safely be said to have first coined it.  I don't care for murky cask beer myself, though I am a little more inclined to forgive it from bottle. (Well I might be in certain circumstances, but that's a separate post.)  My reasons for my dislike of cloudy cask beer are twofold.  OK. Maybe more than twofold, as my mind is racing into three plus reasons.  Firstly, to me at least, it doesn't look right.  Secondly, again to me at least, it doesn't always taste right.  This I admit may be in my mind (though not always), as I remain unconvinced that there are more good things than bad things floating around in the gloom. While mostly these are spent yeast cells and  proteins, I don't feel comforted by that, as I don't care for yeasty tasting beer. There are other by products of the brewing process that can remain in suspension too, such as tannins, starch, oxalic acid and more, that may well account for some of the haze.  These are just some of the bad boys.

My third reason is confusion.  I have already written about this and would add that there is something else. A fourth reason if you like. There is a temptation, which I think I have seen in action, for bar staff to attribute to any beer which is hazy or cloudy, the phrase "It is meant to look like that."  Now this may be just a guess, or they may be being disingenuous, but it all adds to the confusion. How do I know whether what I am being sold is working beer that hasn't finished its secondary fermentation, rather than one that is meant to be cloudy?  Nor do I know if the brewer is just incompetent. Truth is, I don't know other than by my taste and experience why it might be cloudy.  And I could well be wrong and on dodgy grounds for complaint if I'm not happy. To my mind, this all adds an unwelcome variable to me as a cask beer consumer and one that I didn't have to take into account before.  Before if the beer was cloudy, I took it back. What we are getting now isn't nearly as straightforward. Of course you can just dismiss me as an old fuddy duddy and say that I should learn to live with it.  Well I'm not so sure about that and am minded to do something about it.

The CAMRA AGM isn't a million miles away and I might just put forward a motion about how this confusion, which I see as (in the main) detrimental to cask beer, should be addressed.

Visual stimuli are very important to beer. Yes we do drink with our eyes.  We decide a lot about a beer before we even taste it.