Like some others I've been very impressed with the Tankovna Pilsner Urquell that is now sweeping some parts of the UK. It is one of the few things that makes the Draft House at Tower Hill remotely bearable when the suits are in and your head is being shredded by repeated tuneless bass music, comparable to being attacked, without anaesthetic, by a mental dental surgeon, with a particularly slow and buzzy drill of considerable width. I digress, but feel better for getting that off my chest. Bastards.
I've been lucky enough to have tank beer in Prague and old enough to have had tank beer in the UK in one of its original incarnations, but done well, with top quality beer, it is really a rather good way to ensure the customer gets brewery fresh beer, as near as dammit as the brewer intended. (Mind you I don't always want things the way some brewers intend, but that's another digression.) I was therefore pleased to be invited to try Budvar Tankové Pivo shortly after its Manchester launch at the Oast House in Manchester's Spinningfields. Even better I had been asked to bring a plus one and my companion was the lovely E, fresh off the train from London and dragging her thirst behind her on what was a lovely day in early May
Now a word about the Oast House. This was opened as a ‘pop-up’ bar with temporary planning permission in October 2011. It is a genuine 16th century oast house and was brought to Manchester from Kent, brick-by-brick and is now a permanent feature of Spinningfields, Manchester's business and leisure area, purpose built from 2000 onwards. It has a large beer garden and is attractively rustic, though not that big inside. I rather like it as it seems to always be populated by a very mixed and cheerful crowd.
Our hosts were Budweiser Budvar UK Beer Sommelier Jo Miller and (Oast House owners) New World Trading Company’s Beer Guru Warren McCoubrey. I didn't know Jo before, but Warren is an old acquaintance, once being part of the famous Marble Arch Brewing team that brought you Manchester Bitter and Pint. He speaks (rightly) very highly of Dominic Driscoll, now brewing for Thornbridge and James Campbell, Head Brewer of Cloudwater, so we were off to a flying start. Jo turned out to be great fun and with a couple of local lasses joining us, it was a jolly little crowd that set about learning about Budvar and supping the beer. For my part, though I had had tank Budvar in Prague, it was some time ago and I wanted to compare and contrast. The beer itself is malty and bittersweet with a good Saaz hop finish. It is easy to drink and its 90 day maturation period does give a deeply rich and satisfying flavour.
So, did I prefer Budvar or Urquell? Well, they are different beers entirely, but I would say that each has its place. I like Urquell for its sheer drinkability, its distinct spicy hoppiness and yes, even that slight diacetyl edge that somehow enhances the beer. Budvar is more sophisticated in its taste, maltier and somehow a little more steely. Take your pick really. Neither will disappoint.
A big thanks to our hosts Warren, Jo (and Caroline from chip PR who ensured a constant steam of Budvar) for lots of wit and repartee. This wasn't so much a beer tasting as a natter among friends. We both enjoyed it enormously.
Budvar Tankové Pivo is available in the Oast House at around a fiver a pop. When E and I called a couple of weeks later, it was flying out. Job done. People like it.
No, not me. I'm falling to bits. Beer I mean. Well cask conditioned beer that is. Does anyone remember that cask conditioned beer used to be called, among other things, cask matured beer? Well it did and there was a reason for that. It tasted better if you left it for a bit before venting and serving it.
The landlord of our pub had a cask of JW Lees latest seasonal beer, Kaleidoscope, which he's kept in the cellar for an extra week. It was rather good. Too often beer is just dropped bright then served. If it has not undergone any maturation time in the brewery cellar - and that's unlikely these days in a lot of cases - then it is likely to be thinner and less tasty that it might have been had it been given some time. I remember giving the Landlady such advice years ago when she was the Boss in our little boozer.
So landlords, there are many tips I can give about keeping cask ale, but this one is easy, technically at least. If you can get get a week ahead in the cellar - and I know it costs - it is very likely that as long as you keep your cellar at the correct temperature, then you will serve much better cask beer.
Keeping cask beer is easy as long as you follow the basics. No real excuses for not doing so.
A local brewer of some repute sent me a direct twitter message last week to advise me that he had complaints from a pub about his beer. When he went to the pub, the cellar was at 20C. See what I mean?
I'm quite a fan of JD Wetherspoon though I'll readily admit its many faults, but on the whole, I quite like what they do. People do call it a vast monolith that sucks the life out of other pubs, but I for one never forget that not so many years ago, there wasn't a single one. They have been built by one man and who can grudge such business flair that consistently gives a lot of people what they want? Not me.
Now back to these faults which can manifest themselves differently in different places. I'm not expert on the JDW pubs in Scotland outside the centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh, but like their pubs in England, they vary and usually vary down to the competence or otherwise of the manager. As in all businesses, good managers bring flair, direction, purpose and enthusiasm. Take these away and you have a bad pub. Recently I was visiting my old mother in
my home town of Dumbarton. Now Dumbarton isn't a wealthy town. The
Wetherspoons there,theCaptain James Lang, only opened just over three years ago and it has added a lot to the town. Mothers and old ladies love it for coffee in the mornings. Old soaks like the prices, though I don't detect the same hard cadre of 9 a.m. John Smith's drinkers we get here in Middleton. It sells cask ale for the first time in Dumbarton since I left over 30 years ago and here's the point. No bugger drinks it. I have tried when I visit and every time I have ordered a pint, I'm assailed by vinegar and the beer is "taken off". I'm offered a replacement with the same results. Frankly if you don't drink Tennents Lager, get out of town I shudder to think of the wastage rates.
On the following night I took the family for something to eat - no, not at the Captain James Lang despite the fact that there is less choice to eat in Dumbarton than you'd get in a Welsh Chip Shop - but to a carvery run by Crown Carveries, a subsidiary of Mitchells and Butlers. The venue displays a Cask Marque sign outside, so all will be well? No, it won't. This time I asked for a taster. The Deuchars IPA was vinegar. The barmaid offered to pour some off as no-one had had any for "a few days". I declined and looking at the pumps, ordered a Heineken. No dice - "that's just for show". So, a pint of Tennents was ordered. The chatty barmaid explained that only Tennents and Guinness sell and that they have told M&B repeatedly that no-one drinks real ale, or Coors, or Heineken, but it seems it is a standard offer, so no changes. The barmaid said disparagingly "They are English - they don't get here. Just wasting their money."
The Pub Curmudgeon recently wrote about this subject here. I agree. What is the point of selling real ale where clearly there is no demand? There is none. You have to grow a cask market and you won't do it by selling them vinegar and cask, in what is already stony ground for it, will get an even worse reputation. A downward circle of death. That is not to say that you can't do something - you can - but you need to start off slowly, have offers and tastings, educate and encourage. If you don't do that you are lost. Maybe M&B and Timbo should take a good look at their Scottish outlets. The market is different there and they should cut their cloth accordingly.
As always, "It's the offer Stupid."
Why didn't I eat with the family in JDW? Because I had an atrocious meal there when I had the duff beer. No prizes for saying which eggs were cooked by my 84 year old mother and which by JDW. And no, I'm not saying either company should give up on real ale in Scotland, but apply a bit more individual thought and intelligence according to location.
The carvery was really rather good and great value.
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.
This blog mentions specifics; pubs and beer, good and bad. The opinions will be forthright, but you can always disagree, just don't be offended. Comments from those mentioned are particularly welcome and a right of reply is hereby offered.
Read my information and links and then decide for yourself. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes.
If you wish to email me you can do so by using this address: tandleman[at]yahoo.co.uk
These are the life blood of any blog. Please feel free to comment. I do not practice censorship if you stick to the point, but personal insults are frowned upon and may result in deletion. Anonymous entries may have the piss taken out of them or be deleted.
Beer samples are welcome, but I cannot guarantee a good review. You, the brewer, on the other hand can.
I do not currently accept adverts on this site, but if you feel so inclined, make me an offer. If you wish me to wear your brewery stuff, great. XXL please
The contents of this blog represent the personal views of the author only. They do not represent CAMRA policy in any way whatsoever.
The contents of this site and individual articles may not be reproduced in whole without the express permission of the author and will require an appropriate credit. Extracts may be reproduced with a credit to the author.