Friday 29 July 2022

A Quick Catch Up





It occurred to me that, with the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF)looming large in my thoughts, a catch-up of what I have been up to wouldn't be a bad idea. 

In Manchester, this week, I was invited to the official unveiling of a new collaboration between JW Lees and Cloudwater Brewery, held at Lees Rain Bar.  The enjoyment of these things isn't wholly the beer - though this was more than interesting - but the chance to meet up with people.  I had excellent chats with Lees MD William Lees-Jones about the industry in general and with Paul Jones from Cloudwater about the crowded craft beer market among other things. Great stuff. My friends from Lees Brewing Team were also on hand to talk about the beer. Yes the beer.  Not Quite Pale... the star of the show, is a DDH beer of 5.2%.  I had it on cask, though a keg version was also available, and if you like your beer bitter, well this is right up your street. I fear though this beer, brewed in Lees Boilerhouse Brewery, might be hard to come by, as only 10 barrels were brewed.  Certainly one to look out for. The Simcoe and Strata hops made their presence felt for sure.

A fine selection of Boilerhouse beers were also on offer and I can say without a doubt that Lees know how to brew a very good lager or three. Manchester Pilsner was a stunningly good beer with a spicy pepper Tettnang finish, while others sang  the praises of Light Lager with its Mount Hood hops.  More of these, please.

So let's move back in time a bit and to my last trip to London a few short weeks ago.  The reason for this visit was to judge beer in the World Beer Awards, which I've been doing for a few years now.  This was the first face to face meeting for some time, and it was notable that quite a few badges hadn't been collected by expected judges. Covid or travel difficulties - take your pick, but it seemed a bit depleted to me.  My fellow judge in our table of two was Pete Brown, and to be fair to both of us, we made a pretty good fist of what we had to do. This kind of gig isn't all a bed of roses, and, by way of illustration, by the time we'd judged a flight of 13 Belgian Style Triples - all brewed in France -we were certainly in need of something a tad more interesting. I'll save my thoughts on beer judging in general to another day, but it was great to see many folks that I knew and that made it worthwhile, as is the opportunity to pit yourself against some very talented beer judges, many of whom are professional brewers.

The night before the beer judging, on this flying visit, I decided to nip down to Farringdon to visit one of my favourite London pubs, the Sutton Arms. I went via Barbican and stepping out from the station on the very direct route to Great Sutton St, I noted that I was passing another Sutton Arms, in Carthusian St. "Two Sutton Arms in one night I thought?" Why not? So after my usual pleasant visit to my "normal" Sutton Arms, I nipped in on the way back.  Let's just say it wasn't a great success, the welcome and service being a lot less than desirable. I actually filled in Fullers online feedback form while I was still there.  Rapidly I received an apology, but you only have one chance to make a first impression and I doubt if I'll go back for the compensatory free pint I've been offered. And in these difficult times, that really is the point. 

By way of contrast, after the beer judging, with a couple of fellow judges we went to another Fullers pub, the Warwick Arms.  Rather an appealing little pub, and there we were greeted with utmost friendliness and charm. The landlady couldn't have been nicer, discussing the guest beer and offering tastings while checking on our wellbeing from time to time. The young bar staff were equally pleasant, and we stayed a lot longer than we intended.  You see, as I always say "It's the offer Stupid". And being nice always works.  

And so to GBBF.  Continuing the theme, I'm looking forward to seeing many people I know and hoping my dodgy knee will stand up to days of serving the thirsty hordes. I'll be working on German and Czech bar as usual, so come and say hello.

 I've had a look at the list of beers in the festival and there are some crackers.  It should be fab.

Don't listen to any moaning about price. For £20 you get a glass, a programme and a couple of halves and the chance to see me.  Compared to the average craft beer festival, we are giving it away!


Friday 15 July 2022

Banging on for Years

The Dear Old Morning Advertiser published an article today about one of my favourite subjects.  Keeping cask beer.  It referred to Greene King joining in a campaign to re-instate cask beer to its rightful place as a unique product.  The article was part of a MA initiative called the Cask Project,  "a bid to re-energise the category and reinstall it in pride of place on the bar of pubs throughout the country."

The MA goes on to say that "Cask beer is in long-time decline and, having joined forces with some of the UK’s leading cask beer suppliers – Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company, Greene King, Sharp’s Brewery and St Austell – we want to reinvigorate attitudes within the trade to a product which should be rightly cherished by operators." All well and good, I'd say, though they seem to be aiming this campaign at younger drinkers, who are on the whole distrustful of the product, no doubt through bitter experience of getting a bad pint and being put off for life. The points made and the laudable aims however really do apply to all us cask beer drinkers, whether callow youth or grey haired old devotees.

Now, getting further into this project of good intentions, I was very disappointed to read a rather scant set of tips to keep cask better in the pub. This, by St Austell's Trade Quality Manager, has either suffered from an over vicious edit, or is just not sharp and detailed enough to be of real use. Moving on, I won't go into too much negative comment about premiumisation, except to say that cask beer to be at its best, no matter how good the cellar  keeping is, depends almost wholly on turnover. Assuming the beer is presented as it should be,  that is the key to cask success, and it can rarely be achieved by charging top dollar for a product often served at less than its best.

One thing from Greene King's new head of brewery customer engagement, John Malone in today's piece that I thoroughly agree with though, is the statement from Greene King that "Younger drinkers aren’t choosing cask and if we can’t guarantee there’s a 99.9% chance of getting a perfect pint every time then we’re not doing ourselves any favours."  With the proviso that it applies to all of us drinkers, well said. Happily, I can report that the rest of his article which can be read here is brimming with good stuff.  I was particularly struck by the fact that new Greene King licensees are all given a comprehensive cellar management course - I wonder if the existing one are -  and the general good sense contained in the article. Logically, you now know that if you get a duff pint in a GK pub, you can refer the case John Malone. 

Finally, in this unusual peon of praise to Greene King, can I commend to you one final thing. John says; "I think there’s a perception that cask is a really difficult product to keep, but that isn’t the case. There can be a few key things that can lead to less-than-perfect quality pints being served over the bar, but if you get the basics right, it really isn’t that hard at all."

Exactly what I have been saying for years. Just have a look through blogs passim for evidence of that.

I really hope that GK and the others supporting this initiative carry on with what they are doing.  Such a campaign needs ongoing support.

I recommend to you also this fab video by Black Sheep Brewery and Maisie Adams. If you haven't seen it, be sure to do so. If you have, be sure to tell others about it.

Friday 1 July 2022

Two Fab Pubs

 I had a couple of pints with an old mate of mine yesterday. As this was to be an uncomplicated affair, we met outside the Lower Turk's Head in Shudehill, at my request. You see, I rather fancied a pint of Joseph Holt's Mild and there it is sold. Now the LTH is a fairly recently acquirement by Messrs Holt, and it has been done up rather traditionally, and rather well too, in my opinion.  Of course, such makeovers and purchases must be funded, therefore it is by no means cheap by Holt's standards. In fact, a pint of mild was a rather pricey £3.95. This for a 3.2% beer. Oh, well. The weather was decent enough and as we supped and chatted, we watched the comings and goings of the bus station opposite, and the many passers-by. The beer was in excellent condition and the outside eating conducive to contentment, so to even things up, we had another.

Now just a few doors away is the much adored Hare and Hounds, one of the finest traditional pubs in Manchester.  No mild on there, but Joseph Holt's fine bitter at a mere £2.90 a pint. A not unwelcome saving of £2.10 a round. This was in even better nick - in fact remarkably so given that the mild earlier was no disappointment, and we enjoyed a few pints together in the company of a fellow CAMRA worthy of our long-standing acquaintance, who had just popped in for one.  Service here is swift and friendly, as indeed it was in the LTH.  Now, what point am I making? I'm not really sure, but I suppose it is that a quirk of free versus tied trade pricing, allowed us to drink Holt's beers much more cheaply than in an adjacent Holt's house.

So which did I prefer? Beerwise? The Bitter was superb and the Mild not far behind. Pubwise? Well, possibly the Hare and Hounds, as it is the kind of pub that is all too rare these days - a simple drinking house - unchanged, and none the worse for that - even on an afternoon sans geriatric cabaret.* But don't let the price put you off drinking Holt's Mild or other fine Holt's beers in the Lower Turk's Head.  It is all good stuff, and it's a smashing pub in its own right.

In fact, go to both. You won't regret visiting either one.

We watched some shocking and blatant littering too. Some Manchester citizens should be ashamed of themselves. My companion shouted at them to no avail, but at least nobody stabbed us.

Factoid. Within a five-minute walk from there, you can sample beer from all Manchester's large brewers - Holts, Hydes, Lees and Robinsons. 

* Enquire within.