Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Not Pure Dead Brilliant


Scotland is still somewhat of a desert for real ale, though it is improving greatly. There are certainly pockets of glory such as Edinburgh, where you can sup as well as anywhere in the UK, but over in the West, this is less so. Where cask isn't king, you may well run into problems in the quality of the beer served, particularly as less busy times.

Sadly my visit last week was a succession of lows with very few highs. I won't bore you with too many details except to say it rarely reached the heights that perfect cask conditioning, combined with quick turnover will give. Bad samples were encountered over four days in the Drum and Monkey, the Counting House, Camperdown Place, the Captain James Lang, the Henry Bell, the State Bar, Hengstler's Circus and the Horseshoe Bar.  None of the beer in these places was undrinkable.  In CAMRA National Beer Scoring Scheme parlance, it varied for between and 1 and a 2:

1.  Poor. Beer that is anything from barely drinkable to drinkable with considerable resentment.
2. Average. Competently kept, drinkable pint but doesn't inspire in any way, not worth moving to another pub but you drink the beer without really noticing.

Now it wouldn't be fair not to mention the honourable exceptions.  The Bon Accord in keeping with its venerable tradition of serving real ale* provided beer in excellent condition and a special mention must go to the Dunbartonshire CAMRA Pub of the Year, the Ashton in Helensburgh which, on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, supplied top notch beer from the nearby Loch Lomond Brewery despite me being the only customer drinking it. Top marks too for friendliness, though you could add that praise to quite a few of the Glasgow pubs. The beer might have let me down but the customers certainly didn't. People DO make Glasgow.

So, what's the cause?  Lack of turnover in the midweek most likely and  Tennents Lager. In every pub, even the two I praised, everyone (more or less) was scooping the old TL down for fun. And it looked fun too.  You'll struggle to keep real ale well where the demand is so slack.  In addition, too many of the pubs had too many beers on and not enough people drinking them. I don't envy the job the Campaign has to do in Scotland. They've made great inroads, but it is a bit of an uphill task you know.  They've been drinking lager there for more years than most.  The history of lager drinking in Scotland goes back a very long way indeed.

It seems to have a bright present too.


* I had my first ever pint of cask beer in here in 1974 and no apologies for banging on about beer quality yet again. I will continue to do so. It is an obsession of mine.

In JDW pubs the beer was cheap. As low as £1.49 in Dumbarton, £1.79 in Helensburgh and just above £2 in Glasgow.  And it still wasn't shifting.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Tapping in to Leeds


More serendipity for me. Reading about the new(ish) Tapped in Leeds one morning in Beer Magazine and visiting it unexpectedly the next day.  This is getting spooky.  I used to work in Leeds and still visit it now and then. One such time was a couple of Saturdays ago while E was having her hair done. I accompanied her and had three hours to myself. A pleasant 45 minute walk from Headingley through student territory took me to the City Centre. Plenty of people watching on the way added to an interesting downhill stroll.

Friends of Ham, much lauded in various Leedsy blogs was a tiny place when I last visited it, but now it seems to have doubled or more in size. At just before one o'clock it was packed with a mixed crowd scoffing Iberian porcine products and not a few drinkers.  There was around three cask beers and a number of keg ones and brisk, friendly service. I didn't notice any obtrusive music and the place was abuzz with conversation. Big ticks all round. A bonus was bumping into two of my lads scouting out the place for our forthcoming CAMRA Branch crawl of Leeds. The dedication of these people knows no bounds. I joined them for a quick half of something dark and delicious. It was in peak condition as you'd expect in Leeds. OK they served it in those daft dimpled mugs, but one can't have everything.

However delightful as Friends of Ham was, I wanted to visit Tapped, just across the road in Boar Lane. This is a large beer hall sort of place. Large windows out front let in (surprisingly little) light. There are tall tables in rows, a long bar, subdued lighting and a small, shiny brewery down one side along the wall.  It was again bustling, but service was quick and pleasant and the beer choice was good.  I didn't count the taps, American style against the bar wall, but I'm sure in mid twenties, evenly distributed between cask and keg.  Beers were competitively priced and the cask in immaculate condition. I enjoyed Brewsmith Pale Ale from my own area and Anarchy, brewed on the premises which was "unfined" but clear as a bell. Any bum notes? Only the ghastly "chick chick" bass music that was both unwelcome and unnecessary. Still great though and well done.

Time was drawing on though. I had to be outside the Palace (my old Leeds local) to meet the newly coiffured E in an hour and I still had to visit that venerable and excellent institution, Leeds Market for some vittals. That done it was time for a couple of swift halves in the Palace. Alas no Ind Coope Burton Ale, but I was able to contrast and compare London's Redemption Pale Ale served Northern style with what happens to it in its native territory.  It was like drinking a different beer, subtle hops, good malt base, well conditioned, sparkled and cellar temperature. Tick, tick, tick. The Palace was busy too, the beer was good and I left for my lift in good cheer.  I'd tried around eight beers and all were different and all were good. I'm looking forward to our day out there at the end of the month. These days I always look for some kind of conclusion to draw from my all too few days out. This time it is that Leeds is still great for well kept cask beer. The people behind the various "Taps" really know what they are doing and that the Manchester one(s) will be a great success when they open in the next couple of months.

It also reinforces in my mind that there is nothing difficult at all in keeping and presenting cask beer well. You need a cellar between 10 and 13C, insulated beer lines and beer which has not been over-vented. And above all  you actually need to know what you are doing, but you can learn the basics in ten minutes and then build on it.

Brewers of  "London Murky" style beers please note that unfined beer is not enhanced by the electric soup approach. Unfined does not have to equal murky.  See photo.

I didn't try any of the keg beers. Why bother when the cask is so good?  It is still a distress purchase for me by and large. Lager excepted.


Monday, 9 February 2015

Dark Doings


It a bit of neat symmetry, I read the article in the most recent Beer Magazine in which two different CAMRA members argue the case about the merits of supporting beer styles like mild with their own promotion etc. just before I visited JW Lees Horton Arms, a neat pub tucked under the motorway bridge in leafy Chadderton, a two-bus bus ride away from my house. Now the Horton Arms is an old haunt of mine from years ago and it was often referred to when in the Good Beer Guide, as a bit of a country style pub. It attracted a staunchly local crowd and was traditional in internal appearance, with horse brasses and paraphernalia on the walls, a separate room at the side as you went in which often showed sports, a beer garden used mainly by smokers and internally consisted of a number of distinct drinking areas attracting different customer types. It was always bright and gleaming and popular with a mainly beer drinking crowd, although food was available lunchtimes. It has been a Lees tenancy for years.

We'd arranged to meet some friends there as none of us had really been there since it was done up not that long ago - well I had on a busy Sunday where you couldn't really see much of the changes, such was the crowd - and anyway, it just seemed worth checking out. It isn't a million miles form my own local and we all know some of the Horton regulars from our visits there and their visits to our gaff, so an amenable visit was in store. Unusually this pub used to be a bit of a bastion of "mixed" where mild and bitter, half of each, is served in a pint glass. Talking to one of the locals, it still is it seems and back to my original theme, it means that cask mild is available. I decided to have a pint of mild to start with, or rather Brewer's Dark as it is known now. Things started badly with the barmaid starting to pour me Dark Smooth. That was easily sorted out, but here's a tip for publicans selling cask and smooth versions of the same beer: always serve cask if the customer doesn't specify (I did by the way, but you win some, lose some). Not only will it increase cask sales, but it means you sell the more perishable product first. Tell your bar staff this, save money and increase beer quality.  Obvious and simples really?

Now Lees Mild is a former Champion Mild of Britain and this renamed beer is the same recipe.  Boy did it show up well here. Rich, luscious, full bodied with a tight creamy head, it was Guinness like in appearance, though a mile ahead in taste. We got chatting to some old friends and as time passed and the buses were only hourly, hung on longer than intended. I certainly can't remember when I last had six pints of mild in a row, but that was a night I did  - and every one was delicious too. What of the re-vamped pub? Not so much to my taste to be honest and both the rather intrusive "musak" and the vast array of "reserved" signs showed that the emphasis had changed from drinking to eating, with all of the pub, apart from one small area in the corner, now being eating territory only. Reserved signs and knives and forks on the tables ram home the message. The non eating locals and visitors alike were restricted to the allotted non eating corner, or to a row of poseur tables in front of the bar, which just seemed to get in everyone's way. But this, funnily enough,  isn't a criticism as such. I bear in mind that it was a Friday evening and things may well be less prescriptive at other times. You also have to take into account that this is a tenancy and before you blame the brewery, have to bear in mind that changes will be as much the will of the tenant as anything else.  If  it  works for them, pays the rent and leaves some money over, then that is a sound decision.  It is a business after all and while it may not entirely suit me or some others, it clearly suits plenty of folks looking for a good value, good quality place to eat. If tables have to be reserved, its popularity cannot and should not be denied and the food looked great too.

So what conclusions do I draw? Well that mild is still a tremendous and under-rated drink that deserves to be more widely available and if kept as well as it was here, an absolute joy.  So I come down on the side of CAMRA supporting it. Secondly, that while change may be unwelcome in a pub you liked just as it was, it doesn't do to forget that a pub is a business that needs to make money for those that invest in it.  It can't stand still or it will surely close its doors.

Both licensees and customers should overlook that at their peril.

We did, unwisely, step off our bus home (the second of two) a couple of stops early for more beer. A veil should be drawn over that error of judgement.

There is overwhelming support for the changes at the Horton on review websites. 9th out of 212 on Tripadvisor I'd say is a point proven.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Advent at Forchheim


Forchheim isn't just one of those charming Franconian towns that dominate the area between Bamberg and Nuremburg.  It is though, like many, picture postcard pretty, but in addition it has great interest to the beer traveller as the home of no less than four breweries.  But we aren't here for the beer - well not entirely. We are here to watch the unveiling of the Town Hall Advent Calendar window. The venerable Rathaus uses its many windows as the Schönster Adventskalender der Welt (“World’s Loveliest Advent calendar”). And, lit up with Christmas lights, in a fairy tale setting, it is indeed lovely. A decent sized Christmas Market, the inevitable mulled wine and bratwurst stands, an easy going and expectant crowd and a small funfair all add to the feeling of bonhomie - or rather gemütlichkeit.  The fairly large crowds, jostle for views in that polite but determined German way. There are happy children snaking around the stand up tables and there is even beer - not as common as you might suppose at Christmas Markets in Germany. No rip off prices here either, with a half litre of local pils at €2 and 50 cents back when you return the bottle.  There was a band too and an over cheerful MC who attempted to whip the crowd into a frenzy. At the appointed time, spotlighted from another building, a local schoolgirl, dolled up to the nines, opened the appropriate Rathaus window, waved to the crowd and made a charming speech to much good natured applause. The air was full of sizzling sausages, wine, donuts, pizza and Christmas cheer. In the cold, crisp December air, it was just perfect.

But man does not live by such bucolic scenes alone. We made our way to one of my favourite hostelries for proper beer.  The pub and brewery, Brauerei Neder,  is typically German. Seemingly small on the outside, but with a Tardis like interior. The side door to the main room was locked, so we made our way through the noisy corridor where it seemed everyone was smoking furiously and probably illegally, to the far door where we fought our way in.  We were immediately taken in hand by the female server, who said one word: "Zwo?" I nod and she snakes her way through the throng to the front of the pub and orders a group of drinkers to make room.  They do and we are told where to sit - edged against the locked door with a perfect view of the beer servery and the whole room. A prime spot.  Two beers are brought without further ado. Broadly in the kellerbier style, totally delicious and a mere €1.90 a pop.

Outside it is cold, but inside it is steamingly warm.  A couple of accordion playing dudes are giving Deutsche Blasmusik their all, while the crowd - some of them at least -  sing along, or tap their tables enthusiastically. Along the front of the pub, which somehow seems like the back wall, a group are playing Skat - or it could be Schafkopf, both of which are popular German card games of impenetrable rules, that, whichever it is, involve a lot of noisy shouting and table thumping.  Some play and others bawl encouragement or derision at the players from the sidelines. They compete happily with the accordionists and nobody seems to care. In the midst of all this good natured chaos, our matronly saviour slaps down half litre stone pots of beer as soon as an empty one is laid on its side - the signal from the thirsty that another is required. She is kept very busy.  Our tablemates, by now used to our presence, nod to us. Another one arrives and squeezes in, tapping with his knuckles on the table at our position. The unspoken greeting of Franconia.

We look at the crowd and having been there before, the odd face starts to look familiar.  There are some, shall we say,  rather individual types in this town that aren't easily forgotten. One or two raise their steins to us and we beam back. I'm watching the mystifying card game when E nudges me. "I've pulled!"   An elderly gent smiles and winks at her. She smiles and toasts him.  It is harmless fun. And great fun it is too.  Soon we are lucky enough to hear a song we know on the squeeze box. Along with the crowd we roar out "Eins Zwei Zuffa". This is more commonly sung in the Hobraühaus in Munich and here the words are adapted to be local, but we know the tune and sort of know the words, so we sing.  It is so German, so Franconian and just a sheer pleasure to be a small part of it. We are the only two there that aren't local, yet we feel welcome. And happy.  My stein is placed on its side more than once. This beer slips down easily.

All too soon though the musical duo cease their merry din.  The set and indeed the act is over. I come across them at the back, when going for a pee. Now off duty, but still with their instruments strung across their chests as if ready to swing back into action, they are knocking back the same beer as everyone else, young or old, male or female. That's just how it is. We look on this interlude as a cue to depart, though we don't go far. Almost next door is Brauerei Hebendanz where there is a much more sedate crowd, but again, no obvious seats. We are once more taken in hand by the Boss. He finds us a corner and brings us, unbidden, two beers.  We sup contentedly and are nodded to cheerily by our table companions.

Social inclusion. That's the secret to it all. Even when you aren't obviously part of it, you are. 

Forchheim is on the main Nuremburg - Bamberg rail line. It is about 20 odd minutes from Bamberg and half an hour from Nuremberg.

We also chalked up the only brewery I hadn't visited before as it has always been closed, Brauerei Eichhorn, but that was early doors and it was almost empty.

Friday, 30 January 2015

You Can Only Please Some People a Bit


You may or may not have noticed a Twitter spat between me and a guy called Mark Johnson.  Who's that then? He writes a blog called Beer Compurgation - no I don't know what the word means either.  What's the big deal? Well not a lot in many ways and certainly not as much as has been made out on Twitter. It arose by my response to Matt Curtis and his fulsome praise for a blog piece about the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival for which I am the Deputy Organiser.  Now this wasn't an overly critical piece (but see below) and apart from repeating rubbish about being "lied to" at the previous year's festival, was fairly innocuous.  Given that the writer actually said some nice things too, why am I bothering with this then?

Among other things, it's that thing about being lied to again.  Accusing people of being mistaken, or just plain wrong or daft is one thing, accusations of lying are another. It was toned down a little this time to "pretence" - one of the dictionary definitions of which is "lying", but there you go.  What was our offence this time you ask?  Well it seem that our arrangement with Henshaws Society, a charity for blind people, has caused a red mist to fall once again. It seems that it was suggested to Mr Johnson by those selling the programme, that the money went to charity.

"Secondly, the programmes were being sold to people under the pretence that the money goes to charity. The latter has all the credibility of a BBC phone-in donation.

The actual arrangements were that the charity got 10p per programme for the first 3000 sold and 25p thereafter. This was the deal they negotiated with us. They sold the programmes on our behalf and no doubt wished to maximise numbers sold. From their point of view it was "for charity".   Funnily enough, as the person responsible for the foyer, I didn't hear anyone say once that it was all for charity, but there you go. Even though we handed over the responsibility for programme selling to the charity, we will ensure in future that they brief their volunteers correctly. (As an aside, the programme, no less that 64 (high quality paper) pages, was sold for a bargain £1. Hardly a rip off given the effort that went into it and the extensive tasting notes. Its costs were not all covered by adverts by any means as suggested and a fixed amount per programme goes to the publisher too - these are complicated deals.) The cloakrooms were operated by Henshaws again.  The Velodrome has only one. We bought or acquired the kit for a second, including the racks and hangars. Out of each pound spent, the charity got 80p. The rest covered our costs.  The implication that CAMRA decided to deceive over this is just not true.

 It doesn’t sit right with me, sorry. I’m sure Henshaws raised a lot of charity money this year. I bet another organisation earned more" 

I don't actually know who made most from these two activities, but since the entire operation was handed over to the charity, we'll have to wait and see.  Not that it would actually matter, as long as that was what was negotiated and agreed upon.  Even if we did make money from it, that's our aim.  No apologies for that. Our expenses are enormous, as is our exposure to risk. The charity was happy with their cut and our aim in involving them was to delegate a task or two and to allow them to make more money for charity than just shaking buckets under noses.  They are in their second year with us and are very happy indeed with the relationship.

We weren’t lied to over tannoy systems this year and they actually remembered to sell beer too. I told them at the end of last year’s post to come back and be better and it worked. They listened to many and learnt from all. They can be taught.

There we go again. Last year's comments about lying are slipped in again, even though they were systematically rebutted at the time. Let's make it clear one more time. Firstly Metrolink always closes the Velodrome Tram Stop for an hour after Manchester City's home games. That's what we announced last year. Metrolink did the same this year. It is their Standard Operating Procedure. Secondly, we ran out of beer last year, because more people turned up than we'd expected and budgeted for. This year we didn't run out - at a pretty big cost to us in discarded beer - because we knew we'd need more - a fact we didn't know the year before, never having been there.   Mr Johnson was pleased though we had plenty of beer, but it isn't that simple. Judging the amount of perishable cask beer is not an exact science. Nobody wants to run out and nobody wants to send hundreds of gallons of good beer down the sluice, which is what we have to do if we get it wrong. Selling cask beer in volume to an uncertain audience is squeaky bum time for us all.  We take it very seriously and certainly try to run that fine line between too little and too much.

Despite his (tongue in cheek I hope) claim of influence, Mr Johnson told us nothing that we hadn't figured out for ourselves. It was better because we used our experience of the first event to make it so, and will use our experience of this event to make it better next time.  We will also listen to the large number of constructive comments too - including the charity one above - which when you strip the insinuation out, is actually a lesson learned. Thanks for that at least.  We'll know more next time too. Continuous refinement and improvement is the name of the game for us.

Moving on. If you read the article I mildly complained about, you'll see it is full of snide remarks.  I for one don't let such things go unanswered when I have had a hand in the event criticised and know how complicated it is. (As a further aside, an event that expects 11,000 people is fiendishly difficult to organise). I am concerned that the few that read Beer Compurgation and didn't attend the event, might be incorrectly influenced by it.  That is why I said "Hmm. Not really" and why I am putting the record straight now. 

A good example of a snide remark is this:

How was the beer not available at the beginning of the festival? "We haven’t finished setting up yet." Oh for God’s sake…

Shocking isn't it that in this huge logistical operation, that we can't get everything done on time and provide Mr Johnson's first choice beer, from over 500, from the get go.  Never mind that people had slaved away for five days to set it all up.  "Oh for God's sake"  is the kind of thoughtless throwaway remark that just makes you want to give up and frankly the whole piece is littered with such sarky asides.

Finally Mr Johnson's allegation that CAMRA seem to be making money out of the festival is absolutely true. Astonishingly, we do try and make money and any we do make goes straight to CAMRA HQ to, err, campaign for real ale.

Despite this, no less than 360 beers were sold at £3 a pint or less, CAMRA Members had free admission at all times except Friday night and apart from Friday, it was just £3 to get in. (£2 with a Metrolink ticket).  Average price of a pint was £3.07,  way cheaper than comparable free houses in Manchester. We'll try and fix these over-measures too - thanks for pointing it out.

Two more tweets to think about:
Point one: I hope this is constructive enough and point two: That's good in principle, but sometimes you need to look a little deeper, read between the lines and check the record too.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Live From the Velodrome


Well it is all getting there. Setting up a big beer festival like Manchester Beer and Cider Festival - see links  in previous post - is a marathon rather than a sprint. When you expect over 12,000 people, there is a huge logistical operation.  In fact serving the customers is the relatively straightforward bit. Getting a few thousand pieces of kit to click together really isn't straightforward at all.

There is always something new too, just to throw you a bit. This year we have to contend with, for example, the new laws on allergen advice.  Given that no-one is an actual expert on the 14 different categories, we have to do our best to get it right. And we will, but it is just one more thing sent to try us.  Today is (nearly) final set up and then we have to tidy away all the boxes, spares and other gubbins we don't need or need later. Bar Managers will make final adjustments, stalls will stock up, coolers will be checked and a million other things. I'll be doing the Health and Safety check later today and again tomorrow to finally ensure we are safe to go.

The good fun starts tomorrow with the trade session which to me is the best of all simply because it is a chance to meet up with old friends from the trade and have a natter and a pint.

I'll hopefully keep you all informed.

I really do recommend it and it will be great fun.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A Few Minor Things



Given that Manchester Beer and Cider Festival is for us that are seriously involved in it, a constant companion, I am likely to have even less time to blog, considering the beer deliveries start this Friday.  However, as I'm waiting for yet another festival related phone call, here's a few beery matters that have caught my interest this week.

Firstly, readers may remember this post from September 2010 where I complained that I dislike being greeted at the bar when approaching by "You all right there?" in lieu of actually saying something along the lines of  "What can I get you?".  Despite it grating for the last two years since I first wrote that it got on my nerves (allowing things to get on your nerves is one of the few joys of growing old by the way) I have borne repeated manifestations of it with dignity, forbearance and patience.  I tried a new tactic though in a well known local hostelry last Friday night.  It was the same one mentioned in the original post where it has become endemic.  When asked this I responded "I'm fine thanks. How are you?"  The slightly taken aback barmaid responded with "I'm great thanks. What can I get you?"   It was a victory of sorts and I may try it again or just lapse back into unspoken resentment. Not sure which.

On Saturday I was in rather a nice pub to chair the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival Organising Meeting. The Deansgate had very pleasant staff, a good atmosphere, lots of nooks, crannies and distinct drinking areas and the beer was spot on temperature and condition wise. I rather liked it, but since other comments on the web indicate it is a free house, I wonder why there was just three Thwaites beers on at a rather hefty £3.70 a pint.  Incidentally, talking of Thwaites, has anyone else found that the Banks' brewed Wainwright is rather an improvement on the Wainwright that Thwaites brewed in Blackburn when they brewed it themselves?  I know from conversations with the now retired Head Brewer who designed it, that it was meant to have a degree of sweetness throughout. My findings are that Banks has dried the beer out somewhat giving a much more refreshing drink.  For me at least, it is improved - which is rarely the case when a beer is contract brewed - but then again, I regard Banks' as one of the best breweries in the Marstons Group.

Another pub I hadn't been to for ages was the Knott Bar more less across the road. This is under a railway arch and is a mix of traditional and trendy which is evolutionary rather than contrived. It works well and I'd forgotten just how good it is. Excellent beer there from a number of breweries (I enjoyed Acorn Blonde but Marble Ginger less so). All comfortably under £3.70 a pop too.  I'll be back. Of course no trip to Manchester is complete without a trip to the Marble Arch.  It wasn't my idea, as we'd really enjoyed a stout (can't remember whose) in the Angel and I would have liked another, but I was dragged there by companions.  A singer was just setting up, which I found odd as I'd never known it to be a place that has live music. It was jammed - though whether that was the attraction of the singer or not I don't know.

None of us enjoyed the beer that much though. Maybe we'd just had enough? I'll try it again soon and report back.

It was good to see all the pubs I visited on Saturday so busy. Dry January? Not on this evidence.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Real Ale at Home


I usually have a small party for family and friends over the holiday period and when I do, I always put a nine of beer on.  Given that I am somewhat involved in the beer business, I don't have any problems getting more or less any beer I care to and I have the kit to serve it.  I also like to think I know enough about what I'm doing to serve it in tip top condition.  But you know it is a worry. I've looked after countless casks of beer, including in pub cellars, but the one you are serving to friends is always the one you fret over.

It was a trifle colder than I'd have liked over the period it was conditioning, but I had time and the beer did condition well and drop bright too.  The day before the gig, it seemed slightly flatter than I'd like, but a rise in temperature and a little heat in the garage  brought it to a fine peak for the event itself.  In fact the condition was perfect which was a relief.

Clearly it's a better way to do things than have a few tinnies or bottles and folks love it, not only because it is better to drink draught beer, but they get the pleasure of pouring their own pint, a feat that seems to give satisfaction way beyond the simple act itself.  Naturally the beer was served through the tightest of sparklers and you know what? Spillage into the drip tray was less than a pint.  My usual drinking buddies of course had done it before and had no issues, but even those unused to it managed well.  I suppose Northern ale drinkers have observed it so often that it is more or less bred in the bone. It was supped in no time of course, but I noted the constant trail in and out of the garage and ensured I got the odd pint myself.

Cask beer at home. Lovely. I recommend it if the circumstances permit. And you only have one empty to get rid of.

Wilson Potter Tandle Hill was the beer of choice. A really good pale, hoppy beer and local.  Easy to get and to return the empty container.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Savings and Bargains


I called in to the JDW owned Regal Moon in Rochdale after chairing my CAMRA Branch Meeting on Tuesday. ( 47 attended including five members for the first time. Not bad at all eh? Well it gratified me at least.) I entered at 11.20 pm with just enough time for a half pint and a chat before my bus, I found they'd stopped serving. Manager Chris explained that throughout January, as it is relatively quiet, last orders are half an hour earlier.  This actually brings quite astonishing savings in staff hours and helps his staffing budget no end. What's the point of staff being there if there is no-one to serve being the logic I suppose.  Does this happen elsewhere? I don't know actually. Maybe others do too?

As I and my chums also go there on a Wednesday I was able to forewarn the "boys" though it was nice that the Duty Manager came over to us a just after eleven to ask if we needed another drink before he closed the tills. We didn't, but it was a good and thoughtful bit of customer service.  Another feature - of this Spoons at least - was a rather good "January Sale". Most beers, even rather strong ones, were £1.99 a pint and we enjoyed some excellent stuff, Hawkshead Windermere Pale and Oakham JHB being pick of the bunch, but one of our part enjoyed a pint of bargain Exmoor Beast..

I was on the 11.11 bus and back home and in bed by quarter to twelve. (We meet at nine). Not Dry January by any means and I'm not sure it counts as TryJanuary either, but still doing my bit you know.

I hadn't had JHB for ages. Not forgotten how good it is though and it was certainly in top form.  A bargain indeed at £1.99

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Sad Demise of an Iconic Beer


I read without much surprise about Carlsberg withdrawing the availability of Draught Burton Ale. It was formerly Ind Coope's Draught Burton Ale and once upon a time a Champion Beer of Britain. In 1990 in fact, though it had been around a fair length of time before that. Since 1976 in fact.  The 1977 edition of the Good Beer Guide describes it as "pale and well hopped". It had an Original Gravity  of 1047.5 - no alcohol by volume then - and by the time that became the norm, in 1990, it had settled at 4.4%.    It wasn't always described as a pale, hoppy beer, but sometimes as "sweet and malty" or "pale and fruity". It gains some rather grudging praise in 1990 and 1991's guides, but much more generous comments in 1992 when, such is the lead in time for the Good Beer Guide, it was the current (for that edition) Champion Beer.  By then the alcohol content had risen to 4.8% and praise was much more fulsome, though I for one take the 1992 description with more than a pinch of salt.

Now I have a relationship with ICBA that goes back quite a few years.  When I worked in Leeds it was the premium beer in quite a few Tetley houses, including the Palace Hotel near my office and where, of a Friday, I used to go for a few lunchtime pints.  Long before I retired though, the lunchtime pint was frowned upon, but these were halcyon days. My lass worked in the same building at the time and was, (not always entirely willingly) able to drive me back over the Pennines when, with other reprobates, I had (over indulged) in a few pints of Burton Ale. Pale, perfumed, spicy from the Styrians and with a lovely, delicate, fragrant bitter, flowery, hoppy finish, it was simply divine.  One was never enough, but it went for you. Many a Friday lunchtime was extended by "flexitime" to an afternoon session and we all left pretty much the worse for wear. For me, it wasn't so bad. I was in charge of my area and my bosses were in Edinburgh. Should I be ashamed of that little abuse of power? Not a bit of it. Those were the days my friends.

Sadly over the years I encountered ICBA less and less, though when I did it was always consumed with relish. When Tetley's closed and as part of the deal for JW Lees to brew Carlsberg under licence, Burton Ale, now shorn of its Ind Coope name, was moved to Greengate.  They didn't make a bad fist of it at all and I sometimes had a taste of it in the Head Brewer's sample room, where a cask of every beer in trade is kept.  Michael Lees-Jones, Head Brewer of  JW Lees had told me that volumes were falling away, but I wasn't aware it had gone. If I had been I'd have nipped down to Lees for a sentimental last pint, but maybe such things are best left in the memory.

There has been some surprise expressed about the sadness with which some commentators have described the demise and loss of this beer. Those expressing sadness are right to say so. I don't think it too generous or fanciful to describe Draught Burton Ale as iconic and the loss of any icon is a moment for regret and reflection. I am grateful to Boak and Bailey for the information here about the early beginnings of ICBA, though I do think their conclusion about it being a "sop to CAMRA" seems more than a tad wishful.  Perhaps I would, wouldn't I, but I did enjoy the tales of how Ind Coope buttered CAMRA up so as not to dismiss this big brewer's beer out of hand. It had the ring of truth, though nowadays that would just be seen as "sensible marketing."  Sadly though ICBA was a victim of a changing brewing industry and uncaring owners. It's death was slow and lingering, but it is good to remember it in its heyday. All pomp and swagger.

Goodbye Old Friend. It really was good while it lasted.

And no. In historic terms, it wasn't a Burton Ale, but an ale, made in Burton. An IPA in fact.  I used to see the drays from Burton coming into Tetley's, no doubt loaded with ICBA.  I can picture them yet, Dark Green, with Ind Coope on the side and front.

The photo is from my own study where this plaque is on the wall.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Minesweeping At Its Finest


Minesweep - The Urban Dictionary - To "minesweep" is to wander through a location where people are drinking, such as a bar or a party, and drink the partially-finished beverages that people abandoned.

On Frantic Friday or whatever the last Friday before Christmas Day is called, as I mentioned before here, my oldest mate and I did a little tour of some of Manchester City Centre's more traditional pubs. There can't be many more so than those that we picked and all gratifyingly close together. First up was the tiny Grey Horse where Hydes Bitter was very decent. We sat in a corner for three pints watching punters come and go and stay. Most were middle aged to old and obviously regulars, given that they were greeted by name. A few younger people squeezed in including a table full of very attractive women - we are male and we liked that. It was cosy and comfortable and we had to tear ourselves away.

A few doors away is Holt's Old Monkey. A bit of a more boisterous crowd there and amiable enough bouncers on the door. We stood at the short end of the bar as a great array of people swept in and out. Holt's IPA was very decent, the barstaff worthy of our tips and the punters, in full Christmas cheer, happy to exchange banter with us as we moved aside to let them get served. Great stuff again, with an almost entirely male clientèle, but in that moment, none the worse for that.  We did also brave Wetherpoons Waterhouse for a couple, as they had a great selection on and despite the crush at the bar, I astonished my mate Mike by having two pints in hand by the time he'd returned from the bog.  All my old elbowing skills, an eye for a gap and blatant queue jumping standing me in excellent stead.  This was more clearly full of occasional drinkers, but none the worse for that, even if judging by the decibels, a few young ladies present had clearly imbibed well, if not wisely.

Back to traditional in the shape of the City Arms, next door to JDW.  Greatly liked by a more mature, middle class crowd, we managed to get a couple of pints and jump into a bench as two others left.  Beside us was a rather elderly, down at heel gent - possibly homeless - who had a flat looking pint in front of him and who was taking surreptitious spoonfuls of bio yoghurt from a big pot which he held under the table. Astonishingly he also had a punnet of strawberries which he ate from time to time while winking at us who couldn't help but observe.  As we supped our Jaipur, we noted his occasional forays across the pub to nab half finished pints from those that left. This was done quite openly and he simply topped his glass up with whatever was to hand.  He seemed quite at peace there really and didn't draw attention to himself as such. I don't know if the barstaff knew here was there, but I suspect they did and took pity on him.

By the time we left my mate Mike had had enough. He donated around a half of Jaipur to our companion. True Christmas spirit indeed.

Note to drunks. Bio yoghurt and strawbwrries may not be the nest bar snack to ward off  pissedness, but it has a certain touch of class.

I kind of thought minesweeping a dying art. Anyone else spotted it recently? 

Friday, 2 January 2015

More Stouts Please


Porters seem very fashionable these days and when we talk of fads (or trends if you like) in beer, there is IPA, saisons, sours etc. but you do see an awful lot of porters. Or a lot of awful porters -  but they rarely seem to get a mention.  Now I like stouts and though the line between a porter and a stout can be a blurry one, I tend to subscribe to the view that porters are sweeter and less roasty and stouts are bitter and include much more by way of roasted barley.  They should also in my view at least, be hoppier, particularly with a bit of hop resin to finish. It counters the other flavours within the beer and makes you want more. Stouts too should be full of mouthfeel. Nice and thick.

When I brewed a stout with Allgates Brewery some time ago - with others - we wanted to produce a stout that ticked all these boxes and I believe we did though perhaps we could have got more of a resinous finish. But that's probably just me.  Yesterday I tried JW Lees Archer Stout - one of their seasonal beers and just released yesterday.  Now Archer Stout is named after those Middletonians that went to Flodden Field in 1513 to fight the Scots. Their weapon was the bow and arrow, hence Archer Stout.  Their feats are commemorated in our local Parish Church here in Middleton by a venerable stained glass window, reputed to be the oldest war memorial in the world.  (A war memorial has to have the names of those that fought). I have seen it and it is rather fine, as is the (partly) Norman Parish Church. Worth a visit if you are ever in this neck of the woods and in need of culture.

But what about the beer, not those misguided souls that killed so many innocent Scotsmen? Well the brewery describes it thus: "A ruby/black beer made with five different malts and Target hops to a roasted molasses nose and a roast chestnut and liquorice taste." It weighs in a 4.6% and it has been some years since it was last on Lees seasonal list, though its brewing origins go back to 1951. I remember though it as a bottled sweet stout of much more modest strength. It disappeared when Lees stopped doing their own bottling a good number of years ago.

Yesterday at the Tandle Hill Tavern, in atrocious weather, I went to try some.  John, the landlord greeted me warmly and around me were many trying this dark brew. "It's going well" said John.  The beer is rich and dark, with a bitter-sweet taste that melts into a roasty, liquorice middle and a fairly short finish.  I didn't detect the chestnuts, but it was a good beer, with enough body and taste to make you want a second. I could have done with my favoured resinous, hoppy finish, but you can't have everything. It is a very decent stout and I reckon it will do well judging by the positive reaction in the THT.

It was served through a tight sparkler to give a tight, creamy head and trust me, it had condition. 

The previous seasonal, Plum Pudding is though to me the pick of Lees seasonals. Glad to say they are now making them so much different in taste to the bitter and it is telling in excellent sales. I have nagged them on this point over the years, so claim, if not credit, foresight.


Thursday, 1 January 2015

Sneaking In Under the Wire


I didn't do Golden Pints this year - or for that matter Golden Posts.  I don't really relate to the categories that much in GPs and if I want to praise posts I do so as they arise. Seems more useful that way.  Nonetheless if I had done GPs, I found one that would certainly have got a mention.  It is Ossett Inception, a pale, golden, full bodied, bitter and resinous number from a brewery that is certainly in my circle of trust.  I came across it at the Regal Moon, as I was there borrowing a pumpclip a few days ago. The brewery indicates it has five malts and five hops. I don't know what they are, but it is a cracker and shows that well established brewers can produce fantastic beers that are brilliantly clear, yet full of clean hop bitterness.  No muddy imprecise beers here.

It is still available. Seek it out.

Happy New Year to all my readers. I think you'll be hearing a lot more from me in 2015.  I'm off soon to try Lees new seasonal. Archer Stout. Cask stout? What's not to like?  I hope nothing as it will be my first beer of 2015.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Still and Star (2)


Is it brewing? Is it not? I'm still a little unsure. I went in as promised on Tuesday teatime and there were four brown beers on the bar and one harassed barmaid.  There was no smell of brewing or any obvious recent brewery activity.  My inquiry elicited the polite information that there would be no home brewed beer until after Christmas (which I took to mean next year) and that brewing was already taking place.  It may be that the Citra mentioned in my last post was just a trial, but since the poor lass that answered my inquiry was so busy, I thought it inconsiderate to question her further.  So it may be and it may not.  The photo of the board outside which illustrates this post is either information, a teaser, or both. In whatever case it has been updated.

Now Professor Pie-Tin takes me to task about writing about this new venue for a brewery.  He says "You've written an entire post based on a brewpub you haven't been into since it became a brewpub and a beer you haven't tasted. I'm all for clickbait lovey but play the game a little bit at least."  Well I didn't know he cared, but since when did investigating a new brew-pub near where you have a home come under the term "clickbait"?  Should I be miffed?  Not really - it's all part of the game -  but if PPT wishes a few more targets for his disdain, I can point him to many well known bloggers that excel in clickbait.  Bloggers chasing audience or building beery careers are all part of the game. Me? Perish the thought. I'm past all that. Still, he has got me to answer, so a point to him. He's one of my regulars though, so all is forgiven.

In my brief visit to the capital, I had a few pints in a rammed Market Porter.  The beer wasn't as good as my visit a couple of weeks ago and it was rammed then. Just not quite as rammed.  The old enemy of great cask beer, too a high a temperature was the culprit, but the heat in the place made the beer slide down anyway and it was a great atmosphere so all wasn't lost.  In fact following a wise trip to the Dean Swift for very good Dark Star Hophead, an unwise visit to the Draft House in Seething Lane ensued. We left later than we should have and afterwards I found myself somewhat potless* and accidentally pissed.  I felt more than a tad rough on Thursday.  In fact we both did. Been a while since that happened and not hugely enjoyable.

It was an AFD on Thursday and back to Manchester boozing on Friday with my oldest friend Mike. At his request we only did pubs, not bars. On Frantic Friday, it was a good plan.

I was given three bottles of beer by Eileen's colleagues as a Christmas present. Well chosen too. One each from Mikeller, Kernel and Redchurch. Not bad eh?  

* Skint. Getting pissed in London is a dear do.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Still and Star Aldgate


Apparently this pub, nearly opposite Aldgate Tube Station,  now houses one of London's newest breweries as was discussed, I think, on Twitter some weeks ago.  So far, there isn't that much more to go on -  unless you know differently of course - but I have heard nothing. When I was last in London, last week I noticed on my way back to Manchester, that it seemed to be in production. As it was before opening time though, I couldn't pop in to try it out.  This is a pub I have been in a couple of times before, but never found it to be either conducive or welcoming and usually with three or four mainstream brown beers of similar strength in only average condition.  It was therefore a shock to me to hear that a brewery has been added.  Even more shocking I suppose is that they aren't whacking out a Courage Bestalike -  if the photo which illustrates this blog post is anything to go by.

I'm down in London tomorrow again and will take this opportunity to give it a go, as invariably it is at Aldgate I alight when I visit.  It would be nice to have a decent brewpub near my London flat and this would be, by some way, the nearest. You will see they seem to have started off with a Citra based beer. Well we shall see how it turns out and what the brewery is called officially, though if the photo is to be believed, it seems it is just "The Still and Star Brewpub".  I suppose it does what it says on the tin.

I'll let you know how I get on.

I don't know why this is, but I'm not expecting great things here. I do hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Not So Smooth Operator


In a quite astonishing spat, JD Wetherspoon has with immediate effect, ended its contract with Heineken to supply a number of drinks brands including Heineken and Foster's Lagers, Strongbow Cider and that old JDW favourite, John Smith's Smooth.

They have been trading partners for 35 years, so how has this come to pass?  Well since JDW ruffled feathers in Ireland by daring to open a pub in Dublin, things have been a bit tetchy over there. First of all Diageo, owners of Guinness, were booted out (or rather were never booted in) as JDW refused to pay what they saw as an inflated price for the black stuff. JDW turned to Murphy's Stout made by Heineken and things sailed along nicely, though under the surface, all was not well it seems.  Wetherspoon now intend to open a second pub in Ireland and looked to Heineken to supply it, but there has been a spectacular disagreement.  According to the BBC and other identical statements elsewhere, Heineken wanted to make the CEO of JDW, John Hutson, personally liable in case of a default on any debt, though why they should do so is a bit of a mystery given JDW's £80 million annual profit.  Wetherspoon has basically said and I paraphrase; "Well, stuff you then - take your scabby products out of our nice pubs!"

Now that would be bad enough if this sanction just applied to Ireland, but JDW has effectively said "Get Lost" to Heineken for all of their 900 plus pubs in the UK, blowing a £60 million account out of the water. Someone has misjudged the moment. Or maybe more than one someone.  In a somewhat pained manner Heineken UK said "

"Heineken UK has had a long standing and successful relationship with JDW in the UK market over a 35-year period, and it is unfortunate that commercial issues in Ireland between Heineken Ireland and JD Wetherspoon have led to the current situation. We are seeking a resolution as soon as possible."

Well I bet they are. To lose one account is unfortunate, but to lose 923 all at once is certainly careless, especially when you have been shafted by your Irish compadres. There is of course more to this than meets the eye with JDW undercutting the price of a pint of Heineken by up to €2 and the evil eye of Irish publicans being cast upon Heineken for that reason. Given that JDW has plans for up to 30 pubs in the Republic, this may well be somewhat of a test case, though I doubt that Heineken foresaw the eventual outcome and I very much doubt that this is the end of the matter. It is hard to see how Heineken can do other than to back down as JDW can undoubtedly get beer elsewhere.  There will be further repercussions too likely as not, but it is nearer home to which we must in compassion turn. Nobody in this sordid tale seems to give a monkeys chuff for those most affected, the Nine in the Morning Club.  What are they going to do without John Smith's Smooth? Ruddles just won't cut it.

Sadly it is always the least fortunate in our society that suffers when the big boys fall out.

On a more sombre note, this does show that when big business falls out, who knows where it all might end? Heineken is the world's biggest family owned brewer.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Well Well


I know very little of my own about the brewing scene in Ireland. Fortunately the Beer Nut has his finger on every brewing pulse Ireland has and it is through him that I learn what little I know. I do though glean that the scene there is hotting up, with new beers and breweries sprouting up through every crack in the pavement. Or so it seems at least.

One brewery I do know of is Franciscan Well and when they asked me to come along to the London launch of some of their beers, I jumped at the chance and thus it was a couple of Thursdays ago, I presented myself in the other Smiths. The one in Spitalfields that is, not the better known one in Smithfield. Assembled bloggers (I only knew one) and press types were treated to three different beers and accompanying food. I won't attempt to describe the beers in detail, but all were presented by Des McCann, Molson Coors Beer Champion for Ireland and also described by owner and founder Shane Long. For those interested, Shane founded the Franciscan Well in 1998 on the North Mall in Cork City on the site of an old Franciscan Monastery and Well. Shane himself was primarily a publican (and still is) now turned brewer and having had the opportunity to chat to him for a while, not only is he a thoroughly engaging guy, but rather an enthusiast for the Irish Brewing scene.

The brewery was taken over by Molson-Coors in 2013, but as far as I can tell, Shane still runs the show, albeit overseen on behalf of the parent by Sharp's Supremo, Stuart Howe. They are rather proud of their Rebel Red - an Irish Red Ale -but its caramel and CO2 combo did little for me. Much more to my liking was the Chieftain IPA. Slightly sweeter than a normal IPA, but designed for local Irish palates, Shane called it an Irish Pale Ale. Best of all for me was Shandon Stout, a minerally, deep, dark beer, made luscious by nitrogen presentation and with a slightly bitter-sweet, mineral/metallic finish. I had a decent chat with Shane who explained that the Cork water,(untreated as far as I know) gives the mineral and metal taste that typifies Cork beers. I'll take his word, but I assume that the water for the other beers is treated in some way, as they tasted rather clean. We went on to discuss Guinness which Shane rather likes, though his view is that its good features are ruined by serving it at ice cold temperatures. My own conflicting view that the recipe had been so neutered over the years and the ice cold pour was meant to disguise it, was given a non committal "Well. Maybe". He still thinks it a good beer ruined by presentation. There you go. Either way, chatting to him was an absolute delight. His enthusiasm was boundless.

On the way out we were given a large, shiny, black box by the Molson-Coors PR people.  So large and ungainly, that there was no easy way to carry it. It was also extremely unbalanced by its contents, which were revealed after I'd walked home, stopping to rest my arms frequently, to be a four pint container of freshly poured Chieftain IPA. Worth a slightly uncomfortable walk.

It made a great accompaniment to Question Time and E liked it too.

All three beers are available in London it seems, or the launch was pointless.  Hospitality was courtesy of Molson-Coors

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Blowing Hot and Cold


My most recent London visit brought some warm beer to my notice. Well it would, as I was the recipient. It also brought some excellent beer.  There was some in the middle.  So dreadful was a Roosters beer in JDW Shakespeare's Head that I reported it to Cask Marque. (I must ask them what their conclusion was.)  That's one thing you can do if it has the CM accreditation, though I've reported the Brown Bear in Leman St before and the beer was still awful when I watched the football there two weeks ago. Maybe it does less good than you hope? (Apparently miscreants thus reported usually tell CM the cooling was broken that day, or someone new turned it off instead of the light - that kind of thing. CM are meant to follow up with a later visit, but I don't know if they do or not.)  Anyway and either way, I do urge those afflicted by poor beer in a Cask Marque pub to let them know. It might just help.

So to the good news.  I thought the beer in the Hop and Berry in Angel, recommended to me by Matt Curtis, was very well kept and  I was delighted by the truly top quality  I experienced in the Market Porter, a place I don't tend to go in that much, but did, as I had been let down quality wise - well temperature wise - by the usually reliable Southwark Tavern, whose beer I had praised on a warm summer's day. Sadly on a much colder Autumn one, the beer was warm, as was E's lager.  The Market Porter was heaving, but service was quick and friendly and the beer, stout in my case, was sparkled, cool and lively. A sure two pinter.

Lastly a word in praise of the Draft House in Seething Lane. The Tankovna Pilsner Urquell was delicious and at £4.75 a pint, well under the price of most local keg beers on the same bar.  I find that a bit odd.

I didn't realise they chucked out at six on a Sunday in the Draft House. Made my last pint a bit of rush. My own fault.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

A Tale of Two Breweries


I was alerted by my good friend Tyson about a new brewery on the Bermondsey Mile. Tyson being at the cutting edge had been there and noted that it wasn't a keg and bottle effort as most of them are, but a cask brewery. Sounded interesting and being at the Tower Bridge end of the mile, it's just a twenty five minute walk from my London place.  So we went on Saturday.

Situated in Druid Street, in the inevitable railway arch and sandwiched between a bakery (see what I did there) and a car repair shop, sits Southwark Brewery.  This straightforward name gives you an idea of what to expect. It's quite a big arch and sported a bar to the right with four handpumps and the usual benches and a toilet stuck near the door. Handy.  We got there at one and it wasn't that busy and in the hour or so we were there, it changed customers more or less, but remained fairly quiet and it was noticeable to this old git, that it was mostly a more mature customer that was attracted.  In other words, other old gits, though there was a few younger ones, wondering probably how they'd got into this fine mess. We sat nearest the mouth of the arch and watched the various hipsters as they wandered up and down Druid Street. One or two looked in and found something wanting and moved on.  Some were bolder and came in, looked round, then buggered off. 

There were four beers on. Each served, Glory Be, by a swan neck and a sparkler, for that is the policy. I was warming to them.  I didn't care much for Bermonsey Best which was reassuringly brown and a decent enough drink if you wanted a malt forward, fugglesy type thing.  But I didn't. However it was to be all good news after that. I liked LPA which was indeed hoppy with citrus notes, Hop-X (I think - I didn't take notes) was a blend of English and American hops, was pale and it worked well and leading the pack at 5.6% was Gold, which just has a sweet hint of alcohol and was a decent drink.  Beers were available in thirds, halves, two thirds and pints and were all under £4 a pint.  Enjoyable and reasonable priced. There were bottles too, including a Russian Imperial Stout at 8.6%. The bottled take away service was doing quite well.  Staff were pleasant and happy to chat.

Now I've said it before and will do so again. Will those drinking craft keg please stop saying it costs just a little bit more. We left Southwark Brewery and walked the few yards to Ansbach and Hobday where the beard and too small jacket brigade were in full swing. It was, as we say in Scotland, "hoaching". Busy.  We had a look and noted that all beers were £6 a pint -  even those at 2.8%. No chance. Like a News of the World reporter in a knocking shop, we made our excuses and left.

So what's it all about? The lure of superior keg beer, the attraction of being with fellow types?  Why was one heaving and the other, a stone's throw away not?  Will cask beer crack the Bermondsey Beer Mile?  You tell me.

 But it isn't all bad news. At least they'll have me from time to time. Cool and sparkled beer in London? Why ever not?

This is of course a tongue in cheek post, but I really do wonder. Is it just that Southwark Brewery aren't on the radar yet I do hope so.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A Bone Picked Out


Ed set the cat among the pigeons with his controversial (though he'd say tongue in cheek) post about the so called elitism of craft beer.  There was a flurry of responses, probably by now not far short of 100 of them. I don't think it unfair to say that these generated more heat than light, but also a fair degree of exasperation. There is an amount of defensiveness in the crafterati and a large portion of doubtful economics on the side of those that think craft is overpriced for what it is.  That generated a lot of passion, but you must pick the bones out of that yourself, though I do wish that craft aficionados would stop saying that it is worth paying "a little more" for "better beer". It is rarely a little more. It is a lot more. And it isn't always by any means better.

In all this I would like to commend to you for consideration the words of Yvan Seth when he says "And hell, £1 more for keg because I don't have to play cask-quality-roulette and I can just get on with my drinking without the fuss of returning beer or putting up with a semi-drinkable pint. This is a point I have made before (hence my liking it), but it harks back to why keg was so welcomed in the 60's when cask quality was thought to be uniformly dire.  It took the lottery away when purchasing a pint. This quality lottery goes a long way towards explaining why when I'm in London, I quite often end up drinking commodity lager. Yes I know where to get good beer, but despite the beer revolution in London, you still have to travel to get that good beer. Random decent looking pubs will often disappoint.

Then Yvan goes on to say something with which I more or less totally agree. It is worth repeating here:

"[IMO, if there is one thing CAMRA could *really* do for the future of cask ale, & the good of the cask ale drinker, it would be to drop most of what it does now and focus entirely on quality of beer at point of dispense. Because on average it is abysmal. This might even help save flagging pubs."

I have said until I'm blue in the face that quality at the point of dispense is cask beer's Achilles Heel.  It might well be in an advanced state of decrepitude in London, but it has problems in cellar skills everywhere. We have all played the cask beer lottery and all lost.  Yvan is absolutely right that CAMRA does not do enough about that. I'm not yet sure what that might be. I'm thinking about it, but it shouldn't be that difficult to come up with something. After all it is the "raison d'etre" of the Campaign.

There are those that say the CAMRA battle has been won. Real ale is indeed everywhere, but as long as a quality pint remains elusive, CAMRA still has plenty to do. We  need to fight the right fight though.  Keg beer, in whatever form is not the enemy. Lack of quality cask beer at the point of sale is. 

I watched Scotland win last night in my local London pub. My pint of Gales Seafarer (see above) was a warm, flat mess. I'd have had three or four pints if the beer was any good. I had one Gales and a pint of Becks, which was awful in a different way, but at least cold and with condition. Bad beer loses pubs money.


Friday, 7 November 2014

A Tale of Two Bloggers


I was invited to the launch (or should that be revitalisation) of the new "Let There Be Beer Campaign", but couldn't go due to other commitments that meant I'd be in the Grim North instead of Millbank. Others went and liked what they saw. One or two most certainly didn't like what they saw, so much so, they were still spitting hops days later and could only write about it after they'd calmed down. Interesting stuff.

The focus now is "There's a Beer for That". Two bloggers I like and respect wrote about it. One, Matt, was in the "Incandescent With Rage" Corner" and t'other Ed, in the "Seems All Right to Me" Corner. Other bloggers (I like them too) have also written about it - for example Pete Brown has done so and was broadly in favour, while Beersoakedboy was agin it on the whole, but in quite measured tones, seemingly more concerned about lazy stereotypes and likely poor impact, than Matt, whose main and recurring theme was that it sat on the backs of the smaller craft brewers in order to get a better view. "It's the better that the people behind this campaign are worried about, craft beer is bucking the industry trend and growing at an exponential rate........... Craft beer hasn't just got its foot in the door to the mainstream, it's already in the room throwing a party and it brought beer. So why do we need There's a Beer for That? Well, multinational corporations really don't like it when small businesses infringe on their market share. That's pretty clear. Craft doesn't need the big brewers, so bog off. 

Of course the argument that advertising such as this is kind of lowest common denominator stuff can easily be made, but advertising does work, though only the very cleverest of advertising can make those who do not wish to engage, engage. Nonetheless if the phrase "There's a Beer for That" sticks in the mind of those sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and makes them think of beer, wouldn't you think that a good thing? I think I would. On the other hand though I take Matt's point about the overwhelming wish seems to be for those funding the campaign to be the biggest beneficiaries of it. Mind you, it would be somewhat remarkable if they didn't.  It is maybe worth pointing out that few of us came to craft beer by starting out that way. Most of us started out with a pint of Harp, or Carling and moved on. Or didn't. And that's the point. Craft may be rising, but it doesn't rule the world just yet and is for most a destination that they may never consider visiting, not a journey's start. Most beer drinkers drink the good old cooking stuff and why shouldn't they? Matt's love of craft beer is legendary, but he wears his craft credentials on his sleeve. Not that that's a bad thing. He probably hides it less well than those that funded the Let There Be Beer Campaign hide their intentions. But like them it does colour his view somewhat. They are maybe not so different then in some ways?  Matt certainly isn't the target audience.

So what does Ed say? He has only a few well reasoned paragraphs, culminating in this " I have to say I'm quite pleased to see a generic campaign to promote beer." He gets far fewer comments, but John Clarke, quite a craft beer supporter, weighs in by saying "I have to say that I'm a little bemused by all this outrage. If it's a generic promotion to raise the profile of beer does it really matter who funds it?" That would I suppose only be true if you don't mind what beer people drink, as long as it is beer.  I'm not sure that's the message I'm getting when I read what Matt has to say.  "People are drinking better etc."  Is it that old beer snob thing again? I hope not. The truth is, that for most people, "There's a Beer for That" is unlikely to mean craft, so to that extent Matt has a fair point.  An analogy is that over the years, when campaigning for real ale (and it still is true), that as an advocate for cask, you have to accept that your view of beer is a minority one.  Craft keg is no different.

On the balance, Ed has the right of it.  More people drinking beer is good for everyone. When the craft beer movement can throw ten million quid at it, they can do it their way. Until then, let's get them to drink beer first, then worry about them drinking "better" beer later.

This isn't a go at Matt by the way. His passion for beer - craft beer in particular -makes his views worth commenting on.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Prententious? Moi?


The cartoon that illustrates this post was sent to me by one of my Yankee chums. My American friends seem to like it, but I'm not so sure.

Let's have a look. It is contemporary being next month's New Yorker magazine. We have obvious hipsters. It looks like it is in a trendy bar, not a restaurant and it has no caption. Does that mean it is self explanatory? Is there some article inside that puts it in context? I don't know. On the face of it, it is a guy having a taste of beer before he confirms his purchase in the same manner as he might with wine. Would that be a bad thing however unlikely? Is it a pop at perceived pretentiousness? Is it a go at hipsters with their pernickity ways? Is it a New York thing or is it more general? I really can't say.  

What's your take?

Whatever it is, I love the look on the waiter's face. 

Monday, 27 October 2014

Mature Matters


I was going to write an article about how little I'd enjoyed the beers brewed by overseas brewers for the current Wetherspoon's Beer Festival.  The Regal Moon in Rochdale had nine on the first day of the festival and some I thought were quite poor and others tasted of acetone or other brewing faults and some were just pretty bland. Or odd.  It was a bit of a depressing list, so I just didn't bother.

At the moment there is no cooking facilities in our house as renovations near the end and a new kitchen is being fitted.  After my usual Sunday session at the Tavern, we decided to nip into our local JDW, the Harbord Harbord,  in Middleton for something to eat.  Before you condemn me, trust me, there isn't a lot of other choice in Midd at half past six on a Sunday, unless you want a curry. And while there are few times I'm not up for a ruby, E didn't fancy it so JDW it was.

Where's this all leading?  Well I had two different foreign brewer's beers that I had had on that first night in the Regal Moon and I thought both really rather good.  It occurred to me that they were older.  Both seemed rounder, fuller and more polished.  More mature and less harsh in fact. It is often overlooked these days that beer in cask needs a little time to be at its best and for the flavours to fully develop.  Often, due to lack of experience in cellarmanship, the difficulty of storing beer, both in terms of space and cost, means a lot of cask beer is sold before it has reached its best in the cask. It is often referred to as being "green." There isn't an easy answer to this, but the difference you taste in the same beer in different venues may well be down to this,  resulting in a beer that tastes young, thin and not as good as it could. As most live beer will develop in the cask, only a short time more in the cellar will make a difference in many cases.

So publicans, if you can afford to, leave (unbroached) beer a little longer in the cellar.  It'll pay in flavour and condition and your customers will notice a difference.

The practice of serving beer immediately it drops bright isn't always helpful either.

You will see that Thwaites used to call their real ale "mature." 

Friday, 24 October 2014

New and Recommended


This is a beer blog, so occasionally I talk about beer rather than pubs and beer, or beer politics - yes my friends such a thing does exist, as evidenced by recent twitter outpourings. But no mention here. This post is all sweetness and light.

On Tuesday I popped into the award winning Baum in Rochdale to say hello to Alex Brodie owner of Hawkshead Brewery, who was there to do a "Meet the Brewer" session. Regretfully I couldn't stay long due to a prior engagement, but it was good to see him as always and to have a pint.  Knowing I'm an unashamed fan of his beers, Alex was surprised I hadn't tried my chosen beer before.  Iti is Maori for "small" and is described by the brewery as New Zealand Pale Ale's little brother. A souped down version of NZPA? Will that work? The answer is an unequivocal "Yes."  At 3.5% it is a belter, full of luscious New Zealand hops and surprisingly full bodied from the low colour Maris Otter barley used.  Seek it out.  In fact, seek out any Hawkshead beer.

On Thursday, I encountered the legendary Hawkshead Windermere Pale once again in the Angel when out discussing Manchester Beer and Cider Festival business.  It is not that though to which I wish to draw your attention.  A couple of us finished off with a pint of Se7en Brothers Brewing Stout.  Dark, full bodied, touch of roast, some resinous hops and sheer drinkability that belied its 5.2% strength, made this another to recommend to you.  Se7en Brothers (see what they did there) Brewing is a newish Salford brewery run by, er, seven brothers.  On this evidence I'd watch out for them.  My colleague has had their IPA and he thought highly of it.

There you are. Two recommendations you know you can trust, just in time for the weekend's boozing.   That's good isn't it?

Alex, who is actually a Rochdale lad (he left when he was five though) was very favourably impressed by the Baum. That's also good as is the fact his event was a sell-out.

Sorry, but the Se7en Brothers Website has no useable, relevant images to regale you with.


Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Nothing New Under the Sun


Chris Hall is promoting his idea of "juicy bangers" to describe beers that, to borrow a phrase, "hit the spot". It is an interesting concept when you extend it to beer design, but otherwise its probably just a bit of fun, though with a serious point underneath.    Boak and Bailey, extending this simple idea to one a tad more complex, are asking on their blog for suggestions for further categories.  They are even getting some, though perhaps it's just me that finds people giving pet names to beer styles a bit odd. It's all a touch anal for me, though that perhaps isn't the best word, considering what I am about to say.

Back in the good old flame throwing days of Usenet, probably in the late 1990s, I am pretty sure that Chris's juicy bangers would have ended up very scorched and unpalatable indeed, such was the snappiness of those involved. Any whiff of juicy bangers would have been ruthlessly taken apart. Nonetheless we did discuss ad nauseum the difficult subject of beer styles.  Odd really when then there weren't many. Or rather there were, but either they were categorised differently, or they were obscure foreign styles which at best were lumped under "foreign", or they hadn't been like saison or Imperial IPA invented. Or re-invented, since Ron Pattinson has long since proved the title of this piece.  Back then, at worst, beers styles were scarcely understood at all by many and the subject of violent disagreement. There were those (and they still exist) that simply referred to and rigidly adhered to, American beer judging guidelines. Others, as now, were subjective more often than not and maybe the most sensible of a pretty leery bunch. Beer after all is a pretty subjective thing.

So how did we deal with this eternal conundrum? While we couldn't solve the unsolveable, or change human nature, we did come up with a solution of sorts.  It was a simple really. In the end we boiled it all down to something simple. Something easily understood and effective, though not perhaps in a particularly sophisticated way.  The question to ask about a beer was "Is it good or shite?" 

Unless you are particularly enamoured by over analysis, it works. Good old Usenet. We got to the bottom of things then.

It was suggested by Rich at BeerCast that I sometimes write tongue in cheek.  Perish the thought.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

BlackJackpot


It was a busy old day on Saturday.  The Manchester Beer and Cider Festival Organising Meeting in the Angel was (unusually) businesslike and brisk. It was gratifying to see that not only do we have a great team running things, but excellent progress is being made. Lessons learned from last year are being applied and that's as it should be. It'll be bigger and better, with more seats, beer on two floors, a greater selection and more. If it isn't in your diary, put it in now. The link is below. Also gratifying to this reader at least, was ideal organising meeting beer in the shape of an old friend and favourite, Hawkshead Windermere Pale.  At 3.5%, you can sup a few without your concentration and ability to contribute being adversely affected.  It was in tremendous form too, though another bar person wouldn't have gone amiss in what was a very busy pub, especially when you have to wait behind someone paying for a couple of beers with a credit card.  That's a pain in the whatsit to put it mildly.

Afterwards a few of us nipped into the recently renovated Smithfield, which has been opened out a bit, cleaned up tremendously and dragged into the 21st Century. It had sorely needed it. Sadly there was only two cask beers on, Lytham Gold and a variation thereof with added berries and fruit.  I didn't try that, but my "ordinary" Lytham Gold was fine, if unexciting. I noted too that Heineken had clearly put money into the place, the viewing lager cellar somewhat giving the game away and the adverts, brewery signs, John Smith's Smooth and Fosters point of sale visible everywhere, providing ample confirmation. At least we were spared Deuchars IPA, though.  This is a venture on which the jury is still out I think. Round the corner, the Crown and Kettle was busy and had a good choice to go at.  I settled for my first ever Brewsmith beer, their 6% IPA, cashing in my previous weak beer credit all at once.  I enjoyed it and it certainly seemed appropriate, having met brewer James and his wife Jennifer at IndyManBeerCon only the week before.  I'll be taking up their kind invitation to visit, even though their premises are, sadly, just a mere 200 yards of so outside my CAMRA Bailiwick.

No trip to Manchester is complete with popping in to the Marble Arch. I've not been in for while and had hoped for great things following the appointment of a new head brewer. Marble Best was brown, full of crystal malt and pretty much a standard, English Bitter.  One for the malt fans I think.  A half of Chocolate Marble wasn't as good as I've had it before on this showing and neither retained their heads,  indicating that perhaps there is some way to go.  Pint too, drunk by a colleague, lost its head immediately.  On the plus side, service was noticeably friendly and quick. The visit was saved though by a recommendation.  Blackjack Stout, dispensed by nitrogen mix, was smooth, bitter, strong (ish) and quite delicious.  But then, I'm a bit of  a sucker for unpasteurised nitro stout, as it gives lovely mouthfeel and a gorgeous thick white head.  Stouts simply look and taste better through a tight white head.* 

Your mileage may of course vary on that one.  Probably does in fact.

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival details are here. Open from 21st- 24th January 2015 at the Manchester Velodrome.

*Cask conditioned stout through a tight sparkler is also delicious, if not more so.