Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Pretty Good Stuff

Now I have known to bang on about poor cask beer in London and sometimes I get told off for it. Can you believe that? Well I'm usually right on that subject, but it isn't just that the beer is badly kept in London, but that some of it, honestly, isn't that good.  It is only fair then, to fess up when I come across good London micro brewed cask beer.  Step up to the plate please Five Points Brewery of Hackney, London.

In the excellent Blackjack Taphouse - or is it the Smithfield Market Tavern? - I had my first pint of Five Points Pale. What a great beer. Trust me on this one. It has an easy drinking elegance, is bitter and hoppy without going over the top and above all keeps the body that you need to hold beer together.  Served at the peak of cask conditioning and through a tight sparkler, it was so good I had to have two more.  The true test of a good beer is surely that one pint isn't enough? Now I haven't, to my best recollection, come across this beer in London, but I will look out for it. I just hope I don't find it warm, flat and wishy washy.  I reckon too that it illustrates a point I have often made before, that the best new wave breweries do cask as well as keg and bottle.  When you get your cask beer spot on, you really are a brewer. There is no place to hide when you produce real ale. Well done on that front and shame on those that produced great cask and then gave it up.

I should point out too that I recall Matt Curtis mentioning the brewery, so I looked up the article. It was his cask beer of 2015.  Well done that man.  I can see where he is coming from.

Tonight, having shaken off my lurgy, more or less, I'm going to try some of the new version of a beer I brewed and had a big hand in the recipe, Rammy Craft's Chocolate Chilli Stout. The chilli has been upped. Hooray!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Two Things What Happened

Mudgie is always banging on about children in pubs. In fact he admits it to being "a bit of a hobby horse". Frankly I don't tend to come across them too much in the pubs I go to, though we do often get quite a few on a Sunday afternoon in the Tavern, but thankfully most are very well behaved.  We get far more trouble from dogs. My other haunts tend to be relatively child free, though the Rose of Lancaster, where I am often to be found of a Friday tea-time, usually has quite a few eating with parents.  It is though so well run, with high standards and a manager that is always there and having a word if needed, that I am not bothered by them one bit. That's as it should be.  Well behaved children enjoying themselves are a delight.

Not so on Saturday night.  In a pub near me which won't be named, I entered around seven in the evening with my lass. Firstly, in a heaving pub, we could see that almost every table was inundated with uncollected glasses and empty plates. Food was till being served and we did find a seat after moving glasses to a nearby table.  Children were running about shrieking and chasing each other, using the steps as a jumping playground and getting under the feet of the customers, and dangerously, staff bearing plates of hot food.  They were unchecked by their parents.  This is the kind of thing that really annoys.  To me, together with the uncleared tables and the absence of a manager taking control,  this is a sign that the pub is being run badly.  Children aren't the issue really, as children will be children, but the failure of parents to apply discipline was magnified by the failure of pub management to apply standards.  We supped up quickly and left and won't be back at a time when children are there. It was just a bit of a nightmare.

On a different tack, last night at our CAMRA Branch meeting in the Baum, I had a beer from a brewery in Kent whose beer I know quite well, as it is often available in London.  Having had it in less than optimal conditions in London, I nonetheless think it as a pretty good beer and was looking forward to trying it under the assurance of the highest possible standards, in this former National Pub of the Year.  This example wasn't. It was distinctly phenolic.  Now here's the thing. Discussing it with some of my fellows, only one out of four of five that tried it identified the distinct (to me) TCP overtones.  I recalled Mark Dredge writing about this and stating "this is another off-flavour which some people are more susceptible to tasting than others". Too true and a reminder that we all perceive flavour differently.  How many times have you thought a beer dreadful while someone else loves it - or, indeed, vice versa?

So two issues. One easy to tackle and one less so. The joys of the pub.

Now someone is going to say "Why didn't you complain?" Well, I have complained about this pub before to the owners and clearly nothing has changed. maybe the potential revenue loss might be an issue.  I'll just vote with my feet.


Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Manchester Beer and Cider Festival

Well, it is over now and I'm just about recovered.  All the planning and hard work was worth it. We had 14,800 through the door, we sold 45,000 pints or thereabouts of real ale and all the cider, almost all of the foreign beer and most of the keykeg. In short, it went bloody well.

I spent the last hour and a half or so of the last session asking customers at random what they thought of it and most importantly if they'd come back again if we do it next year. The answer without fail was a resounding "Yes".

So what went well from my point of view and what didn't?

Went well:

Venue: Was superb and easy to work.  All on one level, everything dropped where we needed, all well planned and going from a vast empty hall to one filled with bars, stalls and thousands of people and then back to a vast empty hall again was oh so satisfying.  And people loved it. Everyone I asked was thrilled with the room, the seating, the ease of getting there and everything about it.  Even when at its busiest, it was navigable. The hall staff were ever helpful to us and they loved it and want us back.

Door Arrangements:  I was in overall charge of this area and it operated pretty smoothly. We opened on time, we closed on time, we got people in quickly and queuing outside was kept to a minimum. Nobody was turned away.  The staff there quickly formed a very cohesive little team and worked well together despite it being the coldest area to work in. Well done them.

The Customers: An absolute delight. From the trade people who cheerfully accepted things when we had a problem with cash (see below) to the old CAMRA codgers to the younger crowd on Friday and the cheerfully mixed one on Saturday, all were pleasant, happy and when we needed them to be, patient. We had no security incidents to record.  As always it was great to talk to so many beery people (did you know you can just about say "Beer people are good people" without having to stick your fingers down your throat?) and a special mention must be given to all my fellow bloggers who were a delight and not too pissed.  In fact no-one was too pissed. Nobody threw up in the toilets and there were no first aid incidents in the hall. With my H&S hat on, yippee.

Toilets:  Some improvement needed, but by and large they were kept clean, waiting time was usually short and despite a touch of insurrection over toilet gender reallocation, fairly laid back about (short) waits. On my trip round asking customer views, nobody complained about them, though I personally felt we needed more.

Beer: We got so many compliments about both prices and quality.  There may have been the odd duff beer but fortunately none came my way.  On my rounds so many people thought it was great value for money. The KeyKeg bar with real ale (fully compliant with CAMRA's definition of real ale if you were doubting this) was well received. The roof didn't fall in and we move on.  The Foreign Beer Bar had some great stuff too and I for one really enjoyed the brewery bars which seemed to be a roaring success. Brewers, assuming we do this again, my top tip is to get in early, offer your most interesting brews and don't shilly shally if you want a spot. There will be overwhelming demand next time.

Tasting Sessions and Great Manchester Beer Debate:  The tasting sessions, new to us were very well received. With a top team of presenters, well chosen beers and a crowd that made them so interactive, they were a delight, though surprisingly hard to organise, but (my area again) I learned a lot.

We've learned a lot from the beer debate. I was on the panel, along with Hardknott Dave Bailey, Mark Welsby and Jeremy Stull from Beermoth. I think we should have invited questions to the panel as we drifted a little into cask v keg and audience speeches, but hey, it's the first time and we'll likely do it again. Thanks to Connor Murphy who kept it all going.

Volunteers: Fantastic. Endlessly willing and cheerful. Perhaps most impressive was that the Manchester Central Event Manager thought them as good as any professionals at setting up and taking down - and he's seen a few.  They served willingly as always and it was great to see a lot of new faces and many younger ones.  A special mention as always to the stewards. they don't have a drink at all during the festival open times and they are the unsung heroes of this event.

Went not so well:

Not a lot really.  There was mixed reports on the food and if anyone has anything helpful to say on that, fire away. This was provided by the venue. Let me know in the comments box, what you'd actually like to see next year.  We were let down too by our bank and our security company over cash and had to hurriedly construct a token system in about fifteen minutes flat. It worked and cash was a problem to us throughout, as when you start with less than you need, you are always playing catch up. My own apologies to those that got their glass refunds in twenty pence pieces!  There will be a million other things too internally and we do try and improve each year.  There have been helpful suggestions in other blogs and we will look at them. We aren't stuck in the mud in Manchester and we'll try and do even better next year. If there is one.

We have to go away now and ask our usual round of  "How was it for you?" to all our staff and Heads of Departments.  We'll have to crunch the numbers and balance the books. Most of all we'll need to see who is up for it again and get a price we can live with.  Here's hoping.

Photo one is me with John Keeling of Fullers. John's a Manchester lad and was at the festival with two of his pals from way back. That's classy.

Photo two is my pal Erlangernick with the inimitable Roger Protz. We could have a caption competition here as to what Roger is saying. "Who the fuck's this is already taken."

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Hokkaido the Noo

Perhaps living in Manchester (well nearly) I should be aware of Hydes Brewery's seasonal range under the "Provenance Brewing from Hydes" banner, but sadly I wasn't.  That was corrected last night, in emphatic manner, in our temporary Wednesday night HQ, the Flying Horse in Rochdale.  I arrived just after nine to a fairly busy pub, still adorned with its full Christmas decorations, lights gleaming cheerily and incongruously. On the way I had passed and noted the merrily twinkling Official Borough Christmas tree, shining out in the pissing rain.  Enquiries revealed that this delay is to include and celebrate Ukrainian Orthodox Epiphany, which apparently is a big thing in Rochdale and will delay official end of  shenanigans until the 19th of January.  I may of course be having my plonker pulled, but there you go - that's what I was told. Don't say I never tell you anything useful.

Recommended to me by the landlord, Hokkaido is a pale, hoppy, citric little number, containing that most difficult of hops Sorachi Ace.  In my experience Sorachi Ace is a hop that you love or hate and it displays itself to me as either revolting - or bloody brilliant when it is done right.  Variously described as "having intense lemony flavors, Sorachi Ace also runs the gamut from white flowers, dust, and tea, to bubble gum, dill, and coriander. This hop is ideal for IPAs, saisons and wheat beers."  As it happens, Hydes had used it for a pretty straightforward hoppy golden ale and boy did it work.  I always feel that Hyde's beers can be relied on for their wonderful full body and so it proved here. Nothing wishy washy at all, but a backbone of malt that stood up to the hops particularly well.  Lemony, slightly herbal (coriander) and very moreish, most of us switched to it. I stuck with it until chucking out time.  It was a great decision and also, to the delight of some, on offer - I know not why - at a mere £2 a pint.

On this performance, Hydes is well overlooked. I must correct that with more frequent visits to Manchester.

The full Hydes range for 2016 is here. Worth a look I say.  The Regal Moon, our usual haunt, is still closed after the flooding. I'll keep you informed of progress in due course.

The title of this post is a nod to the Beer Nut and one of an occasional series.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Want to Talk About Beer?

We'll be having a discussion on beer at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival on Saturday 23rd January.  OK, there will be lots of discussions about beer at the festival, but this will be a pukka organised one, with someone helping the discussion along and keeping some kind of order, some geezers sitting at a top table talking bollocks about the amber nectar and there will even be seats - 100 of them - to stop the drunks falling over before they can get round to asking questions. 

The Great Manchester Beer Debate will take place in the foyer at Manchester Central. You will have to pay to get in, but there's no cost to come along and ask our distinguished panel that burning question. We'll have Dave Bailey of Hardknott, who will also be singing and dancing to warm us up, Jeremy Stull from Beermoth, Mark Welsby from Runaway Brewery and creeping in quietly and trying desperately to keep up, will be your hero, Tandleman.  We will likely also have one other local on the team and holding the jackets will be Connor Murphy who will tread a fine line between control and hysteria as the ale fuelled debate ebbs and flows.

That sounds OK doesn't it?  Do come along and make it three pints in lively.  2.30 p.m.

Don't forget the beer tastings either. Roger Protz, Christine Cryne and John Clarke. What's not to like?  This is not your ordinary CAMRA shindig.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Countdown Begins in Earnest

Today I'm off to Atherton ( no I'm not sure where it is either) for the CAMRA Regional Meeting, but more importantly in my eyes, for the final organising meeting for the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival (MBCF).

This is going to be massive Folks.  It will be held in Manchester Central - formerly G-Mex - a huge former railway terminus and now an exhibition centre with the latest facilities.  There will be hundreds of real ales, many dozens of traditional ciders and of course, our now famous Foreign Beer Bar, which will feature rare delights both in bottle and on tap and for the first time, we think, at a major CAMRA festival, a dedicated Keykeg Bar where we will feature beers from cutting edge brewers, but all conditioned by natural CO2 and not force carbonated.  They meet the CAMRA definition of real ale, so what's not to like? Come and see what you think.

We'll have tutored beer tastings from Roger Protz, Christine Cryne and our very own John Clarke (tickets still available, link below), impromptu "Meet the Brewer" sessions, a free debate on the future of beer in our vibrant city of Manchester with some leading local and national personalities and much, much more.  Transport there is a piece of cake, there will be thousands of seats, it is all on one level and it is as cheap as chips.  No craft bar prices here.

This won't be boring, so be there. I'll be telling you more about it in detail next week.

Tickets for the festival can be ordered here and tickets for the beer tastings here. You can pay on the door too of course.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Gone But Not Forgotten

I am grateful to the lads at Pubs of Manchester for providing a link to a number of long gone pubs in the Oldham area on Twitter and one or maybe two that are still going.  The Never Ending Pub Crawl is written contemporaneously, but in this case refers to a crawl of Oldham which took place in February 1987.  The aim was to try some Oldham Brewery pubs before they were "Boddingtonised", Oldham Brewery having been taken over by Boddies in 1982 and closed five years later in 1987.

Now this strikes a chord with me, as I too remember doing a similar thing with E reluctantly driving, but regrettably, I didn't photograph them and frankly, with one or two exceptions, I can't remember which they were, or when exactly I went to them but it must have been around that time, though maybe a bit after, as I worked in nearby Failsworth when I moved from Liverpool and there were certainly plenty of OB houses in the old livery dotted around then.

Now as I knew no-one in the area at that time, I used to go out with a few of the people I worked with for a pint and one place I can distinctly remember is featured in the pub crawl above. It was the Rose of Lancaster, a fine old red brick, multi roomed boozer which I fondly remember as being warm and comfortable, but of course, given the passage of time, may have been a draughty old dump. No matter, that's not the point I want to make.  What I do remember is that when we went there, there was always plenty of young Asian lads openly and happily drinking beer there. Such a thing, I imagine, is pretty well unthinkable now.

Times change and the Rose has long since been knocked down, but my memories of what was a large and somewhat multi cultured drinking establishment remain fond ones.

As you can see from the photo, nicked with acknowledgement from the website above, the pub wasn't quite red brick, but those are my memories and it was always dark when I went there.

The photos are great in the Never Ending Pub Crawl, but why in the old days did we always take photos from so far away? The ones I took then are exactly the same. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Moon Under Water

In the recent floods, one of my regular haunts, the Regal Moon in Rochdale was severely flooded.  The photo shows just how bad it was outside and now, I have seen the photos of the inside, courtesy of the manager who is one of my CAMRA members and indeed, a mate of mine.

When water gets into a building it naturally finds the lowest level it can. In this case, in a very large former cinema, built in 1938, it went into the cellars underneath the bar as well as wrecking the bar itself.  The kitchen was ruined too and of course all food written off as well as all open stock and stock touched by the filthy water, which as well as mud, contained sewage.  All pretty grim.  The scene is one of devastation.

So what happens next? Well a number of things. Structural engineers will have to see if permanent damage has been done, the company has to decide how it will be refurbished assuming it is safe and of course the insurers will be involved as reinstatement is the usual requirement of insurers, not wholesale change.  In addition the local authority will have to ensure that all its needs are met and that items from the interior which were listed are re-instated if required.  It will all take time. Best guess is an Easter reopening, worst case scenario is the summer.  All this has been hugely upsetting for the staff who are all a very close team. It has been likened to a bereavement. JDW have been great though and ensured that everyone has been given a temporary job elsewhere, but of course, not in Rochdale. My Wednesday nights are disrupted as is that of its many regulars.  I suppose the only bonus is that other pubs will get a welcome boost, probably the nearby Sam Smith's pub for it's cheap beer.

We'll be going to the Flying Horse tonight. The Sam's pub is keg only.

It may be that there would have been no cask either anyway. I understand that with the flooding of Sam Smith's yard in Tadcaster, thousands of wooden casks have been contaminated and need a deep clean. Cask may be off for some time.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Nostalgia or Good Business?

Those of us that are a bit more long in the tooth than most, have fond and maybe rose tinted views of the beers of the past. We remember clearly when someone would say "Let's go for a pint in the Dog and Duck" and the first response would be "Whose ale is it?"  We may not have been that knowledgeable about hop varieties or styles - indeed, broadly, there were only two styles, mild or bitter. Our minds were completely untroubled by IBUs or indeed IPAs and if terms such as "craft", "barrel aged" or "sour" were presented to us they would have been as incomprehensible then as would have been the internet or computers. But whose beer was on sale was important to us. We did have one relatively geeky word though - "traditional" for that is what we called real ale then - or cask as it is so often now described. It was trad beer that we sought.  We knew it to be better. And we knew what we liked. A darts match in a Whitbread House would have us beating an early and agreed retreat to a more conducive venue - a place with better ale, where we didn't have to dilute keg Trophy with a bottle of Forest Brown to make it drinkable.  It would quite often be a Higsons' house.

Matt Curtis , in a very good piece has written, yesterday I think, about the second wave of brewing, where sleeker, better equipped operations such as Mondo Brewing and Cloudwater with state of the art German built breweries and brewers who actually have training, are likely to make a big impression on the brewing scene. Some seem to look down on this, but Matt makes the very valid point that while lots of brewers can produce decent enough beers, what we need is consistency. As Matt puts it,  "Dependability goes hand in hand with sustainability."  While I may not agree entirely that brewers such as Magic Rock and Beavertown are on their way to becoming regionals, there is evidence that great plant and good brewing technique can grow a business. Not a million miles from me, Moorhouses is a perfect example and in deepest Staffordshire, Joules is another.  Though their plants are nearly as shiny and modern and capable, their business model is a million miles from the urban keg forward models Matt is used to, but this merely underlines Matt's point. The second wave of breweries is growing and diversifying, even if they are in some cases, producing not Alts or Double IPAs, but cask conditioned bitters and golden ales. Matt's point still remains perfectly valid and if you want a decent growth strategy, there is certainly merit in going bigger from the start.   Therein too lies your exit strategy should you want one -  and everyone should.

This brings me neatly back to Higsons. I read with interest in the Liverpool Echo that a new Higsons Brewery company has applied for planning permission to build a new brewery "The planning documents say the primary business would be the “production and sale of craft beer (including draught beer, bottle beer and spirits)” but the facility would also include a bar/cafe and “an upper floor beer hall where visitors can also enjoy a selection of ‘grazing’ food”.  Significantly, the plan includes "a state of the art, highly engineered, German-manufactured beer production plant which will occupy the majority of the available ground floor".  This sounds ambitious but this business model does have legs as outlined above. I do hope though that they can bring back Higsons Bitter in a recognisable (cask conditioned) recipe. And, of course, do other things too. Mixed cask and keg is good.

Liverpool is a very sentimental place and the name Higsons still resonates.  It needs a beer it can call its own.  Fingers crossed, Higsons can be synonymous with Liverpool once more.

Bringing back dead beers can be a good thing. Joules is an example of existing success and Roger Protz has been tasting Charrington IPA at Burton.  You need to have a receptive audience though.

It still astonishes me that many "beer drinkers" have never gone into a pub and asked for "A pint of bitter please.".

Monday, 4 January 2016


Anyone else seen the bus shelter adverts for Cancer Research UK? I mean the one where they suggest you give up the demon drink (my words) and have "one less sin" (their words). One or two things occur to me about this. I didn't know drinking was a sin. Is it one of the ten commandments? Did Moses come down from the mountain saying "Thou shalt not have a few beers".  No he bloody well didn't. Perhaps Cancer Research are using a more liberal definition of sin, as in the Urban Dictionary's "Good, dirty fun". The serious point is that calling drinking a sin is just another attempt to denormalise drinking.  There's other things I dislike about it too, but just have a look at it here and make up your own mind.

I had kind of thought that given that the lies that prop up the anti alcohol campaigners have been exposed as such time and again, that they might let up a bit. Not a chance.  In fact the Nanny State's latest judgement that a pint and a half a day (except when you have to abstain for two days) is your lot will be promulgated any day now.  A pint and a half a day would equate to seven and a half pints a week. Tops. Oh Dear.  Forget that leisurely Sunday session with your  mates, because you can't save it up and have it at once. If you are fond of the stronger craft beers, well maybe two thirds at the most?  That'll be a fun session. If it wasn't for the risk to jobs and revenue putting a bit of a brake on all this, you wonder how much worse this all might become?

One thing is for sure. Cynicism is the correct approach in this area. They are coming for us and they are making inroads. Mudgie was right all along. 

For an alternative view, Tryjanuary, see the Morning Advertiser here.  I can't find the bus shelter advert on line but Cookie has one here on his twitter feed. 

Sorry this isn't as well written as I'd like, but after a few goes at it, this as good as I'm likely to get it.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Letting Standards Slip?

You can't but fail to know that  Manchester is one of the best cities for pubs and drinking in the UK.  It gets a fair old lot of praise from many writers who tend to just dip in, have a few beers in a renowned watering hole and then bugger off back to where they came from, singing its praises and returning the their main and desired theme of how good London is beer wise, even though it isn't as good as is alleged really.  Up here we know how good Manchester is beer wise, but of course that can vary a little too.

New openings though do keep everyone on their toes - or at least should if the incumbents have any sense - and we've had one or two.  I rather like the Smithfield Market Tavern in its new Blackjack Brewery Tap get up, though it was of course a very famous but down- at-heel pub back in the day, but got exceedingly tattier (it was always tatty) as the years rolled on.  At least I could always be assured of a late drink there as I was one of those - rather a large number it must be said - who could knock on the side door and be admitted.  It was taken over not that long ago and money spent on it, but it wasn't a great success, mainly as standards were poor and the beer was usually shite or off.  Now it is clean, popular and booming in the hands of people who know what they are doing and who have turned a failure into what seems to be a roaring success.

Other notables are the much awaited Cafe Beermoth in Spring Gardens, described by my good friend Tyson here which I visited during the Christmas period. It was trading well and was enjoyable as much for the varied and pleasant clientèle, as for the excellent range of beers, sensible pricing, great service and the general feel of the place. It needs to settle in, and I would have liked to see more cask and less keg, but I liked it nonetheless and it will likely be a sure place to visit when I'm in town. Also praised and described by Tyson (and by Stonch no less)  is a place that is certainly is at the other end of the spectrum. Albert's Schloss is an astonishing and expensive conversion of a grand old building on Peter St, just a few doors down from the gloomy BrewDog.  This is a breathtakingly cheeky pastiche of a German Beer Hall, complete with a mostly German menu, an in house bakery, German beers and the biggest draw of all, to this
writer, Tankovna Pilsner Urquell.  It is big - on a grand scale in fact - brash, cheerful, expensive and attracting a mixed crowd. It will be interesting to see how well this will trade in future, but I fancy it will do well enough.

So what's all this got to do with the title of this blog post?  Well, in comparison to these new places, into each life a little rain must fall. I have heard tales that some of the more "established" places - and these aren't that old - have dropped their guard more than somewhat and are losing their lustre by changing what worked before and not for the better.   Three at least have had their fair share of complaints about them and I know many who are now giving them a miss. Name names I hear you say. Well not on this occasion, but you can take a good guess I'm sure if you know Manchester.

The point though is this. In the pub game and in a place like Manchester with so much competition, you have to keep at the top of your game. As always, "It's the offer Stupid."

I'm looking forward to trying the German food at Albert's Schloss. In house bakery sounds good too. Have to say the Urquell was lovely, but at a fiver a go, it should be.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Pandemonium at the Pub

As I neared the end of my walk to the pub yesterday I was on my last quarter mile when an approaching car going downhill away from the pub stopped. It was some of our regulars who had just bailed. "It's rammed in there - you'll have trouble getting in the door." I laughed, exchanged New Year's greetings and trudged on.  Boy was he right. I literally fought my way in through a throng of strangers, push chairs and children. Crikey! Dotted round the edges of the bar were a few regulars, but otherwise I didn't know a soul.  I elbowed my way to the bar and got served.  Not much waiting for us bread and butter types and that's how it should be on days such as this.

Our pub is unusual in many ways. Firstly it is fairly remote, set amidst four farms in the middle of a country park and a mile from either Royton or Middleton, up unmade farm lanes which are used mainly for the milk wagon, farmers getting to and from fields by tractor,  livestock and by walkers.  The pub itself is small, old and has just two rooms. The landlord can only make it pay by working the shifts himself entirely. It is really a "hobby pub" where the way of life is part of the deal.  Now of course walkers are part of the passing trade and are very welcome, but this was of a different magnitude. If only some of these once a year drinkers would come a little more often, life would be better for all. We need some more regulars.

I squeezed in at the bar as the pub got busier. I'd only been there a few minutes and watched as orders for soft drinks, teas and coffees, slowed down the serious business of getting a pint or two of beer.  One lady asked the landlord if he remembered her from last New Year's Day.  He replied that he didn't as he whizzed up and up and down. She ordered two coffees. Regulars helped by clearing tables and fetching empty glasses back to the bar as the crowd was three or four deep.  More locals arrived and found a corner here or there.  At ten to three the bell was rung in earnest for the first time I can recall in years.  All waiting were served,  the bell was rung again and that was that. The strangers supped up and left. Not us regulars though, nor those who fancied more than one. The bar opened again shortly after three fifteen for a couple of hours and we carried on supping in a much more civilised manner.  Anyone who passed was admitted, locals or not. The doors weren't closed, but the pub was much more convivial and the landlord got a much needed breather.  He'd worked hard and deserved one.   

The Lees Bitter and Plum Pudding were excellent and when the pub closed, we bailed to the Ship for half an hour while waiting for a taxi.

It was strangely reminiscent of the old days when pubs stopped serving at three all the time.  I quite liked it, but then again I knew I'd be getting another drink. I did too then in my Liverpool local come to think of it. What goes round, come round and being a regular has some advantages!

Friday, 1 January 2016

No Bloody Buses

As I sit here writing this I'm contemplating my four and half mile walk to the pub.  My arch nemesis First Bus can't be bothered to run a service on New Year's Day. Perhaps they have joined Dry January? Well they won't stop me. Walk there, walk a mile back down to the Ship and phone a cab. Taxis won't come up the lane, it is so pitted and rutted. (A bit like the first day of the Somme, it looks as though it has been freshly shelled). A taxi from the Ship won't even be that much dearer, so take that First Manchester.

My last beers of 2015 were both from Hawkshead. Damson Stout and Wild Wheat. Both interesting and not in the English meaning, but the German one. I've just listened to Henning Wehn on the radio and now am perfectly clear on the difference.  "Interesting" in English is NOT interesting at all and interesting in German IS interesting. Who'd have thought it?  Enough of that and back to beer. I liked the Damson Stout and though British sour beers don't tend to do it for me, enjoyed the Wild Wheat too.  My last cask beer of 2015 was a surprise to me, as with with its usual incompetence, my local Middleton JDW had very little on cask wise, so I plumped for Otter Claus which was a surprisingly rich, bittersweet beer, so good in fact that I had three of them.

Today my first beer of 2016 will likely be Lees MPA if it is on, or Lees Bitter if it isn't.  It's what I mostly drink, though this year I have made a bit of a resolution to get out more, but after today that'll have to wait. Manchester Beer and Cider Festival will take up most of my time and I'll be writing about it. 

 Finally, you'll have heard of the recent floods up here I suppose?  My Wednesday haunt, the Regal Moon in Rochdale was severely inundated and will be out of action for a yet to be determined period. All the staff have been redistributed throughout the JDW Greater Manchester Spoons. This is hard for them as expected shifts may not materialise and there will be financial hardship. I know the people there and feel for them. Flooding is a terrible thing. Do spare a thought for them today when you are cosy in the pub.

Happy New Year to one and all.  Even First Manchester.

 I hope to see many of you at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival. It will be awesome fantastic

I didn't do Golden Pints this year, but my favourite blogger is Seeing the Lizards. If we can't laugh at ourselves.........

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Get Some Decent Glasses

After a very enjoyable and relatively dry lunch in Mayfair last week (large gin £13 but very good) I was a little thirsty. Some kind Twitter folks had pointed me in the direction of some possible thirst slaking destinations near where I was lunching.  The pubs are pretty posh in that neck of the woods with prices to match. The usual London rules apply though. Unless you know the place, avoid cask beer in an unknown pub. That was firmly fixed in my mind. I was after some lager.  Probably just as well as I eyed, somewhat uneasily, Greene King IPA and something called London Glory - brewed in that far flung suburb of the great Metrolopiss - Bury St Edmunds.  "Well serves you right for going into a Greene King pub" I hear you say, but it wasn't. It was the King's Arms in Shepherd Market,  owned by Taylor Walker.

 I had a pint and a half of Portobello London Pilsner (4.6%) with £1.10 change from a tenner. Six quid a pint,but it was fine in its own way. No obvious brewing faults, clean enough, no off tastes and I necked it down. But I wasn't happy at all about the glass (pictured). This tulip glass was without nucleation - in other words a glass designed for ale and most commonly known up here at least - as a Yorkshire glass.  Let's be clear here. It isn't an appropriate glass to drink pilsner lager from. It takes the edge off drinking what was a decent enough pint.  Surely if you can charge people six notes a pop, you can buy some appropriate glasses to serve the overpriced stuff in? It is just not good enough in my view.  Mind you, to my shame, I did have a second. Well, I was thirsty as I said and we had a lovely spot at the window with lovely views of the foreign barmaids taking turns smoking.

Going back to Taylor Walker, there seems to be rather a lot of them (around 100 in London) and it seems that this chain has somewhat of an alliance with GK as I noted through various pub windows as we made our way back through the Christmas lights and the purring Rolls Royces awaiting their well heeled clients outside Aspreys, Oswald Boateng and many others.  Want to see wealth. Take a walk along Bond Street.  Still it was all very pleasant and the lights were very nice.

I've rabbited on about glasses before, but I make no apology for it. Good glassware is important and failure to provide it lets the customer down. 

We moved on to drink Sam Smith's Pure Brewed in various Sam's pubs. Two quid or more less the round and better and stronger beer too.  

The beer was nowhere as brown as this awful ophoto suggests. It was proper pilsner coloured.
Lees Original Lager is served in its own glass. Good lads.  Read more rantings and some praise about glassware here

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Taste or Don't Taste

How do you know how an unknown beer might taste before making a purchase?  Well, in a good pub you might ask the bar staff, or perhaps consult the tasting notes supplied by the brewery-  if any. Or you could Google* it.  You can even ask for a taster if the pubs policy allows - and not all do.  Or you can just order and hope for the best.  I think most of us have done the latter a lot and the rest a bit less so.  Of course you can just take a leap into the unknown and who knows, you might enjoy it. But then again, you might not.  Even having a quick taste of a small amount may not be a help. In my experience it can in fact be downright misleading, as when the beer is scaled up, it presents somewhat differently and usually not as nice as you imagined from that small sip.  It's a bit of a minefield, especially as we now have so many breweries in the UK.

I was quite taken by a bit of an internet discussion the other day by a publican and a brewer over something I haven't given too much thought too over the years - well not in any great detail anyway.. How does the beer get on the bar in the first place?  Putting aside price, agreements, ties and other such, the argument on Twitter basically ran along the lines of "As a publican I must taste and approve a beer before inflicting it on my customers" while the brewer countered with "New Breweries need to be given a chance or we'll end up with the same old beers everywhere."  Now I can see where both are coming from but a number of thoughts occur to me. How is the publican going to get to taste all the beers available to him or her? Does the brewer or his sales person bring a plastic bottle with a sample along? That wouldn't work surely? Does the new brewery offer a cask that can be returned if the licensee doesn't like it? Well that's more possible, but of course the liking it or not by a landlord doesn't necessarily affect the sale of any particular beer. I've refused to drink some awful and pretty damn faulty stuff, while others have opined "Not a bad drop that" - or some such.  I had just such an experience of condemning beers at the Rochdale Beer Festival while others were happy to drink them.

My own experience is that many licensees just take a beer and hope for the best that when they test it in the cellar before putting it on (and they all do that don't they?) the beer will be of sufficient quality to allow it to go on sale and if it isn't, they will take it up with the brewery. To me that seems a fairly reasonable compromise. Not liking it is one thing, finding it to be quite unsaleable, another.

I turned to an experienced landlord of a respected free house for his opinion. Simon Crompton runs the Baum in Rochdale, is a former CAMRA National Pub of the year winner,is known for giving new and up and coming breweries a chance to appear in a top pub, so likely knows a thing or two about this subject.  What does he do? "I try and encourage new breweries. I have a mix of tried and tested and new as that's what my customer base expects. If the new brewery's beer is poor, I take it up with them and likely won't re-order.  It's the best sanction I have while supporting a broad range of beer. It works for me."

I reckon that's what I'd do. What do you think?

*Other search engines are, apparently, available.  

Got to say the Baum is a great place to try new beers, though I don't always like every one, but then again, others do like beers that I don't. It's all down to taste or I suppose we'd just be drinking one beer.

Monday, 7 December 2015

What's Going On?

One or two of my most dedicated readers may have noticed that there has been nothing from me to read for a bit. I'm not ill, just busy. CAMRA stuff has been a full time job recently and makes me wonder if, far from being held back by us old duffers the organisation is actually gaining a huge amount from experienced types like me ensuring, where possible, that local CAMRA operations are run as professionally as possible.

I have also been away a bit, but nowhere exciting. I've had crap cask ale in the only real ale joint in Dumbarton, JDW's Captain James Lang, where knackered beer was sold or rather not being sold to an uncaring Tennents Lager drinking brigade, leaving me to very much give up and switch to bottled Morretti which is a rather nicer lager than Tennents.  To be fair to JDW,  I also spent an afternoon with an old friend in neighbouring Helensburgh, where the local Spoons there, the Henry Bell supplied me with excellent cask and added a smile or two when serving, which also helps.  Another thing that helps there is the large number of Royal Navy types from the Clyde Submarine Base, mostly English, who keep the beer turning over nicely.  Both points illustrate that old quality thing again. What are you going to drink? Tired out cask beer or fresh Morretti?  I know the answer.

I also had excellent beer in the JDW Counting House in Glasgow, a vast barn of a pub which was chokka at 11.30 in the morning and one on which I'd almost given up on quality wise. Bet they have a new cask loving manager - that's usually what perks a JDW up.  On Rob Pickering's advice I also nipped into The Vale, where a perfect pint of Fyne Ales Avalanche was much more enjoyable than a typical Glasgow pub, atypically festooned with TVs all tuned to a different sports channel, while inside not a word was being spoken, as everyone gawped at these silent conversation killers. I'm guessing as it is directly opposite the Dundas St entrance to Queen St station, that it gets customers whatever. On this point I'll add, not getting engaged in conversation in a Glasgow pub is pretty near impossible.

In between times we sold out of beer at Rochdale Beer Festival and good it was too, despite the unseasonably warm weather that had vented beers going off like rockets, with fountains of beer everywhere. The answer to this though is not a soft spile and the beer turned out very well in the end. Manchester Beer and Cider Festival is also taking up a fair amount of time, but trust me, that will be worth it.

Lastly I attended the excellent British Guild of Beer Writers do in London last week.  I'd never heard of half the winners which means I need to read more about beer obviously, though I wouldn't have previously thought so. Things clearly move on quickly beer writing wise as in everything else.

And no, I didn't win anything.

This was my entry for the Beer and Travel section.  I thought you'd like to read it as we near the festive season.

Monday, 23 November 2015

PubCo Pantomime

Pub Campaigner and LibDem MP Greg Mulholland, has got himself into hot water by going along to the Tenanted Pub Company Summit, a £600 a head do, and proceeding from his guest speaker's vantage point, to piss on all their chips.  He didn't as expected take the chance to say that with a victory in the House of Commons over Market Rent Option for PubCos, the slate has all been wiped clean now and all will be sweetness and light in the tenanted pub sector, as the audience apparently hoped.  Instead he tore into them as dedicated recidivists (my interpretation) who still wanted the lion's share of everything happening in the trade - in other words, they wished to carry on as before wherever they could.  The Morning Advertiser didn't like what he said one little bit and perhaps being a little less than even handed, lashed Mr M as "a self appointed Pubs Champion" and, in an opinion piece by the Deputy Editor Mike Berry, called him out for "overstepping the mark."

To the MA's credit though they have given Greg a right of reply, which our Pub Champion has put to good use, berating Mr Berry as "never overstepping the mark in his professional life" - translation - a bit of a wimp - and countering with Berry being more interested in having his back slapped - translation - being a bit of a toady.

Of course I'm no fan of the pub companies, so tend to side with Greg Mulholland. He adds in his right of reply, that at this £600 a head thrash that tenant profitability wasn't mentioned once by the panel that was discussing the various subjects and that it was doubtful if anyone that is a pub tenant was likely to be there given the cost. Both are telling points.  The whole background to why the PubCos failed the industry lies in overweening ambition, saddling pubs with immense debt, wiping out shareholder value and squeezing the tenants until their pips squeaked.  No wonder they want to say "Let's start again with a clean sheet."

They would wouldn't they?  Tell it like it is Greg.  More power to your elbow.

You can read both Morning Advertiser articles, here and here. They are brilliant knockabout pieces which makes you wonder how they read before they were (presumably) toned down.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

In My Liverpool Home

I was back in Scousley yesterday. Did I ever mention I lived there for nine years? Well I did, but it was a long time ago.  The purpose was to visit and have a few drinks with an old mate who emigrated to Australia quite a few years ago, but who was back for his mother's 80th Birthday.  Time passes. My journey was cheap. Booked in advance with my old git's railcard it cost me only £5.40. Not bad at all.

Meeting John at Lime St station we both remarked how Liverpool had changed as we walked along Renshaw St, briefly stopping to admire Dickie Lewis on the way to the Dispensary. So many new and sparkling glass and metal buildings, while other areas that once were relatively prosperous, were now in decline.  Still, we weren't together to lament, but to celebrate, so into a fairly quiet pub we popped, me drinking mild, and he, once a cask man, but corrupted by Australian mass swill, to re-educate his taste buds with a pint of Ossett Decadence, a grittily hoppy beer.  He hadn't lost the knack and we happily chatted over our pints, which were so good that the order was repeated before we did a little light pub campaigning by having a couple of pints at the bar of the much threatened Roscoe Head, an old haunt for both of us.  We bantered with a couple of fellow soaks at the bar and generally enjoyed the atmosphere, the beer and listening to Scouse accents that were so thick you could have cut them with a knife.  I'm sure that this wasn't quite the case when I lived there, or, more likely, I just was used to them then in these far off halcyon days..

Conversation drifted to drinking beer in Sydney. He's recently switched from Toohey's New to Resch's and discussed the growing craft scene in Oz, which he described as an excuse to rip people off and "if I never see another craft IPA, it'll be a day too soon." Kind of know where he is coming from. Seems craft beer is reassuringly expensive world wide.  He seemed surprised to hear that we now have two third measures here as he struggled to translate New South Wales schooners sold in Australian dollars into UK pints in sterling to give me an idea of cost.  Apparently too,  UK 20 oz glasses are becoming a thing there, so it is a two way street glass wise.  And yes, despite his 15 years or so there, he still gets called a Pommie Bastard. I had intended to ask if he fancied trying some of the newer and craftier places around Seel St and Bold St, but he said he'd rather explore old haunts. So we did, next calling into the Fly in the Loaf, though it was Kirklands in those days - I remember drinking Newcastle Amber in there - and then lingering for several pints in the Philharmonic as we did so many years ago. Then the beer was Warrington brewed Tetley, which I dare say then we enjoyed just as much, though the current choice was, shall we say, greatly enhanced..

Some things don't change though. John asked if we could have our last pint in the Swan in Wood St. Yes, another old haunt and one of the first multi tap pubs in Liverpool. I got my CAMRA membership form there, possibly clouded by Owd Roger which was often on draught there. A haunt of bikers then and maybe now,  it was a bit of a shithole then.  It looks much the same now. Well, as I said, some things don't change that much, though it seemed to me to be a bit cleaner. It was comfortably the poorest pint of the day.

So we missed out on all the new bars and pubs and all the craft, but it didn't matter one bit.  I still love Liverpool and we had a cracking day out.

Our reminiscences didn't half involve recalling a lot of ale supping.  After that we would both have given our eye teeth for a pint of Higgies.  I only took one photo, which is from the Fly in the Loaf and the lovely Manx Pale Ale.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

A New Way For Micropubs?

Largely due to my friend Nick's ministrations, I have become very interested in micropubs - no - not to the extent of wishing to open one - even more tying than having a cat - but as a newish pub genre. Those that I have visited so far, all but one with said Nick, have delighted me.  Their simple one room arrangement, a range of well presented cask ales and a general and quintessential niceness appeals to me. They are somehow, to me at least, very English. I don't quite know why I think it, but I reckon you'd have to choose your location pretty damn carefully for the concept to work in Scotland, whose drinking and pub culture is somewhat different.

The accepted founder of the movement, Martyn Hillier (right) sees them as a big thing for the future and even has a definition of what a micropub should be "A Micropub is a small freehouse which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks"  Well it may not trip off the tongue, but it is an easy enough concept to grasp and has to be followed by any micropub that aspires to be included on the Micropub Association's Directory.  All tickety boo so far.

This morning I read Roger Protz's blog with unusual interest. Not that Rog is uninteresting, but this time he reported on the ways that  Moorhouses Brewery of Burnley (Pendle Witch and the like) might increase it's small estate of three pubs. As an aside I remember when they had eight or ten or so, but they all more or less fell from grace including the Dusty Miller in my CAMRA branch area, as reported by my good friend Tyson here.  Not entirely sure why they all did, but most were rather down-market and I know some were redeveloped, but anyway Moorhouses have come up with a wizard wheeze to sell more of their beer.  I'll quote their MD David Grant: "To survive as an emerging regional brewer, our challenge is to sell more beer in line with our new brewery plan when we invested to treble capacity five years ago.  Having our own pubs is one way we can move forward. The whole pub and beer industry has changed immeasurably in the past few years. The number of micro breweries has tripled due to generous tax relief, giving them a trading advantage over bigger brewers. And they are all seeking local business – yet the number of pubs has fallen dramatically. We are being caught in a perfect storm with a shrinking market. Consequently I am actively looking at shops or small spaces in good strategic locations to open micro-pubs to complement the traditional pub model. These outlets would be in our core northern area – possibly as far afield as York or Chester -- and could operate for 48 hours a week. They would sell the very best quality beers – both ours and guest ales -- and have a limited but first class wine and food offering".

A number of things to note there. Firstly bigger regional brewers - and Moorhouses certainly are one - are feeling the pinch from micro breweries. Secondly there is another swipe at tax relief, but for the purposes of this article, that the answer to expanding their market may be to include opening brewery owned micropubs in the brewer's own trading area.  This more or less completely overturns the unique selling point that our friend Martyn Hillier devised, of the micropub being a free house. That notion is further undermined by an intention to have a "first class wine and food offering. 
Frankly I'm not sure what to make of it or what Martyn Hillier (right) would. While Moorhouses may say they'll offer other brewer's beers, that would surely be minimal, as otherwise it would negate the purpose of setting them up in the first place, that is to sell more of the company's beer.  How would these be run and managed? Paid managers? Tenants?  For a first class food operation you need a first class kitchen and so on.  

Is this just kite flying?  I don't know, but one thing is for sure. Now that this idea is out and about, others will be considering if they could steal adapt it.

Interesting in Roger's same article, is the plan to double the expansion of Oakham Brewery. No hardship if that happens.

I don't have a cat presently, but would like one if it wasn't so tying. I know this.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Colin's Coat

One of our Sunday crew, Colin, has a record of losing his coat from our pub. Always it has turned out that someone else, known to him and to the rest of us has taken it by mistake. The sort of mistake that you may well infer has a degree of alcoholic influence behind it.

Last Sunday after a typical session. We - Colin me and E - were offered a lift down the lane by one of the other regulars whose wife had called to collect him in a big 4x4. We accepted as it was inclement and well, who in truth really fancies a mile walk down a rutted, cow shit filled lane in the dark?  E and I were in the car, Colin was in the pub rummaging for his coat. He couldn't find it. The curse of Colin's coat had struck again.  With all of us hooting disrespectful comments from the car, he reluctantly left the pub and jumped in, casting wistful glances back into the pub. At the bottom of the lane E and I hopped out. Our benefactor was passing Colin's door and dropping him off there.  We turned to the nearby bus stop and I put my hand in my pocket to find an unfamiliar object there. It was Colin's cap. I was wearing his coat.

Well. What to do? E nipped along a couple of hundred yards to Colin's with the coat and I, fortunately with a thick jumper on given that it was chilly,  trudged wearily back up the lane for the mile to the pub to fetch my own coat.  I met a couple of our lads on the way down who were not entirely sympathetic to my predicament.   I may even have heard the buggers laughing as I walked on.  John the landlord did keep a sort of straight face, but not by much, when I re-appeared.  At least the walk down was warmer and downhill.

This Sunday when I arrived at the pub I was subjected to many coat based comments and much ribbing.  One of the things about having a local is from time to time you take a fair bit of stick.  Still, it's nice to belong.

When on that lane at night alone you realise how creepy it is.  And bloody dark for a fair bit, as lighting only goes half way up.  E was meantime as snug as a bug in Colin's house.  Despite a fair few pints, my extra two miles certainly sobered me up.

Friday, 23 October 2015

A Popular Misconception

Our pub, along with another, had a trip around JW Lees Greengate Brewery on Wednesday night. They are the kind of thing a brewery such as Lees does as a reward to its tenants and customers from time to time, though the gap between visits is usually rather long.  Such events include a tour round the brewery and after a few pints in the Brewery Cottage (the hospitality suite) poured by the Area Manager and the hosting pub tenants - off we went. Now I've been around there quite a lot in various guises and each time I learn something new.  This time one of the Brewhouse Team - a production brewer if you like - took us round. I know him a little and he asked me not to ask awkward questions. As if I would. That wastes valuable drinking time, but as we walked back to the Cottage we chatted about Lees Original Lager and Carlsberg which are produced at Greengate. "Of course" he said, "you won't approve of lager."  He seemed surprised when I advised him that I'm a huge fan of lager and of Lees Original and that I regularly drink lager home and abroad.

This idea that Camra types all dislike lager is a quite common misconception.  It is like the misconception that Camra members don't drink pasteurised bottles, don't drink keg and don't drink cans. "They certainly don't drink craft" is the mantra. Now a few die hards mightn't, but actually most of us do drink keg beers (carefully selected of course) and most of us certainly drink lager to some extent or other lager.  Returning to craft keg, in fact in areas outside London, I reckon some craft bars are both literally and figuratively propped up by Camra members in a way that would surprise most people. (London is a different case, but it will still happen there.)

While cask beer at its best is unbeatable, not drinking lager is inconceivable to me for one.   Well made lager is an absolute delight and those that sniff at lager are missing out in a big way.  

What did I learn this time?  Well, while I knew Lees made no cask beer for anyone else since they stopped doing Burton Ale, I found out that they brew Tetley Keg Bitter, Greenalls Bitter and Ansells Bitter (both keg).

They also produce Carlsberg Lager for Carlsberg to supplement Carlsberg's own production, as well as for their own estate and free trade.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Brewsmith Beers

Now I don't often give tips for the top, but when I do pin back your lugholes and listen, as I've quite a good track record in recommendations. Think Hawkshead, Weird  Beard and Buxton to name but three.  I don't see this latest tip in quite the same way, but if you want rather well made traditional beer, I'd give them a go. They are named above - Brewsmith - and funnily enough though, while  they are in Ramsbottom which is 95%+ in my CAMRA Branch area, they are situated in the 5% that isn't (Stubbins). A shame that but there you go.  Technically it is in East Lancashire.

I know James the brewer a little from before the plant (10 barrels of stainless steel) was even set up and while we still reckoned they were one of "ours". I've bumped into him a few times recently, including at IMBC a couple of weeks ago and last night in the Baum where he was doing a "Meet the Brewer" and I was attending a Rochdale Beer Festival organising meeting.  I've liked all the beers they have done so far - well the ones I've tasted anyway - and last night was no different. I drank the Pale, a distinct pale and bitter beer with a clean hop aroma and great drinkable bitterness. It was so good I ended up having four pints of it and only stopped when the beer ran out.A nine gone in just under three hours.  I switched to the meatier and stronger Stout which had oaty smoothness and a complex coffee and liquorice taste with some light fruit notes and a bitter finish. These are cask beers and trust me, they are good.  If you see some, buy the beer and see for yourself. As far as I know they don't do keg (yet) but bottles will be soon.

Have a look at the website here. It all looks rather shiny. I'm due a visit and must  get up there soon.

The picture above looks washed out, but since I didn't take one in the pub, it has come off the website. The beer with a CAMRA discount was a bargain £2.70

SIBA recognised Brewsmith too as they won three medals at the recent North West competition.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Augustiner Bräustuben and the Hofbräuhaus

Funnily enough in the many times I've been to Munich, I've never visited the Augustiner Bräustuben. I'd heard it was good of course and knew people who'd been there, but not me.  Last week our hotel was just a few minutes walk away and we thought we'd take a look.  We went on Tuesday night, though on the same morning we'd had a quick recce. Just a normal street corner local I thought, though probably bigger inside. We returned later, after many miles of walking and two or three half litres of helles in a very small kneipe nearby, where we drank cheap Hofbrau beer and sat nonchalantly as a couple of German lads threw darts at an electronic dartboard, just centimetres from our heads. Fortunately they were good and no darts rebounded, but we weren't as comfortable as we acted.  Stiff upper lip and all that.

Man does not though live by beer alone, though I've been known to give it a jolly good try.  The sky had greyed up and rain was spitting intermittently, when about eight o'clock we entered the Bräustuben. Bloody Hell.  It was not only massive, but filled to the rafters with jolly Germans scooping it down and scoffing enormous plates of pork. There must have been several hundred of them. And us.  A friendly waiter wedged us on the edge of a bench, delivered us of Augustiner Edelstoff and left us to it.  I looked around at a scene that has become familiar over the years. Germans eating out in droves on a midweek night.  We ate and drank well that night in a great atmosphere despite having to have many incorrect items (cheerfully) removed from the bill.

The day before when we arrived, we walked through the streets; me to re familiarise myself and Mike to see for the first time.  Our first pint was in Augustiner am Platzl, opposite the Hofbräuhaus.  It is a fair size, but boy was it busy. We perched at the end of a table, but just had one. It really wasn't that comfortable, though it didn't seem to bother the locals who ate uncomfortably balanced on high stools, while all sorts brushed past.  Mike doesn't eat meat, which makes life tricky in Germany. He looked up the Hofbräuhaus on the internet and there was two or three veggie dishes on the menu and we were hungry. "Could we go there?" Of course. It isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it is mine.  Normally. Now this is one huge place and it was rammed, though we did eventually find a seat after ten minutes or so.  Our waiter wasn't at all jolly and was mostly absent and smelling strongly of smoke when he did return. We talked to a couple of Swiss folks on our table and we (and they) waited interminably for our beer and interminably for our food, though Mike was doomed to cheese and bread, as all cooked veggie options were off.  It was a better visit last year, but I get the feeling that complacency has set in, waiter wise, though to be fair, my roast pork in paprika cream sauce and spaezle was delicious.

There's a lot of money in Munich.. Everywhere was the same. In midweek nights, it was packed and not just with tourists either, though it seemed to me, a keen observer of the German pub scene, that in some areas at least that hospitality and service was sorely lacking, even if customers certainly were not.

And my old favourite Hofbräu Dunkel seemed thin and unappealing, though maybe that was the poor experience. It was a good night though on Tuesday at the Bräustuben even if we did get pissed wet through on leaving. 

Friday, 9 October 2015

IMBC, Bury and Munich

It is going to be busy. Later today I'm off to IndyManBeerCon to see what's afoot. I'm  looking forward to seeing many of my other freeloading colleagues at the Trade Session (you do have to pay for the beer though) and to having a natter with many people that I know and hopefully even meeting some that I don't. I'm sure there will be plenty there and I understand many local dignitaries, including some Camra types will be there too. There's even a special train running from London bringing the bloggerati "Oop North" for a rare trip outside the capital. (Jeff Bell has hired an entire coach for his blog contributors). Manchester isn't that scary, so don't worry Folks and IMBC will be re-assuringly expensive. I can't guarantee the beer will be murky enough for you though. That's mainly a London thing don't you know? Oh sorry. Should that be "yeast lead" enough for you?  The serious point is that it is a major Manchester beery event and it is good to have such an event in the city, so that's great. I might even try some craft keg myself, but sticking to my principles, not if it is soupy. Well, I guess we all will be. Trying it that is. These third measures can be disastrous though. You think a third pint is a just a damp glass and an hour and a half an hour later you are lying in a skip outside wondering how you got there. Well enough of last year, let's move on.

On Saturday it's down to earth with a tour of our (Camra) Bury pubs and breweries. The exact itinerary is a closely guarded secret, kept even from me, the esteemed branch chairman, so I'm looking forward to pleasant surprises and being back home tucked up in bed by half past nine completely pissed.  These are boozy affairs.  Trust me on that one.  The great imponderable, as with all such things, is whether either today or tomorrow, Tyson will be present.  Like all great statesmen though his movements are never released to the general public for crowd control reasons, so I live in hope.

I'm wriggling out of my usual Tandle Hill sesh on Sunday, but I might call in for one, just to get my name in the attendance book, as on Monday I'm off to Munich for three nights sightseeing.  That's beer for you!

And I can get a bus straight to IMBC - well more or less - from ours. Even better.  Looking forward to seeing all my beery chums on my own (sortof) turf. And it is gloriously sunny.

Now for bacon and eggs to pre-load.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Two New (to me) London Pubs

I mentioned here that I intended to visit a pub new to me near Liverpool St Station, but re-reading it, I failed to mention what it was. Let's put that right. It was the Williams Ale and Cider House.  So, with a little time on my hands (or so I thought) I set off to have look.  Easy enough to find in Artillery Lane which is just off Liverpool St itself, this at first glance looks like a throwback to Tap and Spiles of yore kind of place. Bare boards, breweriana on the walls, lots of handpumps, lots of wood.  But wait. With a thorough look round it looks like a throwback to Tap and Spiles of yore.  If you are young enough not to have seen this type of place - commonly then referred to as "Ale House" - you'll likely think it to be rather fetchingly old fashioned. If not it will look like...... well you get the idea. So, given the name, full marks for not re-inventing the wheel and doing what it says on the tin.

Surprisingly being lunchtime and given the area, there were a few suits; it wasn't that busy. An alert young barman offered me tastes of a mostly London based selection.  The beer was just a tad warm.  To my surprise as I stood at the bar a Cask Marque inspector showed up and asked to test the beer. This was getting interesting, especially as I knew the guy, though I said nothing until he'd done his work.  Beers were tested and the manager summoned. "Everything OK" he said.  This over, I said hello. We knew each other from beer judging and he whispered that it had just scraped in at the top of the temperature range. Fair enough I suppose. In is in and it was a quiet lunchtime.  Overall I quite liked the place though black marks to the manager who operated the till while splashing beer one handed into a glass stood under the handpump.  Poor, poor, poor and if he'd done it to me he'd have been put right and I likely, would have been put out. Still overall, I'll be back.

A horse of an entirely different colour is the Singer Tavern on 1 City Road, recommended to me by Stonch.  This a big, cavernous pub which when busy must be rather buzzy, but in the afternoon it was cavernous and more or less deserted, its green and white tiled décor giving an alarming sense of drinking in a large gents public lavatory. I stood at the bar for my first pint and very much enjoyed a pint of Charnwood APA which was in perfect condition and despite the photo, clear as a bell. Downside was the price and, I suppose the choice. Only two cask beers, both around 5% and £4.50 a pop. Seemingly that's the case with owners Barworks, but hey ho, better paying £4.50 for quality than £4+ for warm soup.  Service in this empty barn was at best perfunctory. I took my second pint out into the warm sunshine - great for people watching - and enjoyed my pricey beer.

So. Two different London pubs and I reckon I'll happily go back to both. 

Things took a dody turn after that that when the Landlady phoned. She and her husband were in London for the JDW awards. Things got hectic after that.

Anyone else thinking that keg taps are starting to have their "usual suspects?"  Lagunitas, Camden and Magic Rock?

I was spotted in the Singer by a mate of Stonch's. Be that beardy guy with the quiff. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Not a Warm Pint in Sight

I mentioned my visit to Ramsgate in an earlier post and rather than bore you with, "We went here and drank this" I'll stick to a few basics which illustrate a bigger picture.  Ramsgate has a lot of friendly pubs and friendly people. Every pub we went in to had someone keen to talk to us. OK Nick is an American and attracts the "nutter on the bus" types, but even allowing for that, we did rather well on the chatting front. It was like being in pubs of yesteryear, with very mixed clientèles making the visit pleasant by including us. Perhaps it is that inclusiveness that is most missing from pubs nowadays as the market has fragmented and segmented into particular types sticking to particular pubs.

Secondly - and this is important - we didn't get a bad pint.  In two tiny micropubs, including one in which we were the first customers, the beer was cool and well conditioned.  That's important.  That's not to say I liked every beer. I didn't. I particularly disliked and was disappointed by the so called replacement for Ind Coope Draught Burton Ale, also called Draught Burton Ale by Burton Bridge Brewery, which tasted nothing at all like the original and left me fuming about it, but that happens.  This was in the second micropub of the day, the Hovelling Boat Inn which was simply superb. We were immediately included in the shouted banter with locals, one of whom travels frequently from Northampton just to be there. It is that good. Thirdly the prices. It wasn't uppermost in our minds, but most beers were around the £3 a pint mark which is pretty damn good for that part of the world.

Local beers were to the fore. Most beers were unashamedly brown. One landlord told us bluntly, but kindly that he didn't like golden ales. Well I might not agree, but at least what was on was good. I was particularly impressed by Gadds and by Westerham, but really, nothing was that bad at all. I liked the Ravensgate Arms where we exchanged good natured banter with the many bearded denizens, the Queens Head with its ornate front and craft keg, the Artillery Arms which could almost be described as a micropub and my favourite of them all the Montefiore Arms with its square bar, characterful locals, excellent Gadd's beer and a great atmosphere.  I asked the landlady if a taxi could be ordered for me around 45 minutes before I needed it. "Best get one right away" she said "It's Bingo night!"  Great stuff. I didn't enjoy the 35 minutes wait at the deserted station though.

Sometimes, as a pub man, I despair, but a visit to Ramsgate with its great pubs, good beer and above all smashing people, was a real tonic.

The other great thing about micropubs is selling simple things like filled rolls and pork pies.  Just what you need, though in fact it was a local baker that sorted me out with a whopping corned beef and tomato crusty cob for £1.55. Splendid.

Worryingly the largest Wetherspoons in the UK is being built on the seashore. Hope that doesn't bugger it all up!

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Conqueror Ramsgate

Micropubs are a big thing in Kent it seems. There are loads of them and I had my first real introduction to the genre earlier this year in Broadstairs, at the invitation of my mate Erlangernick, who despite living in Franconia Germany - a good looking place with the odd nice beer or two - has developed a liking for Kent and in particular, the area of Thanet. Having visited twice now, I must say that it is a fairly likeable area, though I suppose good weather on both visits didn't harm things.  Ramsgate is, to be honest, a seaside town that has seen better days, but which now seems to be on the up and up, with many houses festooned with scaffolding and builders hard at it renovating like mad.  There's a lot of pubs.

I came down from London on the high speed Javelin train which was extremely comfortable and quick given the distance.  Perhaps Londoners will latch on to its speed and convenience as a consumer dormitory? The station is a bit out of town which is a bummer, but having met up with Nick who is a bit of a Thanet expert, we set off on a beautiful autumn day for the centre and beer. The walk took us past the first pub of the day, the Conqueror, on a street corner and beckoning invitingly. It was after noon - well just about - so in we went, to a large square room. That was the pub, decorated with brewery memorabilia and photos of PS Conqueror, a paddle steamer of some renown and affection.  The owner who was waiting on, pointed out his grandfather sitting amid the group of cut throats who were the crew.  It was cosy. Nick might have said "gemütlich". It would have done nicely.

We settled down with cool, well conditioned half pints of Green Hop Ale from (I think) Westerham Brewery and jolly nice it was too, though I'm not sure that the green hops add anything much.  So good I had another as we chatted to the owner, Colin Aris, who was a very amiable person indeed. He and Nick nattered about this and that brewery and pub that they knew about, while I threw in the odd remark and enjoyed the memorabilia on the walls.  Colin ribbed me gently about the Baum in my area winning Camra's National Pub of the Year and beating him into second place. Ah yes. Sorry about that.

It was a good start and things actually got better. Ramsgate impressed.

 More of micropubs and just small pubs next time. I didn't get a bad pint all day. Oh hang on. I did, but it was the exception rather than the rule.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Where's Good and New in London?

Right Folks. I'm off to London later today and will have a day to myself on Wednesday. Oh. Tomorrow - doesn't time fly.  Where's reasonably new that I likely haven't been to and, importantly what's also good around it?  I get itchy feet and I don't want to spend valuable drinking time on the tube more than I have to. Starting point is E1, as that's where I live in London.

Of course it must have cask beer as at least part of its offering. I don't mind what kind of pub or bar it is otherwise.

Weather is going to be good too. Yippee! 

Actually it doesn't have to be new but that would be nice, but places with two or three other pubs handy would be best for this drinker. Must pack my thermometer!

Around the Beer Blogs (5)

I first used the above title here in February 2008 and haven't done one since later that same year, so I'm a bit overdue Seven years overdue in fact, so it's time I caught up with what others are doing. You won't have missed it as new reader, as the basic idea, adjusted a bit, has been used elsewhere though I never claimed it to be original.

First the Old School

It must be fitting to start with my old mate Stonch. Well hasn't the lad changed over the years? Not quite so bombastic, but just as enjoyable.  Having had a few years off  blogging while he ran a couple of pubs, he has come back with some marvellous insights into how it all works nowadays and a slightly different approach.  His return to blogging was in his old manner, giving out comments on this and that, but now he has widened his blog team of just him, to a team of four.  Good to see a former blogger Jesus John returning to the fold in his cerebral way and Arthur Scargill is just brilliant and no doubt a pain to some.  The irreverence of his comments reminds one - and that reminder is needed - that blogging should be individual and should be at least cheeky at times.  There seems to be a tendency to prick some of the silliness around craft beer and that is sure to get him noticed. Funnily enough the crafteratti don't see themselves that way.  For the old Stonch watch out for various comments under his real name, where he attracts both praise and criticism.

Boak and Bailey were minnows in the blogging world back then (we all were really apart from Jeffers) and in fact they gave it up for a while too. They have returned to the fold with a determination that would put most obsessives to shame.  Still, a book later, Number one blog in most lists and British Guild of Beer Writers awards tucked up their jumpers, they have reaped the success such effort deserves.  They have though changed tack a lot, using much historical data as the basis of blogging as well as a somewhat anal interest in de-constructing beer and drinking.  Still it works for them and if you want to know all about how to drink in a pub and even how to write properly, they will and have advised accordingly. Whether you like that or not is up to you, but hey, it shows confidence.  One interesting point is that they used to identify which person had written each blog piece, but now they don't, using "we" like literal Siamese twins. (I reckon Ray does it all these days).   Some of the newer bloggers have taken a more critical look - yes you Matthew - but I is all sweetness and light, as was the original point of Around the Beer Blogs.  Still, they set the bar high for those around them and they do write well. That's a good thing.

The Beer Nut continues on merrily, drinking his way through the beer world.  He was around in 1997 too when I started -so an old mate - and in fact commented on my first ever "Around the Beer Blogs", . His output is prodigious, his descriptions of beers the best in the business and his enthusiasm for writing about beer undiminished by time.  He is unusual that he writes only about beer he has drank in the main, but this does not lessen his impact but rather gives his blog direction and purpose as well as conveying the excitement and disappointments of an eclectic approach to beer drinking. It probably isn't true, but you just can't imagine him sitting down and drinking the same beer twice in a row, though he may have to soon, as I reckon there must only be about ten beers in the world he hasn't had and he'd give Alan Whicker a run for his money on the air miles front.  He is also a very nice fella, good company and does a nice line in Cadbury's Tiffin.

More soon about some of the newer bloggers. Probably in seven years.

Other Around the Beer Blogs are herehere and here.  I didn't include Ron Pattinson in this review as basically, he hasn't changed a bit. Make of that what you will, but I still love his stuff. Well some of it anyway.