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 of Ramsbottom

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. 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.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Craft Defined at Last

I was listening to Radio 4 yesterday morning and was amused to hear Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn described as "Like Craft Ale" by a spokesman.  Well that's an interesting comparison as I would have thought - if he wasn't a teetotaller - that he'd be more of a real ale. You know, straightforward, uncomplicated, does what it says on the tin and you know that now and then, like Jeremy's policies, you'll get one that you just can't stomach. Love him or hate him, you know what he stands for. That kind of thing.  That can hardly be said for craft, though of course, you can always fall back on "It isn't easily explained, but you'll know it when you see it."  Or, I suppose, you could always ask BrewDog. They have an awesome explanation, much as the Queen of Hearts had for the meaning of words. That is it can mean exactly what they wish it to mean at any given time.

Now pondering this caused my brain to hurt, so I gave up as I usually do. Enlightenment just wasn't coming.  I turned instead away from beer and back to politics, another favourite subject, and watched Daily Politics.  The analogy with Mr Corbyn came up again and Jo Coburn (JoCo) again questioned a Labour Party spokesman as to what that might mean.  There was some bluster and JoCo retorted by way of her own craft beer definition.  "Oh" she said, "You mean it's a niche product that most people don't buy"?

So there you have a very plausible definition. Who says the BBC is out of touch?

This is my first post on my new PC. I'll get used to Windows 10 and this new keyboard eventually I assume. Hopefully I can speed up the blogging too as this PC starts right away.  Handy that.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

It Wasn't All Bitter

I  used to collect breweriana. That is bits and pieces associated with breweries. Ephemera if you will. While I do have odds and ends from all over, I tended to concentrate on things that were local to me or had some connection to me. 

 Most of my readers will know of Boddingtons of Manchester. When it was a great beer, people from all over sought it out, me included. On my visits to the Greater Manchester area long before I lived here, it was a must have pint. I have a few good pieces from Boddies, including both the old and the new signs that once were displayed outside their pubs. They are rather fetching actually.

 The showcards above are pretty nice though don't you think?  They remind us that in the past, Boddies wasn't just about bitter.  Their mild wasn't that brilliant though, being a bit thin and caramelly.  I remember - none too clearly - having an afternoon boozing in the in trade cellar when they brewed mild and bitter as well as Oldham Brewery Bitter and Mild, which by then, in my opinion were better brews. Boddies had declined more than somewhat.

Having said that, it is a pity they went the way of all things rather sooner than they should have, but it was entirely their own fault. That's another story, but Charles Boddington, whose son Ewart sold the brewery to Whitbread,  must be spinning in his grave.

I'd show you the old Boddies signs too, but blogger just won't let me format them in any reasonable way and it would just look bloody awful

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Actual Artifacts from the Actual Nineties

I read with interest Boak and Bailey's blog here about a range of ales produced by Whitbread in the nineties.  They concentrate on Colonel Pepper's Lemon Ale and while I remember it, it was as B&B say, one of many special ales produced at that time to increase interest in cask beer.  Collectively they were called "The Cask Connoisseur's Challenge". I drank them in the Dusty Miller here in Middleton when it was a Whitbread pub run by a mate of mine, Charlie Ashton.

Charlie then was a cask man and Whitbread were pushing cask. The Dusty became a cask ale house of some sort - there was a brand which I don't recall - with guest ales and of course, real ales from the Whitbread empire.  I know they sold cask Trophy and Chester's Mild and Bitter as staples. I was an eager customer and remember drinking the beers, but not only that, when the beers came out, you could acquire (I'm not sure how exactly) T shirts to go with each beer.  Charlie told me not to worry about such qualification as was deemed necessary by his bosses and that he would "Sort me out."  When the promotion ended, Charlie presented me with a carrier bag full of T shirts representing each of the beers.  Over the years the T shirts have slowly but surely died a death, but I still have three, pictured on this blog, as well as a show card for Murphy's Oyster Stout. That was bloody good stuff too.

Of course the T shirts don't fit me any more. Wonder why I haven't thrown them out?  You'll also be glad to know, nearly 25 years later, Charlie still manages the Dusty Miller having somehow survived pub company after pub company, as his pub pinged around between them.  It doesn't sell cask though now, but I still see Charlie around Midd now and then.

I hope B&B will forgive me hopping on their backs over this one, but hopefully this will add to the tale they tell.

I can remember the Lemon beer but that's as far as it goes. Can't remember at all how it tasted, but I do remember the Christmas Pudding was bloody good.

Friday, 11 September 2015

More Pickering Picks

After our success at the Sun Inn, the bar had been set very high indeed. Thus it was that our first stop, while perfectly pleasant, did not reach such dizzying heights.  Rather less attractive that What Pub might suggest, The Royal Oak was anything but "bustling". In fact we four were the only customers.  Nonetheless the welcome was pleasant and the beer was decent enough, with all of us plumping for Purity Ubu which was good. John Smith's on cask was a bit of a rare sighting, but the barman was happy to chat and direct us to other recommendations in town. Can't say fairer than that.

Our next stop, the Black Swan is an imposing looking place and inside you could have filmed an episode of All Creatures Great and Small without changing much at all. Older couples in tweedy things earnestly ate roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding amid an eclectic range of knick knacks including many examples of the kind of valve radios I grew up with.  By way of astonishing contrast, the bar was staffed by three young barmaids with matching corporate style uniforms. The lasses were friendly enough, though they had to be rescued by a colleague from Inverness (she said) to sort out the over foamy beer and who chatted pleasantly while fettling things.  She disappeared and the trio of staff then lapsed into silence in what was a quiet pub.  We asked if the pub was owned by Brass Castle or the company stitched on their aprons. This seemed to confuse them, as did a question about where Brass Castle beers are from.  One actually held her hands up and said "Whoah. Question overload!" Odd, but the beer was actually excellent, even if the staff could do with coming out of their shells a little more.

Our last call after the local pork pie shop was the Bay Horse and a horse of an entirely different colour at that.  This was bustling with locals enjoying the beer, cosy, warm and welcoming. The barmaid, as young as those in the previous Swan was clearly in charge, full of banter and confidence and enjoying herself. That's infectious.  There's a bit of an uphill slope and ridge on the way to and from the bar which most of us stumbled over giving rise to ribald comments from the locals. Clearly a source of local amusement, it was done with humour and we laughed too.  Beer was good and it was a very satisfying end to our Pickering stop.  We left amid a chorus of goodbyes.

Pickering is a smashing town, with many local shops, decent pubs and is very welcoming.  Don't hesitate to go there.

By and large all the pubs in North Yorkshire were friendly and had warm welcomes. That was err... welcome.  It really does make a big difference and it doesn't have to be a long conversation. A smile and "hello" will do.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

The Sun Inn Pickering

On my North Yorkshire retreat last week, on the way to Whitby, we stopped off in Pickering for a drink. Four of us had intended to park up in the centre and try a couple of the pubs, as our preferred option, the Sun Inn wasn't open until four according to the Good Beer Guide. Driving past it at the end of a neat terrace in Westgate, eagle eyed Steve shouted. "Stop, the door's open." So we did.  It was open too and we trooped in to a lovely welcoming , bright and airy bar with five handpumps. We were greeted smilingly by the barmaid who explained that the pub had summer and winter hours, but we were lucky enough to call before the winter hours kicked in. "We keep telling CAMRA" she sighed, "but they just get it wrong".  We glanced around. It had obviously been a Tetley pub at some time as much Tetley memorabilia in the shape of pumpclips, signs, drinks trays and more dotted the walls.  "There's more next door" quoth our hostess.

We turned to beer, like you do, before exploring.  Tasters were offered. All had clearly been pulled through and were excellent.We were the first customers. Top marks for that. Beers were ordered and in the next hour or so, all the beers were local. apart from Tetley Bitter which was not tried.   A local couple joined us and said hello. The barmaid and later, the landlady joined us and kept up amiable chatter throughout our visit, telling us of social events asking about us and our visit and showing us the next room with a large atrium and the biggest Tetley Bitter sign I've seen.  Apart from the brewery wall that is. The Huntsman in his glory and around six feet tall.  The walls were festooned with paintings from a local artist which apparently are changed for a different artist each month. They weren't cheap, but you could buy greetings cards of them for a mere two quid.  Nice touch. They don't run out of artists readily. The landlady explained that "Pickering is a bit of an arty place." Who knew?

Jeff Bell said yesterday in his blog "All the time I've written this blog, and throughout the years I was in the trade myself, I've wondered what it is that makes a great pub. It's clearer to me now, particularly after a night like that. What makes a great pub is a warm welcome and happiness."

He couldn't be more correct. For strangers, visiting a local pub with a warm welcome and a bit of chat makes it so worthwhile.  We'd intended to have one round, but we had two, so it makes business sense too.  We left happy and with great reluctance and I recommend it strongly to you.  

We tried three more Pickering pubs. Results are still pretty good.  This was more or less the standard routine in Yorkshire, which is a great place to drink.

Sorry no photo of the pub. I forgot. It is at 136 Westgate, Pickering, YO18 8BB

Monday, 31 August 2015

Sneery Beery

I haven't written about the Great British Beer Festival until now and as far as I can make out not that many have either.  There are one or two moaning  exceptions which I'll mention in a moment or two, but my own thoughts first.  I want to address the complaint of "sameiness" which is a recurring theme of the knockers.  As someone who has been working at the festival for many years, you do get a feeling of familiarity and indeed cosy sameness about it when you show up and it is all there set out invitingly before you (I don't do set up - I'm far too old for that) but even so I still spend my first "let loose" half hour checking what's new and what's different.  There is always enough. It may look the same, but subtle changes are always being made.  But back to the cosy sameness.  That is to some extent the point.  You are showing up at a huge version of your local.  It has a set of features you enjoy, usually the chance of bumping into people to chat to and it has a lot of good beer.  And the beer is getting better. Huge efforts are made to cool the beer and present it well and I for one didn't have a pint at an unacceptable temperature, nor did I have a pint that was flat. So given that it is served Southern style, nothing to moan about there.

"Ah but the choice?" I hear you shout.  The GBBF has a huge choice of beer.  If you can't find enough there to keep you happy you are unlikely to be happy anywhere.  It represents what British Brewers in the main are brewing and what British pub customers in the main are drinking.  It does include in cask form, beers from many cutting edge brewers and some of them rather exotic. The number of great small brewers is slowly increasing as it is elsewhere at beer festivals.  But it isn't a showcase for strong and obscure. If you want a pineapple sour aged in feta cheese barrels coming in at 11% and £5.50 a third, well yes, you'll be disappointed.  That's not what it is what it is about.  What it is about is a jolly good day or night out, in a great friendly atmosphere where beer assumes the position it was always meant to assume. It is an accompaniment to fun. It isn't the fun itself.  Thankfully almost all of our customers see that and simply go to enjoy themselves.  Watching and observing, I saw huge numbers of people doing just that. Back to that pub analogy. Everyone came, had a good drink and a great time and went home happy. Job done!

So who's moaning this year? Well Simon Williams is. In his blog he describes it as "lazy, out-moded and tired looking."  The organisers have simply "plonked everything down in the same place" and brought in "lowest common denominator" food suppliers. How all the 50,000 plus that attended must have been disappointed. Except of course they weren't, as 99% of these people drink and enjoy themselves just like 99% of the population do and the GBBF suits them just fine. Like pubs CAMRA has to cater for the majority of drinkers. Simon's somewhat sneering tone continues throughout, though I do agree with his observation that CAMRA needs to make its hall decoration and festival theme somewhat more contemporary, so at least he made one valid observation to justify his press pass.  Looking at the comments on his blog (mine didn't appear) read what Des De Moor says for a more thoughtful and considered appreciation of the the issue of beer choice and the festival itself -and Des isn't that complimentary to CAMRA. (Funnily enough Des liked the theme, which shows how difficult all this is!)

Jumping on the same CAMRA bashing bandwagon is another press pass holder, Martyn Cornell who agrees with everything Simon says. In fact, so overcome by agreement is Martyn that he says somewhat astonishingly "I don’t think I’ve ever read a blogpost I agreed with more than Simon Williams of CAMRGB’s take on the Great British Beer Festival at Olympia last week". Perhaps Martyn doesn't agree with that much he reads then, but it's still some claim. He like Simon goes on to compare GBBF with London Beer City Beer Festival (apples and oranges if ever there was).  He says "At the LCBF, in contrast, the beers are almost without exception challenging and exciting, the stalls are staffed by people from the breweries involved who are delighted to chat."  This is a hugely geeky thing to say. Now here's a thing. I'd say most people don't go out drinking to be challenged by beer, or have a wish to discuss the beer's philosophy and upbringing with the brewer. They go out to enjoy beer as part of a social occasion and just want a bloody beer, maybe with a taster or two first.  Comparing the two festivals in this way, as like for like,  is disingenuous. I could go on but you get my drift.  While I can accept Des's well thought out and constructive criticism, this sort of lazy stereoptyping, as fellow blogger, Jeff Pickthall would say, "Boils my piss." However the most telling remark of  all to my mind was buried within the comments in Martyn's blog. It was this:

Karen Eliot on said:

"But doesn’t this take it for granted that the purpose of a beer festival is to present people with a challenge? The GBBF is deservedly popular as a jolly day out, the beer needs to be good but it doesn’t have to be ‘interesting’.The CAMRA / Craft divide seems to be less about method of dispense these days as ways of drinking, with one mode – characterised by small measures, high ABV, high prices, an unusual attentiveness on the part of the drinker and an emphasis of novelty over consistency and intensity over drinkability - assumed by its proponents to be superior."

Doesn't that make sense? There's the craft / cask divide summed up nicely.  Jolly days out versus challenging novelty. I'll add that to my own observation that beer should be an accompaniment to fun, not the point of the day out. Let's just enjoy a beer festival for what it is, not what it isn't.  

There's a certain irony too that the sneerers found the best bit of GBBF bumping into people they knew, while the best bit of LCBF was being challenged by the beer.

My comment didn't appear on Martyn's blog either. No conspiracy theory. just the dreaded Wordpress I assume.

And Simon. The two worlds aren't meant to collide. They should be taken for what they are, not forced into a daft comparison.  People that think GBBF hasn't changed have obviously not been going as long as I have. As for the more comtemporary festivals, they tend to do much the same a CAMRA. They take a formula that suits them and then tweak it. Babies and bathwater! 

Also many beer geeks and writers were there at GBBF. I spoke to them. Don't remember many glum faces.   Nor was the food at all bad with a choice and variety outweighing anything you'll usually get at "alternative" beer festivals and eminently suitable for those drinking a fair amount of beer.  I even heard tell that pulled pork was available!!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

Back in April 2011 I tipped Buxton Brewery for great things. Since then they have crept slowly but surely up the ladder of British brewing and have in fact increased the pace of recognition and gained the approval of many drinkers.  I particularly like it when I come across them expectantly at the bar and always order them when I see them.  Seems though I won't see much of them in the future. Well not in cask conditioned form anyway.

A rumour has been going the rounds for a little while that Buxton were to cease production of cask beer in favour of keykeg and bottles and yesterday it became apparent that apart from the Brewery Tap and selected (unstated) "special events" that cask beer production, which has already been scaled down, will cease from September. Bad news for cask drinkers who like a pint of their beers from a handpump.

Buxton go on to state on their Facebook Page the reasons for doing so:
  • Overwhelming customer demand for other formats - bottle and keg.
  • Customer feedback.
  • Quality control.
  • Cask losses and theft.
  • A depressed cask market place flooded with poor to average cask beer, sold cheap.
Dissecting this a little I conclude that the "demand" for other formats is more profitable and that they are being "forced" out of some markets because of the flood of cheap beer from breweries that aren't nearly as good, but which sell at a much lower price. Is this the inevitable result of too many breweries seeking too few outlets and a disregard for quality over price? It certainly looks like it.  There can be little doubt that with over 1400 breweries seeking a market, that some will cut not only prices, but quality corners to get on the bar.  There may well be more of this in various scenarios yet to come, as surely the number of breweries is approaching unsustainability, at least in certain areas? Nonetheless this is the market and many breweries compete successfully in this area and service demands for beer in any format.

The issue of cask theft, like the poor has always been with us, though again many other breweries seem to cope with this and while I for one won't argue about quality control,  it seems to me a bit flimsy, in that Buxton by definition and examination of their own reasons for ceasing cask, surely won't be selling it down to a price in outlets that exist on that business model and where a quality pint isn't guaranteed? 

Buxton go on to say:

"We love cask beer, and the great traditions of British brewing that surround it. It's where we started, with Buxton SPA in 2008, which we still brew and is a great beer to drink on cask. Our wish is to continue presenting beer in cask, but in a way that we can have 100% control over it." 

Well I guess if you want 100% control over cask then yes, just sell it in your own pubs. Or pub in this case, but of course that raises two fingers to those that have loyally supped Buxton beers on handpump these last years.  They'll have to put up with a much different product, served in a much different way at a much higher price.  Or hop on a train to Buxton I suppose? If you really love cask and think that highly of it, then you'd find another way, maybe by selling only to well chosen outlets and to a supply chain that will ensure that cask losses are kept to a minimum.  I don't know where they've been selling it that it ends up so poor. That doesn't quite hang together for me.  Now of course I'm a cask beer bar through and through, so I would be unhappy about this of course, but I rather doubt that I'm the only one. Loss of these fine traditional beers is unlikely to be met with universal approval.  Thankfully not all of the nearly 1400 brewers brew bad beer, so there will be plenty of decent replacements, even if sometimes loss of other beers is recalled with regret. In the end of course the financial aspects of their business are down to Buxton and I would never blame a business for going down the "it makes more money route."  I'd just be a lot happier if they simply said "Keykeg and bottles are more profitable and are easier for us. Sorry".  Expressing crocodile tears over abandoning cask helps no-one really.

Is there not too, a certain irony that in retaining cask beer at the Brewery Tap, no doubt that those that brew it and those that made the decision will still be happily supping cask beer after work? Seems a little like rubbing noses in it.

At least I was right in predicting success. Pity it had to end up like this and oddly unfitting surely that the Buxton statement is illustrated by a photo of a handump dispensing Buxton Cask Beer.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

The Dog and Truck

I have written about this East End Boozer before and I finally got back to another visit a year and half after my last visit.  What's the matter with me? I'd forgotten how good it was obviously.

On my day off from the Great British Beer Festival we'd decided to give a new (to me) pub near Liverpool St Station a try. Because of  E's work we had to wait until nearly three pm before setting out and inevitably as we left the flat it started to rain.  Heavily. With considerable reluctance E agreed to sprint round the corner to the Dog and Truck, a couple of minutes from our front door.  She's been there for nearly 17 years and despite having visited almost every boozer for miles around - well I have dragged her to them including many long since closed -  she somehow didn't fancy it.

If you read my previous piece (and you'd best really) you'll see I liked it. It hadn't changed a bit since my last visit thankfully and despite its very old fashioned seventies look, it was warm and welcoming. A table of retired gents sat supping beer and exchanging jolly reminiscences, a fairly young lad, obviously taking a Poet's Day view of Friday was idly throwing underweight darts at the dart board and a couple of lads stood at the bar drinking pints of lager. It took me back a fair bit. The beers on offer were Greene King IPA, Black Sheep Bitter and Harvey's Sussex Bitter. I chose the Harvey's and it was excellent. Bright as a button, fully conditioned and served at the correct temperature. Excellent. The barmaid was friendly and when I called back for a second pint I remarked on how good the beer was. She promised to let the landlord know.  E, ever suspicious of London cask beer was enjoying her halves of Staropramen.

We sat for a while nattering and the darts player offered me a game. Now I used to play a lot of darts over thirty years ago, so I couldn't resist. The darts were far too light and I was hammered. Twice.  That took me back a bit too.

The Dog and Truck is at 72 Back Church Lane, London E1 1LX. It really is worth a visit and it will be on my list when I'm next in London. E said she'll come too!

I've looked ot my old darts. I'll bring them next time too. And the Harvey's was much better than my rotten photo suggests.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

What Happens When You Complain About Beer?

 I go to London a lot and have been doing so for the 16 years or so we have owned a flat there.  Before that I spent around nine months in London managing the removal of  IT systems from Euston Tower and relocating them in Lytham St Annes and Leeds.  I drink beer there and have done so for a long time. I know a fair bit about the beer scene, both now and when I first ventured there. Bit of background that.

Now being a blogger and writer, I sometimes write, when it happens, about bad beer in London.  Now there are some that think I have an unfortunate down on London and that I just complain for the hell of it. Why would I? When I'm in London I'm just out for a drink, usually with my better half.  I rather like to visit, among other types,  the classic London pub with a beautiful interior and loads of customers spilling out onto the pavement. It is a "thing" about London I rather like and there I'm just a customer paying (top dollar) for my beer. I'm not really looking for bad beer to write about, because quite frankly if I was, I'd be writing about little else. I'm not talking here particularly about one or two of the top pubs where you have a much better chance, but of the pubs a normal beer drinker might visit. The pubs are jumping and beer is flowing freely from the handpumps.  Having spoken about warm temperatures being the enemy of cask beer, the other main enemy is lack of turnover. That causes staling and souring.  Now in the pubs I'm visiting turnover of beer is certainly not a problem, at least during the week. The beer though is often flabby, warm and lacking the zing that properly conditioned cask beer needs to have.   What's a beer drinker to do?

Recently I have been advised by a well known beer writer, in a somewhat testy exchange of views, to complain. It is my duty apparently and my failure to complain is the reason why pubs are being killed.  What tosh. The pubs I'm complaining about are going like a fair even if the beer is crap. Of course I've complained but it gets you nowhere.  My Mrs calls me a serial complainer, so unless the beer is absolutely cloudy and muddy*, I don't bother embarrassing her and frustrating myself. It changes nothing. Here's a few scenarios from memory:

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm:
Barperson: I don't know I don't drink the stuff

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm / flat:
Barperson: Everyone else is drinking it /nobody else has complained

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm:
Barperson: Would you like something else?

Me: I'm sorry but this replacement beer is still far too warm:
Barperson: What do you want me to do then?

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm:
Manager: Ah yes. The cooler's broken (a favourite that)

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm:
Manager: It's a hot day

Me: I'm sorry but this beer is far too warm:
Manager: Oh sorry about that
Me: I see you have a Cask Marque plaque outside, I'll report this to them.
Manager: Suit yourself.

The point is that in good pubs the beer won't be warm and flat and the staff will know that and be concerned if it is.  This isn't about them, it is about the vast number that don't do it properly. What's the use of complaining if a replacement beer comes from the same warm cellar and the same uninsulated beer lines and your complaint results in no change? None.That's what. The pubs are run by people who are transient, know nothing about cask beer and frankly don't care. They are selling lots of it to a transient and couldn't be bothered arguing clientèle. They are probably underpaid and overworked. Why should they bother? The beer shifts anyway.  (Some places that should know better don't do much better. More of that another time).

When I started working in a pub many years ago, my boss, one of the old school, taught me many things about the pub trade and serving customers. I've mentioned some of them in this blog before, but one that sticks particularly in my mind is this "If a customer complains about the beer, just change it without question - he'll tell everyone that if you have a problem in my pub, they'll sort it out immediately. . That's worth money to me."  Now of course he knew there was nothing wrong with the beer, but his point was that it was good business for him reputationally.  The customer would get a new pint he felt better about and tell all his friends how great the service was. Pubs were a very competitive business then and he wanted an edge.  How does that apply in London and in the scenarios mentioned, all of which are absolutely true? It doesn't.

One other thing I'd mention again from my old times and also from running a pub cellar, many beer festival cellars and from working in a pub. The last person to find out there's something wrong should be the customer. The beer should be checked before service and importantly, during service.

(The other main enemy of cask beer not already discussed is cleanliness in both cellar and beer lines.)

*I tweet such photos and usually name names. 

Next: The Keyboard Warrior in his pride. Cheery Beery? Trust me. I'm only just warming up.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Hot Stuff

I've been banging on about cask beer quality as long as I have been writing this blog.  It is a bit of an obsession of mine as I love great cask beer and feel frustrated enough to scream internally when it is not.  The lack of quality in cask beer played a huge part in the rise of keg in the 1960s and keg and smooth beer in the years beyond.  It may well have a place in the rise of craft keg, but that's not the theme of this post. Do however feel free to allege it or deny it in commenting.

The real focus of my ire though is temperature, as it is that above all which affects the condition of beer once it is in the cellar. I've been writing about that since Day One, so love the subject or hate it, I'm at least consistent and while I make many criticisms of too warm beer, I am equally keen to praise the good when I find it. So I'll remind you what I said on that fateful first day of blogging on 26 November 2007:

"Too warm a serving temperature and too little condition are the enemy of cask beer. The latter two statements are also beer FACTS as they have been proved to be true scientifically. Warm temperatures cause dissolved C02 to return to atmosphere and too little condition will have the same flattening effect on beer. Don't believe me? Read "Beer and the Science of Brewing by Charles Bamforth. I have a signed and dedicated copy. Another beer fact!"

Now I could have said that a little better, but the main point is that warm beer will always give you lack of condition and explains why, as it warms up even more after serving, the beer, which tasted reasonable at first sip, frankly, dies on its arse as you go along.  It is important that the drinker and more importantly, the vendor,understands and bears in mind that a warm beer will not only get warmer, but will much more quickly lose its condition. That my friends is basic physics and why getting the cellar temperature and, importantly, temperature at point of dispense, correct. This is a one way street. There is no way back as temperature rises.  Those of you who know me as a cellarman at beer festivals will know that I am equally obsessive there. My reputation is on the line and I don't have a temperature controlled cellar to rely on, which is the reason that many of you will have had to keep your coat on where I'm in charge of the beer. Sorry about that, but hopefully the beer was good.

Now why am I giving this background?  Well I have received a bit of outrage from some about the fact that I dare to challenge warm beer and name names. I've covered this subject before, so I urge you to read this piece from August 2011.  I'll also cover where complaining gets you in my next article.

You might also want to glance through this which is a search of my blog for the term warm beer and because reading my old stuff will be good for you!

I'll also be writing about a pub in London with great quality beer which, oddly is within a 5 minute (or less) walk of our London flat.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

What Would You Choose?

As part of the year long celebration of CAMRA's Rochdale, Oldham and Bury Branch (ROB)  40th anniversary, and to add to the veritable cornucopia of fun so far, we have another three functions which hopefully will provide a bit of interest and attract members.  In conjunction with JD Wetherspoon's Area Managers and the managers of the three pubs concerned, we have agreed that ROB will choose six of the beers to be sold  in a JDW in each of the three boroughs, on three given nights.  We can choose from the entire JDW list which has over 450 breweries on it. They will even endeavour to find beers, if chosen, from outside that list.  It has to be said that JDW have been amazingly supportive of us in this endeavour.

How are we going about it? Well, at last night's Branch Meeting, we had a draw to select six winners for the Rochdale event.  The idea is that each will select three beers in a first second and third choice, the theory being at least one choice can be sourced for each person. I didn't win a chance to choose, but I do have another two goes at it. The choices were revealed and as you'd expect, at least half of them, I'd never heard of.  Given that there are so many breweries and beers that's hardly surprising to me at least, but you'd be amazed how aghast many people are when talking to me about beer, that I've never heard of a particular beer or brewery they admired while in Budley Salterton or wherever.  But I digress.

If you'd won the chance to select beers, what would have been your one, two, three?

The beers must be currently commercially brewed and be cask conditioned of course.  I doubt if my first choice, Batham's Bitter could have been sourced, but you never know.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Another Thing the Pub is Best For

One of our Sunday table from the Tandle Hill Tavern has died. We knew it was coming and so did he.  Yesterday after his funeral we met, not at the Tavern, but at the nearby Ship, thus allowing the landlord of the THT to join us to see the lad off in a style he'd have liked. We had a piss up.

It just wouldn't have been the same or befitting in a house or hotel function room.  He was a pub man and only the pub would do.

Funerals are big business for pubs in this area and, I suppose in others. It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Do We Like That One?

I'm not a drinker of own brand beers really. I kind of think they are likely to be not very good with one or two exceptions.  These exceptions are usually where a very good brewery has been commissioned to produce a particular kind of beer as part of a range.  But what about those low end "cooking lagers" which aren't brands, but are set up to compete with "brands"?  The nice people at Aldi sent me some beers for me to find out for myself.  A pretty unusual task for this writer, but I thought it might be fun and that I might learn something.

Now I'm a fan of Aldi.  I like many of their things, though like all supermarkets, you have to pick and choose. I have bought beer from them in the past, more of which later, but not their canned offerings,  competing with the big boys on taste and bettering  them on price.  On a sunny Saturday afternoon, me and E decided to give them a whirl. I set them out in order of strength and one at a time, off we went.

First up was Galahad Lager. "Crisp and Refreshing" is the claim for this four percenter. The beer itself pours a nice clear gold with a lasting white head. E picked out the metallic nose straight away. High carbonation and a thin body followed with a touch of wheat spiciness and a slight lemony taste. The verdict? You could do worse actually and it does what it says on the tin. Crisp and refreshing? Yes indeed.

No range it seems these days would be complete without a French 25cl stubby bottle. Brasserie Premium is just such an animal and displays all the usual faults of the breed. All taste and character has been brewed and filtered out to leave a thin, brasso like fizzy liquid. Buy on price only.  At 4.5% Lowenstein gives every impression of being brewed in Germany, down to the rheinheitsgebot conformation, but it is brewed yet again in France. All barley this time and you can smell it on the toasty nose, but it is let down by thinness,  lack of a hop presence or any depth or body from the malt.

Last up is St Etienne which is set to compete with Stella. So brewed in Belgium then? Sorry, no. France again.  I read up on this one on the web and it seems it used to be brewed in Belgium, but now isn't. Commentators have noted the tail off in quality.  The beer manages to be both sharp and sweet simultaneously. It has a bit of a wet dog nose, no hop presence and sort of dies in your mouth.  Pretty horrid really and not as good as the Galahad.  E chucked hers into the hedge after a few sips.

Now I pointed out above that I used to buy beer from Aldi. That beer was Wernesgruener Pils, a real classy German Pils, alas no longer stocked in the UK.  I'd recommend that Aldi find a decent German import again in 33cl bottles, or re-stock Wernesgruener. Branded German beer is cheap as chips to buy and even with UK duty added, well worth the effort.  Those of us who aspire to something better would certainly appreciate it. Those that just want a cheap quaffer could do a lot worse than buying the Galahad.

Oh and maybe don't have all your own brand beer brewed down to a price in France. 

I do know that from time to time Aldi does have branded German lagers in stock, but these tend to be offers in half litres.  

Friday, 24 July 2015

Take Three Beers

It was the CAMRA ROB fortieth birthday bash (yet another) last night. This time it was a curry - a ruby for a ruby. Geddit? We assembled for pre-curry drinks at the Regal Moon. My first choice as it always it when I see it on the bar is Hawshead Windermere Pale, full flavoured, hoppy and a mere 3.5%. If there is a better 3.5% beer in the country, I've yet to taste it.* It was a great start to what would be a great evening.

Next up was a beer about which much has been written and which at its best is brilliant, but which often disappoints. Jaipur India Pale Ale.  Now I tend to try Jaipur when I see it and can say that I usually feel good about it about half the time. I suspect that is little to do with the brewer and a lot to do with pubs serving it before it is really ready.  I have a habit of texting @ThornbridgeDom with reports, but last night I was too busy enjoying the occasion to do so. It was Jaipur at its best. Clear as a bell, precise flavours and surprising drinkability for its 5.9% strength. I bashed two down.

When we repaired to the brilliant Asia Curry House in Rochdale, there was little by way of choice, so I drank Cobra as you do in such places. Actually once it had lost a little of its intense carbonation, it wasn't a bad drink at all, and it gave the shiraz I also had a good run for its money as a curry washer downer.

So there you have it. Three pale beers and each holding its own in its own way. Beer. You just can't beat it can you?

*Actually there is another 3.5% beer even better though harder to come by. It is Iti an all New Zealand hopped beer from, well you might have guessed, the brilliant Hawkshead.  Brewing beer from water, malt, yeast and hops still works best and will never go out of fashion.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Even More Murky News

I read in Jeff Bell's blog that Kernel are ceasing to be part of the Bermonsey Beer Mile, as they cannot cope with the hordes that descend on them, though they are continuing to sell their bottles directly from the brewery.  Not surprising as the whole Bermonsey Beer Mile thing has got out of hand.  When we used to go - and it is convenient for us so we went quite often at the beginning - but latterly we missed out Kernel as it was always packed and anyway, their expensive murky bottles and draft don't hugely appeal to me, or indeed, E.  Nor it seems to some of Jeff's commenters, one of whom describes their customers as "imbeciles".

Nowadays we stick to Southwark Brewing at one end and Fourpure at the other. It makes more sense just to enjoy the walk between the two and neither rip you off on price, or sell you beer that looks like electric soup. 

Kernel are seeking another solution for on sales.  Not surprising really as it must be quite lucrative for them and hard cash is always difficult to replace.   Ironically this comes as the Piccadilly Beer Mile in Manchester officially becomes a thing.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

More Murky

I was out in Manchester on Saturday night. Unusual for me.  An American mate of mine was in town with his girlfriend, so I made my way across town to the Knott Bar, a place I know, but due to its distance from my bus route, not one I go to very often.

After a few pints, I changed my drink to Magic Rock Rapture. I like their beers but was surprised to find it opaque and muddy, almost like the last pint out of a cask.  A barman who hadn't served me noticed me examining it and said "Is that the Magic Rock?"  I replied in the affirmative. "Yes" he said, "they've stopped fining their beers and we are getting complaints. I'll change it if you like." I liked, adding that it just didn't taste right at all.  Now I don't know whether this change to no longer fining beers is true or not, but I have looked after Magic Rock beers before and they always dropped bright. Has this changed really happened or did I just get a bad pint?  Back to the same old problem. The certainty is being swept away. You just don't know any more. Either way, this murky thing has raised its head yet again.  The only saving grace was the barman handling the situation with skill and changing my pint happily.

That is by no means certain if we see more and more unfined beer served without a warning.

My Yankee chum also ordered a bottle of Rochefort 10.  It was my round and set me back £7!

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Back to a Grim and Unwelcome Reality

Readers will probably know I don't like murky beer and since Rob Pickering first coined the term, I've become an avid fan of the descriptor "London Murky", though it equally applies to Manchester - or for that matter, Anywhere Murky.

On my return to London from our Spanish holiday, we were both knackered. Handy for our London flat is our local JDW, the Goodman Fields, so we headed along for a quick meal. Our skinny steaks were delicious - surprisingly so perhaps - and the place was rammed. I remember when it opened and for some years after, it used to be empty, so Timbo saw its potential, now clearly fulfilled. I ordered a pint of By the Horns Stiff Upper Lip, though it isn't a beer I'm at all familiar with. Bloody thing was cloudy.  Now here's the problem. How do I know if it is meant to be cloudy, or if it on the other hand, has been slung together by some numpty who doesn't now how to brew beer. Or, possibly, put on too early by a dopey cellarman before it has dropped bright. I don't and can't know of course is the answer.  Now you may say "What does that matter if it tastes all right?" Well it won't taste all right to me and it is me that is buying it.  It will likely taste of yeast and protein trub, because that's what causes it.  Now of course it is a matter of personal taste whether you like this kind of  flavour, but I don't. I like clear, clean, precise flavours in my beer. To my mind if brewers wish to sell the unsuspecting public beer, they should at least have the decency to warn us and hence the pubs that sell it, that it might be cloudy (hazy in murkyspeak). Then at least you have a choice.

When this first became a "thing" like many I'm sure, I thought to myself, "It won't last", but in fact it has. It has actually become more common, widened and deepened.   It is particularly common in London and not only there. It is slowly undermining public confidence in cask beer.

It is also very, very depressing.

I did get in touch with the brewery who said "It is meant to be fined".   They also said something else but that's for another post.