Sunday, 29 August 2010


I'll write about my Franconian beer adventures when I get back as internet access here is rather limited. Suffice to say if I was worried about the state of German brewing before, I'm even more worried about it now. That'll be the theme of a later post.

Wuerzburg is pleasant, but it has taken it 60 odd years to recover from the devastating air raid by the RAF at the end of the war, when 90% of the city was destroyed, including it seems, every pub. Well we've had trouble finding any. But there is wine and surrounded as it is by vineyards, perhaps that's what has happened. Wine has won here. Despite Wuerzburg Hofbrau, there is little to be had other than the juice of the grape.

Ah well. When in Rome.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

The Jolly Butchers

Surprisingly, to me anyway, there is a bus a five minute walk away from home number 2 in London E1, direct to the door of the Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington. Stoke Newington sounds far away and exotic, but despite the half hour plus on the bus, it is only two or three miles away from the City and is a posher pause on a cosmopolitan journey which takes you from a war damaged and never repaired East End, through to Vietnam and Turkey all on the same straight road. From the top of the 67 you could see the changing environment, with so many pubs that are no more, but once populated every corner. A lost world and a reminder that fings ain't wot they used to be.

Pete Brown wrote about the Jolly Butchers here and we thought it worth a visit despite the somewhat ambivalent remarks in some pub comment sites. To me, it seemed to be trying to do something right and different. We arrived at around 15.30 and Sunday lunch was still in full swing. The pub seemed populated by Observer subscribing couples, studiously reading the unreadable, while ignoring each other and a plethora of young people drinking coloured cider. It was an anthropologist's wet dream. We were singularly disconcerted to find ourselves the oldest there by a good 20 years.

The beer choice was good. Two from Dark Star, one each from Thornbridge, Brew Dog, Crouch Vale and Brodies. I started on the Brew Dog Trashy Blonde which was tired really, with diactetyl and wet dog - no pun intended. E had Crouch Vale Brewer's Gold which was as good as it always is. Then a couple of Dark Star American Pale which didn't disappoint. But we both knew that the real draw was yet to be sampled. Jaipur. That's your man. It was full of condition and so very tasty.

We had a great spot from which to observe proceedings and you know, we both liked the place enormously. It was buzzing and pleasant, light and airy. The food looked good, the place was clean and well looked after and the staff were unremittingly pleasant and helpful. You could tell the intentions are good. It is a big space though and it may not be so conducive on a wet Monday night, but putting that thought aside, we'll certainly go back.

Of course there has to be a down side. Stupid, handled, dimpled glasses do nothing for the presentation of modern beer and of course we come to temperature. All the beers varied between 17 and nearly 19 degrees C. What is all that all about? Getting the cellar and dispense temperature so wrong is spoiling a good ship for a hap'orth of tar. This is a good place. It should be great. Sort it out.

Harping On

More about warm beer in London? No. Not really. After traipsing round every sportswear shop in Covent Garden (and there is a lot of them) looking unsuccessfully for footwear for her indoors, a pint was called for. I can never resist Wrasslers Stout in Porterhouse Brewing, so we popped in. While E had a couple of halves of Oyster Stout, which was a little sweet and fruity for my taste, I had possibly the most bitter example of Wrasslers I have ever had. It was no worse for that, bursting with bitterness, with a dusty hop store nose and a long, long, bitter finish. One wasn't enough. I quite like the pub too for its buzziness and style, but its inherent gloom doesn't for me at least, make for a long stay. One note of caution though. In nearly an hour there, we didn't see anyone else drinking stout at all.

On the way to the 15 bus, we have to pass the Harp in Chandos Place. Now this is a pub I really do like. Busy, bustling, interesting decor and lots to look at and enjoy. It has a local following as well as those like me, who pop in now and then. The staff are quick, friendly and attentive and it has Dark Star, with enough others to go at to offer something for everyone. It has character from top to bottom and is a living lesson on how to run a pub well.

I like Hophead. It has just enough hoppiness not to offend the unwary and is easy enough drinking to have more than one. So we had two. OK, it was a nudge over the optimum serving temperature, but still cool enough to thoroughly enjoy and I suppose you sometimes have to make allowance for Londoners liking of beer on the warm side.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Some Like It Hot

I have moaned about warm beer in London before, so you'll know what to expect. More moans about warm beer in case you can't work it out. Firstly background. Cask conditioning when done properly for everyday drinking beers, is the finest way of presenting beer. When not done properly it is dire.

Warmth is the enemy of cask conditioning. It is physics pure and simple. At higher temperatures, CO2 is less soluble in liquid. Everyone knows that don't they? Everyone except London publicans that is. Last night in the Dispensary my beer was an astonishing 17.6C. That's warm. This is CAMRA East London's Pub of the Year 2009. Hmm. It makes the Bree Louise's 15C seem positively arctic. Of course in both cases the beer was flabby and unpalatable. At over £3 a go, this isn't acceptable.

So naturally we left there and heading home, had a pint in JDW's Goodman's Field. Saltaire Blonde at a perfect 12C and a world of difference in price and quality. It just needed a sparkler for complete enjoyment. A curry was called for and when E went home to warm the plates and set the table, while it was being cooked, I nipped into the Brown Bear. I didn't fancy London Pride or Doom Bar and the taster I had of Wyre Piddle in the Leaves confirmed this brewery fully deserve its "avoid" status on my mental list of micros. I beat a hasty retreat to the Empress of Prussia, a Shep's tied house. It was empty apart from me. The Master Brew was also a perfect 12C, full of condition and tasted bloody awful. With stewed tea tannins and harsh hop oils, it was a hard to drink mess.

So there you are. One decent drink out of four in the capital. Today's another day though and a chance for all to be redeemed. E wants to go shopping in Covent Garden. We'll no doubt have a drink after. I'll have my Cask Marque thermometer with me and will report back.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Thai One On

It was an auspicious start to my holidays. Despite, as usual, underestimating the time it would take to get to Piccadilly Station I got there in time to pick up my tickets from the machine and have 45 minutes in the Bull's Head. This is a very well run Marston's pub, which somehow manages to avoid the main trap of railway station pubs by not being the least bit sleazy. Lots to choose from in this two pint session and casting my eye round the various offerings I picked out Boondoggle by Ringwood. I've had it before and enjoyed it and it didn't disappoint today. Biscuity malt, decent bitterness and a full, pale body was a good start. A new one beckoned though. Jennings Lakeland Stunner did what it said on the tin. Pale, deliciously hoppy, with a lingering resinous finish, it was one of the best new beers I've had in a long time.

As I neared Euston I was reminded of the Bree Louise by a tweet. I nearly walked past, but nipped in. I passed on Brew Dog Paradox. Nothing else attracted me except Otley Thai Bo on the dreaded gravity. It was flat as a pancake, but fresh as a daisy, with incredible Thai flavours of lemon grass, ginger, chilli and more. Why did the bastards ruin such a gorgeous beer? I want to try this when it has been properly looked after. The casks had cooling jackets on them and soft spiles. I suspect though that the temperature (15C)and incorrect cellar procedure has done for the condition. If you are serving on gravity, use a soft spile for serving only. At all other times use a bamboo hard spile.This is free and good advice. Even better advice is not to serve it on gravity at all if you can help it, especially if you can't condition it around 10C.

The pub is a bit tired looking too, but wouldn't need that much to improve it. The staff are really nice, but as a beer house, it needs someone who knows what he or she is doing to transform the offer. Shame really, because London needs good free houses, but sadly, this isn't one.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Sleight of Handpull

I see Marston's owned Hobgoblin has introduced a new handpull which sports that same old goblin that gives most of us the creeps, this time captured like a mediaeval gargoyle in a metal pump clip, along with a new longbow design pull. "This creates more theatre around pouring and service in pubs", said Hobgoblin marketing manager Justin Way. Of course I'd like you to believe that he didn't say this, but he did.

You have to admit though, horrid though the images are, Hobgoblin has brand recognition and I suppose that's something that can't be sniffed at, but I'm not sure this redesign will attract anyone, but then again, I'm an old stick in the mud. You can't argue with facts though and Hobgoblin is growing fast, up 36% in volume year on year. In addition to the new handpull, Hobgoblin will be pushed as "fast cask" to get it into venues where currently real ale isn't sold. Whether you think this a good thing though is another matter. I'm not a fan of the beer at all.

One thing though? Theatre of the pour? Bollocks.

Sorry for the title. I've been reading too much Beer Nut.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Three of the Best

It was one of these days when you encounter the beer you want to drink at the peak of its condition. To get one in a pub that is just perfect is a pleasure, to get two is the icing on the cake and to get three is the cake itself.

I'd been put on the edge of annoyance though earlier on Saturday by a tweet about Wetherspoons in Derby and the twit (sorry twitterer) feeling "unclean". Well here's some simple advice which works every time - "Just don't go there". They'll hardly miss anyone that thinks that way, as they sell the most cask beer of any JDW in the chain. How do I know this? Well I was told by the manager of the one that is second and chasing hard for number one, the Regal Moon in Rochdale, the venue for my perfect trio of beers. Such stereotypical and snobbish remarks do a disservice to excellent managers who are rising above the norm to sell great beer in a big pub chain. JDW's, like all such megaliths, have good and bad. The good are very good and shouldn't be carelessly denigrated without an actual and specific reason. Managers such as Chris at Rochdale are dedicated to getting more and more of their regulars drinking good beer and attracting others to do likewise. If sales are anything to go by, they are succeeding. He proudly boasts that he probably sells less John Smith's Smooth than any other major JDW. That's a good thing in my book. OK - rant over.

Now back to beer. Those of us who live up north have a plethora of great breweries that brew cask beer that you want to drink lots of. One such is West Yorkshire based Ossett who have a super range of beers. Ossett also operate two other micro breweries and run 14 pubs. Saturday's beer was Silver King, a pale beer, using lager malt with a distinct bitter, citrus finish. It is very quaffable. Less known, but producing some of the best pale and hoppy beers in the north is Millstone from Mossley, nestling in the Lancashire side of the Pennines. True Grit is full bodied, bitter from the late addition of hops, with a distinct and lasting hoppy finish and is very, very drinkable. It was on top form on Saturday and provided a perfect route map along with Silver King to the piece de resistance, Jaipur IPA. What more can be said about this classic beer? Nothing really, except to say I've never had it better. It was truly, unutterably and dangerously delicious.

An excellent day was finished off with a tour of the Regal Moon's impressive cellar, part of which is pictured above.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Back to the Day Job

I've been asked to run a CAMRA membership stall in the Regal Moon in Rochdale today as they are running a mini beer festival, along with other town centre pubs in support of Rochdale's Feel Good Festival.

Now I like these sort of collaborations, which, while still maintaining competition, give something different to drinkers. I have said it before and will again, Rochdale has the potential to become a mini beer Mecca and it is just this sort of event that will boost it and give the pubs the impetus to work together more effectively and to push the town forward as a serious real ale destination. It's nice to be invited to be part of it.

I'll be there with some colleagues for a few hours this afternoon and hopefully as well as enjoying some beer, sign up a few members, or failing that, at least get people to try some better beer. In some ways, next to drinking the stuff of course, it is one of the most rewarding parts of being a beer enthusiast and promoting awareness of good beer is worthwhile in itself.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

The Quality Thing

The latest on trade beer figures make grim reading indeed, but are not really news, though they do highlight what appears to be a rush away from pub drinking. It is forecast that home drinking will overtake drinking in the pub, perhaps as soon as the next 18 months. This was once unthinkable. If you want to read a good article on this subject I recommend Robert Sayles' one in The Publican's blogs section. My readers will know I'm a dedicated pub man and though it pains me to say so, it is difficult to gainsay his conclusion that the figures show that the decline in on trade drinking is part of a long term trend.

The Pub Curmudgeon also explores this subject and of course squeezes in a reference to the smoking ban. While undoubtedly there is some effect from this, there seems little doubt that there are more complex social reasons in play. It is not an original thought to say that once the pub was, for many, a refuge from a grim home environment, while now it has to offer something special to drag you away from home comforts that surpass the pub in so many ways, at a faction of the cost. Price is undoubtedly an issue, especially for those drinking commodity beers, as is choice and quality. The overall indebtedness of the pub industry, the lack of good career landlords and the avaricious PubCos, make this a particularly thick jungle to hack through. The situation is undoubtedly complex, but there is little doubt though that whatever the reason or reasons, there is a distinct and lasting swing away from the pub.

I for one have never argued that all pubs can survive and indeed many of the pubs that have gone were appalling in the extreme and at the bottom end of the market, doomed by selling beers that could be bought at home more cheaply and by their mainly smoking clientèle. They might well be missed by a few, but in truth were on borrowed time anyway. It is not all doom and gloom though. Many pubs continue to do well and it is to them that we must look for the answers, though I continue to argue with force that all pubs need to up their quality game to have a chance of survival. The pursuit of quality, service and choice has never been more important. It is worrying in the extreme that the offer in so many pubs is inferior, the customer service ethos non existent, the prices exorbitant and the beer quality poor.

Of course the pub will survive, but there is more pain to come before things stabilise though we have to face it that the glory days of a full pub on every corner are behind us. For those pubs that still aspire to a prosperous future, we need to see much better from them or they'll disappear too. Nobody wants to pay top dollar for a warm pint, frozen chips and not so much as a warm smile or greeting.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

So Far, So Good

It's been a mixed festival so far here at GBBF. The Trade Session brought a chance to meet bloggers that I had and hadn't met. It's getting like beer ticking is beer blogger ticking, but I think I'm slowly but surely getting there. The end result though is a lot more fun. Beer bloggers are such nice chaps and chapesses. Trust me on that one.

What has made it mixed? Not the festival, but my knee is giving me gyp, causing a slightly jaundiced view of being asked to repeatedly get beers from the opposite side of the bar, but that's customers for you. The up side of serving, as always, is being able to point people in the direction of beer they subsequently enjoy. That is satisfying in a smug sort of way, but also hopefully, lasting in its effects.

On a similar subject, I had a long chat with Des De Moor, the bottled beer guru, who was collecting beers for review. He wasn't too disappointed to find the rarities gone. As he explained to me, when he writes about beer, he likes his readers to be able to obtain them. Feet on the ground there Des. Well done!

I can't finish today's brief note without a mention of the various Scandinavian beers which are on our bar. No names - sorry, but many seemed to me to be a work in progress. Several over excited types bought the more exotic ones and some were returned to tip down the drain. At anywhere between £4.50 and £9 a pop, that's a lot to pay for optimism - or is it bravado? Some are or rather, were, astonishingly strong. The exception to this quality and recipe issue is Mikkeler, though I have to say, excellent though they certainly were, the single hop beers, well the ones I tasted anyway, while very good, were a little samey. I'd guess that's the high alcohol content.

Must taste them when I'm sober next time then!

Best beer for me so far is Cantillon Kriek. It's the perfect reviver as you near closing time!

Monday, 2 August 2010

Slightly Excited

Sometimes I read blogs where the word "excited" is used as a descriptor for things, some of them seemingly so minor or mundane, that you wonder what would happen if something genuinely cataclysmic happened to the writer. Would they physically explode with joy and wonder? Then you chide yourself for being a boring old fart, a dyed in the wool cynic and consider how lucky the author is to be young enough, either in body or soul and so emotionally open to new experiences, to the extend that they use a word, that as you get older, duller and blunted by life, seems to be find few scenarios for genuine use. However there is nothing emotionally mature in being a killjoy, so definitely a little slack should be cut, for it is precisely this sense of wonder and enthusiasm that beer and beer writing needs. It should be embraced and encouraged, for some of it at least, is the future.

Lately too, I have detected that despite falling comment numbers, that our collective blogging has rightly been overwhelmingly positive in promoting good beer however the writer defines it and feel that in itself is exciting. The Great British Beer Festival is presently a catalyst for many good pieces on beer, both here in the blogosphere and elsewhere in the national press. I think beer is on a roll at the moment and there is a chance to press home advantage. That's exciting too.

So, as I pack my belongings for London, I am excited to be part of it all. I'm looking forward to GBBF and have a feeling in my water that it's going to be the best ever. I'll see friends, old and new, talk beer with them, exchange ideas and thoughts, gain insights and hopefully, also have a bloody good time See? Excited three times in one piece. It's a red letter day! Beer and friends are always worth a modicum of anticipation and I'm sure it will live up to expectations.

I can't wait.