Friday, 17 May 2013


It's five years since I've been to Prague and I dare say things have changed.  I'm off there on Monday for a few days with some of my more cultured friends.  They'll be seeking out classical music and museums and while I'm not agin either, I'll be looking for a decent glass or two.

Now I know some of the usual suspects - sorry highly recommended pubs - and know too that IPAs and God knows what else will abound, which should really interesting,  but I'd like some really good lager too, so I need some more specific advice as follows, if my readers would be so kind:

Where does a decent selection of (non PU and Budvar) lager exists and what should I drink there?

Where can we go for decent beer and food where we won't be smoked out?

Which pubs - even really good ones - are the most smoky and should be avoided on that basis?

What's the best around in the area of Rybna, Praha 1?

Can anyone help?  I'd really be most grateful

I also found 700 Kč in notes in my house.  Hope they haven't changed the currency. Should buy a few beers

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Nothing Wrong With It?

After a busy weekend in London, we wound down with a long walk on Bank Holiday Monday and for me, a determination that my last few pints of the weekend would be guaranteed to be good ones.  Thus it was that we headed over Waterloo Bridge and into Maiden Lane for some non cask stout at the Porterhouse Brewing Company.  As always I ordered Wrasslers 4X and as always the uncompromising bitterness delighted.  We sat outside watching disappointed antipodeans gazing forlornly into the closed Australian.New Zealand/ South African shop opposite, with me wondering as I always do, whether I shouldn't have had a pint of Plain Porter first,  but deciding the step down in flavour and gravity would be unwise. E wasn't nagged by any such doubts, sticking happily with Oyster Stout.

The RV1 bus leaves from just around the corner and goes, via Tower Bridge to Tower Gateway, a mere cockstride from our flat.  Temptingly, it passes very near to several well known craft outlets and we nipped in to one and despite my promises to myself, I ordered cask, which was a bit warm and tired.  "Listen to yourself " I said grimly, but letting myself off, as the search for top quality cask in London is usually experienced best in hope rather than expectation. E smugly said her (bloody expensive) Kernel was rather good.

Not wishing to be caught out twice, keg was acquired in the next and last pub.  It was from Camden and was Pale.  Nice enough, but not a patch on their late, lamented, cask Inner City Green .  E had a half of Paulaner and as we sat outside people watching, she took her first sip and grimaced.  "This is off" she said.  I looked at it.  It was a touch cloudy and smelt stale and cidery.  It certainly tasted awful. Hmm. I took it back. The barman expressed surprise, poured himself a little and said "It's fine - that's how it's meant to taste, but I'll change it if you want."  Now this of course implies that the customer is wrong, but in a nicer way.  I asked him if he was sure that it was Paulaner Helles and was advised it was.  "So that's meant to be cloudy and taste cidery?" He looked nonplussed. A colleague was called who confirmed it was fine and I was given a half of something else.

From our vantage point at the door, I could see we'd generated a discussion among the bar staff.  When I went in for a refill, the original barman said "I think you might be right about that beer - we've taken it off."  What I do wonder though is how many other poor sods had had off beer and said nothing and how it came to be off without anyone knowing.  Don't they taste all the beers first?  It isn't the first time I've had imported keg beer which has tasted stale. Is this common?  It is certainly a dear do to buy in the first place and even worse when it isn't right. It also makes me wonder about some of the folks behind the bar in some of these destination craft places.  Do they really know what they are talking about?

At least Sam Smith's Pure Brewed Lager doesn't suffer from staleness. I'll be mostly sticking to that in summer visits to the capital. Damn sight cheaper too.

Yes this is another London moan.  I'll happily (unhappily) moan about bad beer anywhere though.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Even More Trouble Brewing

Following my post yesterday, in which I hinted that more news might be forthcoming, it seems that all brewing will be suspended (cease) at Cains of Liverpool, with Cains own beers being outsourced meantime, as the brew length will not economically permit the production of  the ensuing reduced volume of beer, which I understand, even with supermarket beer, had fallen to around 12,000 barrels. All hopes are being pinned on a site re-development into a leisure complex with a "brewing village" for which planning permission is being sought. The plans will be submitted to Liverpool council in the summer, and if approved work could start next year. The re-developed site would not be open for at least 18 months to two years, so presumably brewing will be "suspended" until at least then if all goes well.

Will the brewery ever re-open? Maybe we shouldn't hold our breath on that one.

The Echo has it all here again.  I'll keep you informed.

Friday, 10 May 2013

More Trouble Brewing

Cain's of Liverpool has had a somewhat chequered history since taking over the old Higsons brewery in Liverpool.  I have written about them before.

Yesterday I mentioned them as one of the UK's leading brewer's of low margin supermarket beer in the context of Thwaites leaving that market.  Today I learn by a phone call from a brewer friend that more trouble has ensued.  The Liverpool Echo tells me that with immediate effect that Cain's are ceasing their brewing of supermarket beers as they incur a loss.  38 jobs will go.  Those of us who follow Cains will doubt, despite assurances that the rest of the operation and pubs aren't affected, that this will be the end of the matter.

But we'll have to wait and see,  One thing is for sure as former employees head to the Jobcentre.  Supermarket own brand beer comes at quite a price despite its cheapness.

The Echo story can be read here.

Hot Weather Spells Trouble

It was warm in London when the CAMRA Rochdale, Oldham and Bury mob visited, led by that most intrepid of topers, Tyson himself.  They arrived on Friday, but I was a bit of an advance guard, having come down the night before from my mother's place in Scotland, to get a bit of rest beforehand.  Naturally that rest included a schlep to Camden Brewery for the launch of Mark Dredge's new book, where I enjoyed Camden Pale and Hell, didn't think much of American Hell and loved, as much as I've liked any beer this year, a one off Kiwi Wit, which reminded me very much of  Schneider Hopfenweisse, but was better to drink and at a more swoopable 5 per cent.   They seriously ought to think of bringing this out, even as an occasional special. I also renewed acquaintance with fellow bloggers and beer writers and met a couple more that I had either not met, or had met only briefly.  A really good night was had, marred only by a chicken kebab from round the corner from our flat.  A bad decision made worse by a forseeable outcome!  More of foreseeable outcomes later.

Friday was a glorious day as I walked to meet the thirsty Northerners at the Euston Tap. It all augured well as I observed no less than three Mallinsons beers on tap.  My request for a sparkler was met with an odd remark from the barman "I don't like sparklers on pale beer" quoth he hovering with the offending article in his mitt, but not applying it.  "Just as well you aren't drinking it then" I responded. "Sparkler please." Remember bar staff, it isn't your job to make judgements here.  Someone that specifically requests a sparkler in a place that provides the option is unlikely to be persuaded out of it.  Still, all was well with the beer here, as I have always found it to be. It was a good day beer-wise on Friday, with only the Parcel Yard needing to dial down the cellar temperature by a couple of degrees, though frankly, one or two others were on the edge.  (If in doubt, make it slightly colder. Beer always warms up. It never cools down.)

Saturday was similar temperature wise in the two pubs we visited on the official crawl.  Maybe, for Northern tastes at least, slightly (and arguably) on the edge in Craft Islington and too warm and flat in the Union Tavern, so E and I baled out to the sanity of the Old Red Cow, which is rapidly becoming a favourite and which serves cool beer and has a lot of cool people in it. And me.

I do worry continually about quality of cask beer, but more so in London which is a whole lot warmer than the North and which already suffers from a serious over-venting problem.  As it gets hotter, the beer quality gets worse as cellars either haven't got the kit to cool the beer, or are being incorrectly set.

Apart from a few trusted places,  come summer in London, this cask man will be haunting a few more Sam's pubs for Pure Brewed Lager. That's my other foreseeable outcome.

Pictured is the Fox and Anchor at Smithfield Market. Another new favourite and some rather flat looking beer bought on Saturday near a canal.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Crafty Dan

Set in a very cramped town centre location where it has been since 1807, Daniel Thwaites is one of the biggest, if not the biggest of the surviving family brewers, owning around 350 pubs. You won't find a Thwaites on the board though, the family name having been Yerburgh since the female line inherited and married one. It is still firmly family controlled however.

 The brewery itself is rather large, with a lot being crammed into the site. When I visited it last night though, it wasn't to see the large automated modern brewery it has become, but the fairly recently installed "Craft Brewery" where, shall we say, the more interesting beers are brewed. Set in a spacious part of the brewery, this self contained 20 barrel plant is in no small measure where Thwaites sees a major part of its future. Our guide was at pains to point out that when he first started doing the tours, the brewery only used five different hop varieties and now uses at least 25 to produce a range of 12 "Signature" seasonal beers plus quarterly beers and "one offs". In addition experimental, development beers and beers commissioned by individual customers are produced. The plant itself is a full part of the production of the brewery, as its beers mostly go out to trade, but this is very much a hands on operation. We did visit Fermentation Room 1 in the main brewery, where a large number of traditional open squares produce the brewery's main output of Original, Nutty Black, Lancaster Bomber and of course Wainwright's which is now their biggest selling beer.  The brewery is very self contained, with all racking, bottling and kegging done on site.

In the bar, we (National Winter Ales Fest workers) enjoyed the hospitality of the brewery, with Original, Bomber, Wainwrights, TBC and BB1 on offer. BB1 and TBC (Thwaites Best Cask) are produced in the micro brewery with the others coming from the larger main brewery. All were in the tip top form you'd expect and I particularly enjoyed the dark BB1 (it's their postcode) which has added cherries and a touch of sourness, at a very drinkable 3.7%. Think Belgian Dark Mild and you won't be far out. It was enjoyable too to talk to the very enthusiatic team that looked after us and to glean snippets of interest. Thwaites, like many others including Lees have more or less got out of the contract brewing game, as margins are so low. (Most supermarket beers are brewed by the likes of Burtonwood and Robert Cain) but they did brew (off and on) Punk IPA for you know who and still contract bottle and can as  required.

I first visited this site over 20 years ago and last night may have been my last chance to visit the brewery again, as it will move in the next couple of years to a new, less cramped green field site near the motorway,  as soon as planning permission has been gained for Sainsbury to buy the site, knock it down and build a supermarket. Oh and of course for Thwaites in the meantime to build a new brewery.  A shame, but one thing is for sure. While the "old" brewery will be scrapped, the craft brewery will be dismantled and taken to the new site.  

Thwaites see producing a wide variety of interesting craft cask beers as very much a part of their future.  Craft Cask?  Of course and why not?

We were all given a lovely 3 pack of a new beer too.  Name?  Crafty Dan.  It is made with UK and Munich malts, Amarillo, Pacific Gem and Fuggles hops.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Less is More

I've been away. First of all in Scotland, then in London.  More of London in another post, but I had my usual dip in, dip out taste of drinking in Glasgow.  Well Glasgow near its two main railways stations and limited at that. After all, I  shouldn'tt keep my old Mum waiting too long for the prodigal son.

I have always said that real ale's weakness is quality.  It is simple really.  When you have a perishable product, freshness is extremely important and one which seems to me is all to often a nettle which many obviously fail to grasp.  What's difficult to understand?  If it is going to go off first, then have a strategy to sell it before it does. If you can't do that then don't sell it at all.  But let's start off with the positive. There is no such complacency in the Drum and Monkey.  They know how to look after beer there and how to build up trade.  A reputation for quality beer will attract beer drinkers, just as a lack of care will repel them.  The Drum and Monkey has a good lunchtime trade and many of them drink cask.  It is a Nicolson's pub and while their corporate ethos must help, they also have a dedicated team that appreciates cask and have an enthusiasm for the product.  It makes for dependability and that is good. Who wants a beer lottery?

Sadly if you pop along the road to JDW's Counting House, that's just what you'll get.  Around 16 handpumps and you don't see many drinking cask, which probably explains why my beer was vinegar, but not why it was still on sale.  Two fellow travellers - from Hull as it happens - we had a chat - also handed beer back. Not a good thing and of course for every bad beer purchased, cask ale loses a customer and of course, sometimes the blame is wrongly put on to the brewery.  Just across the road, from its stablemate, the other Queen St area JDW is Camperdown Place and provides a welcome contrast..  It admittedly rarely has such a good range and not nearly so many handpumps, but it is always a step up in quality. Please note pubs - less can be more.  My Lancaster 1842 Pilsner (I had a taste first) was excellent and in stark contrast to the same vinegar I had a few minutes before.

On the way back south I had a quick nip into the Pot Still.  No quality problems there either. Two handpumps, both serving top quality beer, even though I was clearly the first cask beer customer.  That's better.  Have two and serve them well and it will stand you in good stead.  One mark off for both beers being jet black and very similar though I'll add it back for the welcome chat about Dumbarton FC.   Heading for the train now, opposite Central Station is the Toby Jug.  This is a long standing cask outlet and in my opinion the quality never rises above okayish from the three handpumps, which is probably one to many.  Again I never see anyone else drinking real ale when I go in.  That surely tells its own story.

Just a snapshot, but if I was to give advice to pubs selling cask in an area where old style keg is still king, it would be:  "Just sell one cask beer in great nick than three in bad."

There is no real ale in Dumbarton though a JDW coming soon will change that. Should be interesting.