Sunday, 29 September 2013

Back to Cask

After an exciting fly past over our flat - thanks British Airways - above and beyond and all that - we landed safely at London City Airport. I like LCY and fly from there whenever I can and the added bonus of a low level approach on the Eastern runway is possibly the most thrilling flight you can have and still wear the same underpants afterwards. Is it really that low? Well seems so.

The other bonus is a quick DLR ride to Tower Gateway and then we are home. Spain is left behind but the memories remain. Cruzcampo is just about tasteless. San Miguel is dry and can be not bad, Alhambra is tasteless and Mahou is just a bit better - the best of a bad lot, but nowhere as good as Lees Original Lager which I have been known to sup with pleasure. You can see what I'm thinking can't you? I need a pint of cask conditioned beer. But I'm in London. I think of my nearest pubs. Am I going to go to the Brown Bear with its dodgy warm beer? No fear. What about the Princess Of Prussia? I like that as a pub, but seriously, do you want your first cask pint after 15 days to be overpriced Shepherd Neame? Certainly not. What about Goodman's Field? A lottery on choice and quality? The Draft House in Seething Lane? It'll be warm likely as not. So what then? It must be within walking distance and have the certainty of quality. I think and say to E "What about a walk to The Pelt Trader?" E she say "Yes".

I've written about the Pelt Trader here and as a bonus, it is now firmly established, thus guaranteeing turnover.  The cellar is in capable hands and as a bonus,  my favourite and toppest barmaid in London* works there, adding even more quality to the already excellent team.  So we are on. Outside are suits galore. Inside is a much more mixed bunch of drinkers. I am greeted warmly at the bar and spot Stringers Gold on sale. No need to taste - it'll be good. Clean, spicy, cool, well conditioned, the beer is as good as it can be without a sparkler and a handpump. It barely touches the side and is repeated. I try a taste of Arbor Motueka, the follow up pint of which confirms a long held view which I am foolish enough to ignore on many an occasion. That is, a small taste tells you little. The beer itself is a disappointing thin effort of 3.8% with a dose of New Zealand hops to overcome its poor base. It works on almost no level. Ah cask. You lift me up and dash me down. E had fared much better with Tiny Rebel Fubar at 4.4%. Hoppy, pale, a body like a Strictly professional and just as enjoyable. I switched to it and it was a fine finish as grub beckoned.

Next day, at the Euston Tap on the way home, I enjoyed two superb pints of Buxton Moor Top. When in London, though very much improved in recent years,  you still have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your Princess. That's a worrying fact, but you can minimise your chances by careful selection. Both the PT and the ET fall into that category. They are also two of the few places where, with a pint and a half of under 4% beer, you are likely to get change from a fiver.  

Quality and value. In London. Pinch me, but trust me!

* @kirstariffic of course.  Ex Holburn Whippet.  Another good bet and all linked.  Funny that.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Greene King - Craft Brewer?

While many of us in the blogosphere are getting a bit tired of all this "what is craft?" stuff,  a long foreseen development is, well, developing.  Greene King is to open a £750,000  “innovation brewhouse” at its Bury St Edmunds brewery for experimenting with different craft beer styles.

"Now this isn't new" you'll hoot - and it isn't, as some other fairly large breweries have done so, not least of all, Thwaites and Brains, who have both produced excellent stuff from their breweries within breweries. But GK is much bigger and the very entrance of such a big brewer to the so called craft market may dilute (in the eyes of some at least) the value of the term even more than it already is. As the brewery will include a packaging plant, it seems clear they are aiming at the take home trade as well as the on trade and are looking to compete across all boundaries. Muddy waters are going to be even more muddy soon it seems.

One thing the big breweries do have is fully trained brewers with a huge back up from technical and laboratory boffins, sales and marketing.  They are unlikely to produce dodgy beer and if they give the brewers their head, they'll take market share.  A worry for some perhaps?  While you may view this as a good or bad thing depending on your point of view,  the setting up of this brewery is evidence at least that the big boys are sitting up and taking notice and as these things take time to procure and set up, they have clearly been sitting up and taking notice for quite some time.

Everyone else should too.

Set to open on 20 November and beer available from next year. Photo from GK's own website.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

More Dobbin Nonsense

When tidying out my garage yesterday, I came across this forgotten piece of Dobbin memorabilia. Odd in some ways, but that's Brendan for you. Note too the warnings about excessive consumption of alcohol.  

He always did that.

I think that's it for Dobbinerana now.  Probably.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Unspoiled by Progress

Did you know that Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire has one of the biggest lesbian populations per head in the UK? Well it does. I am not sure what attracts them to this neat and straggling little town on the Calder Valley, but then I wouldn't would I? For those interested in such things, the Rochdale Canal also flows through it, though I suppose it would be a long, tiring swim back, so it is good that bus from Rochdale, the 590, accepts Greater Manchester First Day Savers. Lesbians notwithstanding, the attraction for us was a day out across the border in Yorkshire, to visit twee shops, walk around, have a bite to eat and a few pints.

The day started off badly as we missed the hourly bus by a few seconds, but arriving an hour later, I confused myself and E by mixing the place up with Sowerby Bridge, therefore finding it impossible to find that pub by the canal I'd been in a couple of years ago.  It's a mistake anyone can make and once my phone had been consulted, all was revealed, so changing our plans we made for Stubbing Wharf which is a perfect canalside pub in every way.  Delightful inside and out, a great range of beers, cheerful old locals and bloody muzak.  What on earth is that for?  The group of local old gents, discussing Syria called on the barmaid to change it to Frank Sinatra since "I know you are not allowed to turn it off".  Black mark for that.  For a good description, I recommend that you read this article from beer writer Arthur Taylor (one of my CAMRA branch members) in the Daily Telegraph.

A bit more wandering around and we felt hungry, so at random we called into the White Swan, just in time as lunchtime service was about to end.  A extremely diminutive barmaid of the old school served us with a cheerfulness that was obviously inherent.  Beer was from Black Sheep and somewhat oddly, from Everards, with their Sunchaser being served, as was the Black Sheep,through an autovac, which to my mind, though it does give a beautiful creamy head, has a tendency to flatten the beer a tad.  The two roomed pub, with a bar area and what we'd have called a lounge at one time, was rather empty, though a few popped in from time to time for a quick glass.  Food prices were as old fashioned as the service and portions plentiful.  You'd be stuffed for under a fiver.
The barmaid, and later the owner, chatted to us.  I remarked that I'd last been in around five years ago and that it hadn't changed a bit.  She agreed, adding ruefully "The only thing that's changed around here is me and I've just got older - and it won't change either as long as I'm here". Good for her.

We supped our beer happily and ate our meals, served by an astonishingly pregnant young woman who was teased about her size by the barmaid.  There was a juke box too. Oddly enough it was one of these modern ones that has every record ever, tucked in a corner by the bar.  I put on some 60's stuff (5 for a pound) and the elderly barmaid sang along happily.  It was just perfect in its warmth and simplicity.

We left with considerable reluctance, but the 590 is only one an hour, it takes a while and having missed one that day, I didn't want to miss another.

I was also able to buy a couple of bottles of Henderson's Relish in one of the independent shops albeit at a considerable mark up to Sheffield.  Result.