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