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 Beers

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 (Stubbins). 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.