Sunday, 10 December 2017

Plastic Glasses


I had a lovely day out last Saturday with E. In London for the Beer Writers thrash and with some spare time on our hands and the rail strikes on Southern settled, we went to Lewes for the day - a long time ambition of mine - though E had done some work for the local council there, had been several times, so would be my guide.

The first surprise after a surprisingly long journey from Victoria is how steep the hill is between the station which lies below the town and the town itself. I found that out in a most unwelcome way, as my bad knee literally gave way on the one in ten gradient, or whatever this North Face of the Eiger alike, was. (It is bothering me still on stairs if nothing else.) After planting my nation's flag on the summit, we explored a bit. A long, quaint High St, dotted with individual businesses  both to left and right, so on E's recommendation we went left until the town more or less ran out, noting a couple of decent pubs on the way.  E explained the more modern part of the town - and that is very relative as it all was entirely delightful - was at the bottom of another steep hill, as was Harvey's Brewery.

After a look at the castle - which dated back to Norman times - of course I didn't pay to go in - £17 my arse - we set off for the bottom of the town down another fearsome hill to admire the brewery and take the customary photo. Very picturesque, but a drink was required, Harvey's of course. A handy sign pointed us to the equally picturesque (both in looks and setting) of the John Harvey, Harvey's Brewery Tap. That'll do very nicely. As we approached on a cold but sunny day, I noticed that the hardy outside drinkers had plastic glasses. I assumed that was because of outdoor drinking and its fleeting mark on my conscious mind was dismissed.  Inside the pub is a delight. Low ceilinged, lots of wood, a bar with both hand pumped and gravity fed beer and a good buzz of conversation. I looked at the pumps. "A pint of Mild please" quoth I.  Mine host, a cheerful young fellow replied "Is a plastic glass OK?" I'd rather not said I. He looked a bit embarrassed and replied that it was all plastic glasses. Hmm. Now I dislike plastic glasses intensely. I dislike even more those that are so flimsy you need to carry them with two hands. I politely declined and we left. For me it was a point of principle.

Settled comfortably in the Dorset round the corner with a pint of Sussex Pale in a proper glass, we wondered what the reason could be. Now Brighton, just down the road were playing Liverpool at home and we had see the odd Brighton fan waiting for a bus or walking about, but none were in the John Harvey, which frankly was rather a posh gaff with rather a posh clientele. Surely that couldn't be it? Bloodshed, or the potential for it there, seemed highly unlikely and we hadn't seen and didn't see a single policeman in the whole time we were there. A mystery.

After a bit of light shopping and a few more pubs - all of which were served in glass - we made our way to station and a last pint or two. Our destination, just across from the station was the Lansdown Arms, a proper bustling pub of character.  It was heaving with returning Brighton fans, still groggy after a good hammering.  We found a seat and got into conversation with two philsohical supporters of a similar age to ourselves. We asked about the John Harvey as we supped our beer, again from a proper glass. They didn't know why there was plastic either.

I recommend Lewes highly. We enjoyed the Dorset, even more the eclectically decorated Snowdrop, our "tea" in the Brewer's Arms - a splendid throwback to the seventies in every way including the menu - a quick visit to the old fashioned Rights of Man and our final pints in the Lansdown Arms, but the John Harvey left a note of disappointment which still lingers.

Plastic glasses in a brewery's showcase pub? I don't think so.

The pubs in Lewes are old fashioned in a really good way, though I have to say that the Harveys seemed better in the Royal Oak in Borough.

We bought some fancy cheese and E, a devotee of Seasalt, Cornwall, a pair of trousers.  Everybody happy then.


Saturday, 9 December 2017

The Not Quite Bad Enough Pint


Like many a cask beer drinker, I pride myself on knowing a good pint, knowing common faults in beer and perhaps most difficult of all, knowing when a cask is about to run out. That can be a bit of a harder one though, in that the pint will often look pin bright, have a decent head and will to the usually inexperienced server, look exactly the same as any other he or she has served.  But it isn't. Despite its looks the beer is actually, while not exactly undrinkable, not in optimal condition. As a beer, it has more or less ceased to be, while zombie like it still purports to be alive and kicking.

In one of my local pubs last night after trying the Bitter and MPA which were excellent - they keep their beer brilliantly there - I thought I'd switch to the lovely Christmas special, Plum Pudding. It looked fine, but one sip told me it was getting to the bottom of the barrel.  Dilemma. Was it bad enough to return? I debated it mentally. I know when the beer starts to lose its condition and pick up off tastes from the cask bottoms, it can still last two or three pints more, but sure as eggs is eggs, it won't last much longer and it won't be much good.  An additional problem to add to my deliberations, is that they know me there and they know I'm the local CAMRA Chairman and because of that, my general rule in pubs I know, is if they know me and who I am, I don't tend to moan about the beer - unless of course it is vinegar or something equally indisputable.

So, I supped a bit of it slowly while keeping my eye on the handpump.  It spluttered to an end a few minutes later. I watched and waited and as soon as the cask was changed ordered a new pint. It was gorgeous. My discarded half pint or so remained on the table.

Did I do the right thing in not presenting myself as some kind of beer soothsayer? I think so. In my position, you sometimes have to take one for the Campaign.  Nobody likes a smartarse after all.

In my opinion too, which is ignored at Good Beer Guide Selection meetings, this pub should be in the Guide.  Being an estate pub though very few of my members are likely to nominate it.  Shows it isn't always a fix.

For my London readers, very little of this applies of course.  Cask beer quality there usually precludes such beery predictions.

 

Friday, 24 November 2017

The Colour of Murky


I've always had my worries about murky beer and even quite hazy beer, though slightly hazy beer doesn't bother me that much.  What has though always concerned me, is that in the case of cask conditioned beer, it, pun intended, muddies the waters. Not so long ago, in the days of certainty, you knew where you stood. If a hand pulled pint had more than a slight haze, back to the bar it went. There was never much by way of argument. We all knew the rules and beer should be clear.  Any haze had your radar twitching and murk would never be tolerated.  Not so much now.

It kind of started for me in 2001 in Portland Oregon at Rock Bottom Brewery where to my horror the cask beer was cloudy and it was meant to be. My good friend Jaime Jurado, now Director of Brewing Operations at ‎Abita Brewing Co. and then Director of Brewing for the company that owned Bridgeport in Portland explained to me that "opalescence" was rapidly being considered a desirable feature in cask beer within the US. In a subsequent private tour of Portland Brewing Co and a tasting, this was confirmed. Deliberate murk has a long history.

Fortunately this tendency lay dormant - more or less for years and when I served beer at the Chicago Real Ale Festival in 2007, I believe what beer that was murky was more by poor handling than deliberate intent.  Arguments about taste abound - see Ed's blog here - and empirical evidence is hard to find - but where there is an absence of "yeast bite" I can live with it - pointless though it is - but my concern about "It's meant to be like that" being used an excuse certainly haven't gone away.  I rather doubt if I'd be given an exchange in many places and frankly, with the norm having been altered and fudged, I could hardly expect it to be.  A quick call to the brewer might well be an anwer, but I'm uncertain if that is the best way round it.

At the recent Rochdale Beer Festival we had about four beers where there was no indication on the cask that the beer should be hazy. So we left them, tasted them when they didn't clear and having found no obvious faults, put it on sale with a warning.

If you can't beat them, join them I suppose, but it doesn't leave me with a comfortable feeling.

Despite Cooking Lager's amusing ditty, I doubt if craft beer will crumble and die due to murkiness. 

London brewers still seem to lead the way in deliberate murkiness. London Murk indeed, though I reckon the influx of American brewers into the UK a few years ago and American influences on brewing here in the aUK had a hand in it, both directly and indirectly.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Drygate


No, not the discovery that I am a secret teetotaller and that all this is made up, but the brewery of that name in Glasgow. On my visits to Dumbarton I have seen their beers here and there, well, mostly there really, in the odd Glasgow hostelry, but a trip to Glasgow and the chance to see it for myself, was too good to miss.

We started with the train to Glasgow and a deliberately walk down Sauchiehall St rather than getting off in the City Centre. Boy could you eat well there, with trendy eateries, curry house, high street chains and much more abounding.  Back in the day I spent a few weeks learning how to assess Supplementary Benefit in that neck of the woods and really, apart from the shop fronts changing, the area is much the same. Food wasn't our intention though, but just to get a feel for it all again and for E to be reminded how smart a city Glasgow is.

It was a fine walk, but man does not live by Rennie Macintosh and nostalgia alone. I'd told E about Shilling Brewery, so in we went. It would have been around one o'clock when we rocked up and found just one other customer.  Given that there was four or five staff around, I found the welcome as I found it before. Absent.  Staff seemed for happier chatting amongst themselves and taking selfies than ministering to customers. Nonetheless, E liked the place - as do I - and the beer, both in house and bought in, was interesting and tasty as we sipped our selection of halves over the next hour or so. As the pub got a little busier we had a good time just taking it all in. Oddly the first new customers, in an empty bar chose to sit beside us. I had to move my chair back repeatedly as one leaned back on his, nudging mine.  Beats me why people do this.

After a desultory look around the shops we went out through George Square and headed for the eastern part of the city.  E was consulting her phone map and was offered directions more than once. People make Glasgow indeed, but as it is a straight line, not really needed. Drygate is an offshoot of the giant Tennent Caledonian Brewery at Wellpark.  Now Irish owned, the brewery dates back to 1556 and its lager is the go to drink in Scotland in a way you just wouldn't believe. It makes the devotion of the koala to eucalyptus leaves seem like a passing fad.

Drygate is on two floors just off the main road. Inside it is a large modern brewery tap, very reminiscent of an American Brewpub with a long bar, bench seating and large shared tables with the brewery visible behind a perspex wall. Service is attentive and helpful and the crowd, mainly young was leavened by quite a few who weren't. Beers brewed in house were supplemented by guests and the atmosphere was chatty and vibrant.  What was not to like? Only the pervading smell of cooking oil which drove us upstairs to another huge room and bar, this time much brighter, more airy and much less like your local chip shop.  Beer was pretty good including Drygate's cask and keg offerings, though a black mark goes to the assurance that Thornbridge Kolsch is meant to be cloudy. Presumably then it was meant to be stale too? The food looked great and again the atmosphere was relaxed and convivial.  This place works really well and is a great addition to the local scene. Top marks to TCB for doing it.

On the way back we enjoyed a tour of the Merchant City and even had a pint in BrewDog.  Is it just me or are all their pubs just a bit grey, gloomy and utilitarian?

The photos show my impulse purchase from a posh market stall and the ever lovely E beside a well known landmark. Drygate Brewery entrance finishes the set.

We did eat. Lovely Tapas in Cafe Andaluz by Queen St Station. Crap bread though.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

It Had to Happen


While walking out the other day, I noticed this advert for Jameson Irish Whiskey, which caused me to pause and take the photograph.

Since when did craft beer become such a thing that you'd want to flavour your whiskey with it? Is there now an hitherto untapped source of revenue from all those casks being stored in various microbreweries once they have been emptied and sold at top dollar? Has it all turned full circle as barrels that started out in distilleries find their way back there by a somewhat circuitous route?  Is there a single "craft beer" flavour that is sought?  In this case it is a stout cask that will provide the additional flavour, but are there others? What would and wouldn't work? Certainly not a metal keg. How did they get enough wood conditioned stout barrels? And lastly, who is this whiskey aimed at?  Is it just a gimmick?


Seems surprising and a bit odd to me. Anyone else?

A quick Google indicates the stout barrels came from Franciscan Well Brewery. It will cost you £27 at Tesco. Twice "ordinary" Jameson. 

Apparently it adds "notes of cocoa, coffee and butterscotch to this classic Irish whiskey."

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Even More Polish Craft


Too much Polish Craft  in fact.  Hopping off the tram, considerably refreshed already, we made for 4 Hops in an area  not far from the Old Town and very near our hotel. This was a busy and very pubby destination with a much more mixed crowd than the relatively young clientele at our previous location. That is, for once we didn't automatically double the average age of the customers on entry.  I liked it for that alone. Here we bumped into some more of our crowd and were able to ascertain with a modicum of accuracy, where others might be. Of course we made no use of this information whatever and after a couple made our rather wobbly way to Marynka, Piwo i Aperitivo where more by the fact we all had the same maps, we did indeed find some of our fellow imbibers.

Now don't get your hopes up here for a "aperitivo" meaning a sumptious Italian style free feast. Instead a few little tubs of this and that - think nibbles - were on the bar.  Still, disregarding that minor setback and glancing at the beer list, I noticed my nemesis was beckoning to me once again. Yes Dear Reader, Strawberry Milk Shake IPA.  She was as luscious and appealing as she had been earlier and in her enchanting way somehow buoyed me up for a later and un-needed visit to Stacja Pub - at least I think that's where it was. Either way it was heaving and had a great selection of Polish craft. I had something with Citra and something stouty, but things had gone well downhill by then. Of course it didn't end there though it should have. As we were just round the corner from our hotel, a quick visit to a rather posh bar was made, much against the will of a by then long suffering and reluctant E.  Once in, having knocked my beer bottle over twice, even I knew it was time for bed.

So what did I learn from this? Well, drinking lots of beer around 6% abv by the half litre over a long day is not really advisable. I should have known that really, but as they say, it seemed a good idea at the time.

I am desperately trying to recall if we ate anything. I have a feeling we did, but I'm not asking E. That would be inadvisable. 

Thankfully I woke up with only the slightest of hangovers. A substantial breakfast and lovely walk in the fresh air with added culture, chased that, if not away, to a place that I didn't exactly notice. The next day involved Tankovna Pilsner Urquell. That was a good thing and I know I ate properly and drank a lot more wisely.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

More Polish Craft


After our first night, it was up bright eyed and bushy tailed - honestly - yes - but that was the last of that joyous state.  A very decent breakfast set us up nicely for a walk around the city - well some of it anyway - in beautiful sunshine and shirt sleeve order.  It really is an impressive place and before joining the others, E and I poked around a bit. It really is amazing how the devastation has been seamlessly turned back into what it was (or near enough).

Our walk sort of ended at the River Oder which in Wroclaw is spilt into several different branches. The main bit was very attractive with people out enjoying the autumnal sunshine, but inevitably as it was a beery mob I was with, we found ourselves in the huge covered market. Some of us wandered around gawping at venomous looking mushrooms, home made jams, impressive meats and sausages breads and vegetables - all the usual paraphernalia that such places provide. Of course there was an ulterior motive as some of the party, giving up any pretence, sought out our goal, Targowa a multi tap pub located "somewhere" in the market hall.  Probably around ten taps or so of various Polish beers to go at. I had a very impressive Apatron American Pale, some New England Pale and a taster of a very fierce Habanero Oatmeal stout, which hadn't held back on the chillies. All beers were around 13 -15 zloty for a half litre or around £3, though the 13.8% Russian Imperial Stout was a whopping 31zl.

The party then split up to pursue other cultural pursuits. Well I won't lie to you, to pursue other pubs. Five of us decided to walk to Browar Stu Mostów which was a simple enough feat as we just followed the tram line.  A fascinating walk of around two miles took us up through an old tenemented part of the city, many clearly dating back to Kaiser Bill times (Wilhelminesche) with their elaborate wrought iron works and tiny balconies. Some were more modern where one assumes, destruction had occurred, though equally redevelopment could have been the cause.  We also passed a huge empty brewery, its buildings still intact and the name, just about readable on the chimney. Awaiting development no doubt.

Just over the river - the Oder again - a quick left and right and we arrived at our destination on the spot of its two o'clock opening time .  Browar Stu Mostów  is impressive as a venue. Downstairs, a shiny brewery of some size and upstairs, a rather small bar complete with a number of taps from its own brewery and elsewhere. Now it has to be said that we likely spent a bit more time there than intended and that wasn't good for us, though some of it was the wait to be served as the small bar got more and more busy, overwhelming the two or three staff.  Additionally, each time we tempted to leave, some others from our party showed up. I started of with a Hefeweizen after the hot walk, I had Black IPA, then my nemesis. I discovered Strawberry Milk Shake IPA - brewed on the premises - and the rocky road to ruin was assured.  I caught up with this lovely lady several more times elsewhere and she still held me in her thrall. An easy drinking 5.9% can be a hard mistress though as I subsequently found out, but she was so beautiful to be with.

Needless to say, we caught the tram back and more Polish beer was to come, though my lovely lady was nowhere to be seen. Just as well, but she was waiting for me elsewhere. It was destiny.

A word about Polish bar staff. All were most charming, male or female. English was widely spoken by the young.

Most Polish Craft Beer places were more pubby and less bleak than many elsewhere, but many similarities were to be found. Few hipsters though.


Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Craft Beer at Sensible Prices


No I don't mean the Counting House in Glasgow, though you certainly can get it there, nor do I mean Drygate Brewery in Glasgow where you can also get it - more of that later - but I do mean Wroclaw in Poland where you most certainly can get it and in very nice surroundings too.

Wroclaw is a Polish city in Western Poland. It used to be the German city of Breslau until after the Second World War when Poland was moved west and it kind of retains its German feel, though it was completely Polonised after the war after the German population was expelled. As Festung Breslau (Fortress Breslau) it was ferociously defended by the Germans and had the distinction of actually surrendering more than a week after Berlin fell. It was completely devastated, in its eastern areas particularly, by the advancing Russians and very heavily damaged elsewhere. You can see that today in the buildings, though the centre is wonderfully restored. It is also a very beery town indeed.

We started off our wanderings on our first night there (we only emerged from our hotels around half past eight)  with a meal and beers in Spitz, a grand cellar beer hall, very much in the German style, underneath the Town Hall.  They allegedly brew there, but if they do, it certainly isn't on the kit on show in the main area. This looks old and unused. The beers are broadly German in style - think helles, dunkel, schwarzbier - and while soft and drinkable, lacked any real oomph. This was in a huge way made up for by the charm of the young waitresses and waiters who were eager to help with menus and explain the beers and by the general jolly beer hall atmoshere inside. The hearty food wasn't half bad either and the crowd, a lot of them young, made for a very convivial couple of hours. We had to wait for a table and we weren't the only ones, our spot being swooped on on our departure, as soon as our bums lifted from the seats.

Just time for a couple before bed then. Next up was a much more modern affair. Browar Złoty Pies was just across the square and several of us congregated there. Translated as the Golden Dog, it had several dog themed craft beers on show and rare for me - I'm no ticker - I took the opportunity to have a sample tray. Four standard beers are produced on the premises and in addition, ever changing seasonal beers. Alas the passion fruit weizen had gone off but I enjoyed Setter Stout (maybe needs some work) the standard weizen was bang in the middle of the style, a perfectly decent Bokser Lager and the pick of the bunch, Pit Bull IPA which was American in style and pit bull like in every other way. It bit. The bar itself was modern, buzzy and if you are wondering about prices, under £3 a pint equivalent. Bar food is available.

A good start, but Saturday was yet to come. That's when it really got going. 

This was a CAMRA trip. Around 25 of us, though we went around in groups rather than mob handed. 

E and I stayed in Hotel Puro, a boutique hotel which is handy and highly recommended.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

A Rare Event


Given that to most minds Manchester is one of the foremost beer cities in the country with a great cask and craft scene, there are relatively few beery events held here by the trade. Well few that I'm invited to anyway. It was therefore welcome and unusual to get an invitation to a Wine and Beer Tasting by locally based importers Morganrot held on one of the upper floors of the very trendy  Home Building in one of the more trendy areas of Manchester, Tony Wilson Place -'nuff said - which, needless to say, I don't know at all well.

I took E along for support and had a look at what was on offer. A simple programme showed mainly Spanish beers with a sprinkling from Sweden, Germany and Malta. The noticeable thing about the Spanish offerings was their similarity. All seemed to have a Pale Ale, an American Pale Ale, an IPA, an Amber Ale and either a stout or a porter. Now this isn't a problem, but does make you wonder a little why you'd go to the trouble as a small microbrewer to export such universally available products. I guess the answer is, that despite the oddities of the beer world that we see so often, that's what sells.

I tried most of them and it has to be said, though none were particularly bad, none really stood out. The pick of the bunch were the porters and stouts with a stunning cigar smoke smoked stout from oddly named Swedish brewers, Pang Pang and very competent offerings from others. For those interested in such things, Spanish brewers included Mala Gissona, Cervecera Artesana and LaPirata.

I also had a very informative chat with the Krombacher folks and in particular liked their attempt at a Southern German Weissbier, though I doubt that they'll be trembling in their shoes in Bavaria just yet. Likewise Sleeman Railside Session Pale is not going to cause anyone producing a domestic bog standard pale ale to have sleepless nights over this tame offering and it does make you wonder about the wisdom of trunking this kind of stuff across the Atlantic, other than novelty value. So what do we learn? Craft beer is by no means exempt from "boring brown bitter" syndrome, dark beers often present better than pale and does anyone actually like amber ale?

The best beer of the show? The delicious Cisk Lager from Malta, was honest, fresh and tasty and at the right price-point would be a great addition to certain outlets. That's the kind of beer that still really sells, but for complexity, the Cigar Smoke Stout pips it. For a different market of course.

My thanks to Morganrot for a very entertaining couple of hours. E enjoyed the wine too. 



Lastly, we went after to Gasworks Brew Bar and Kitchen next door. I liked it and more of this later.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Outstanding


I've been busy and unwell, so this is a bit of a catch up. Outstanding Brewery used to be in my CAMRA Branch Bailiwick, but has recently moved from its rather old fashioned building in Bury to a new location in deepest Salford.  They had a bit of an open day for CAMRA colleagues and their own friends and family a couple of Saturdays ago, so me and the boss went along.

At E's suggestion we walked from Shudehill along the banks of the Irwell as this seemed an interesting way to go.  That was easier said than done as we had to make frequent detours to avoid the intense amount of new builds along the banks of the river and further into the interior. It was fascinating nonetheless to walk in a part of the area that I don't really know and as a bit of a railway buff I really enjoyed looking at the work being done on the Ordsall Curve which will directly link Manchester's Piccadilly and Victoria Stations.

After a couple of miles and an equal number of false starts we located the building, paid a tenner to charity and went in. Two rather large industrial units have been combined into one, divided by stairs to a podium with a bar and sitting area. In the first of these units is Porter Installations the constructor of many of the current crop of UK microbreweries as well as an increasing number abroad.  Run by the eponymous Dave Porter a brewer, brewery builder and much more, partly constructed brew kit could be seen, while Dave himself showing his other side, did the guided tour bit of the actual brewery, while the owner Glen, a brewer himself and ever amiable and I looked down from above. I am unsure of how ownership works out other than that each appears to have a small stake in the others business, while facilities are shared. Or it may be some other odd combination, but either way, it seems to work. The units have been purchased as the rental option was considered dead money. They are modern and flexible. I think Dave, as well as knowing everything and everyone, was an accountant. He'll have done the sums. That's a compliment.

The brewery is large and fairly shiny and produces cask and keg beers. The bar dispensed several of each and while we both started off with a very, hoppy, light coloured Ultra Pale Ale - 4.1% I think, we ended up on Four, a clean, herbal, refreshing keg lager which shows what really can be done with this style. It is worth noting that while the keg lagers are filtered, none are pasteurised.

Nice guys that I have known for years, doing well and producing great beer is all this is about.  This is a simple good news story - apart from losing a great brewery from Bury that is.

The charity tenner got us as much beer as we wanted and a pizza should one be desired, but as usual at these things, it was just great to chat to beery people and talk beer to brewers. 

We got the tram back to Central Manchester. In my usual cack handed way, I only took one photo. See the website linked above for more.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Playing the Man and Other Stuff


It's been a funny old week on t'internet beerwise.  The old cask versus keg argument was set alight once more by some offensive ad hominem attacks on someone who simply professed in no uncertain terms - on his own blog - that a murky beer he'd been served was not remotely to his liking and in the opinion of him and his wife, tasted vile. He called it "overpriced rubbish." That's his opinion and on his blog, he clearly stated that and his mild reaction to such viciousness was a credit to him.  While it wasn't quite "Nothing to see here. Move on", though clearly it could have.

Sadly it wasn't that simple. A number of astonishing personal attacks then took place in the comments section, many of them complaining that the author wasn't erudite enough and didn't string his points together in a more appealing manner, though he seemed to have no problem in making himself and his meaning understood beyond reasonable doubt by his critics. (Surely the point of language and the written word, when all is said and done. The first comment and the second by the same person set the tone of what was to come. First of all was a pop at the author's writing ability and then at CAMRA and its members, which as far as I could see was nothing to do with the article.  (As an aside here, it is time people realised that the vast majority of cask ale drinkers have nothing whatever to do with CAMRA and aren't members - so pack that in please.)  In fact the writer of the piece concerned has a dig at CAMRA members later in his article, so who knows if he is a member or not? Whatever, but when you read on its gets worse. And worse. Since when did beer become so important that such nasty personal attacks made on a person are justified because of beery preferences and grammar?

Needing a bit of light relief from that I turned to Beer and Whine.  Given the title of the piece - "CAMRA - The Campaign for Rudeness & Arrested development" I was hoping for something a little more gentle and nuanced. A tongue in cheek look at the Venerable Society for Beer from the Wickets complete with a little leg pulling perhaps? Nope. This statement sets the tone for a bitter piece of CAMRA bashing "The first and most infuriating characteristic of your stereotypical CAMRA member is the outright arrogance and rudeness that is on display every time that they step foot in a bar/pub."  Goodness. What has happened to this poor writer at the hands of these cask conditioned cretins that has affected him so deeply? The rest of it continues in the same bilious tone, complete with misleading and incorrect statements. If you haven't read it do. Meantime I return to my point above. Most real ale drinkers aren't CAMRA members and I'll add a couple. Most members will visit your bar and you will never know they are members, hardly any will "demand" discount, though some may politely enquire and the question of pricing isn't as simple as jacking up the price, more of which later.

At least, despite what I read above, the cask versus keg war is over according to this article by Fourpure Brewery from the Morning Advertiser. No-one in their right drinking mind disputes the statement by Sean Knight of Fourpure that the focus should be on quality, but of course things are far more nuanced than that. Sadly it isn't that simple but this polite article was kind in tone and was refreshing for that alone.

This brings me neatly to comments, again in the Morning Advertiser by Sophie Atherton about cask beer pricing and so called "cut-price cask beer" and customer resistance to higher prices. As I hinted before this is complex problem and as I'd expect Sophie makes a good fist of examining the arguments, though I'm not sure that the sort of cask most of us real ale drinkers sup can truly be described as "premium".  The idea too that you can call a beer premium when it is so often already sold at top dollar in poor nick could be troublesome to sustain in a reasoned argument. Nonetheless I agree with the conclusion that a perfectly served pint can command a decent and fair price and that quality at the point of dispense is imperative.  Having said that, as Karl Marx said - and he was a real ale man - "the problem isn't identifying what is wrong, the problem is how to change it." Frankly there is no a consensus on that and the issue of too many breweries chasing too few accounts and publicans helping to drive down brewers' margins, isn't even discussed. Fair prices for sellers don't easily happen in a buyer's market.

So where does this leave us? Well we can deduce that the meatheads aren't all in CAMRA, the craft beer scene is far from gentle and benevolent and can show a snobby and arrogant side. Beer costs, too much/too little, is too warm too flat/too cold and too gassy and the answers to known problems aren't that obvious.

Think I'll go for a pint now. It will be from JW Lees, will be just under £3 and Lees make plenty of money.

I had a pint of keg beer the other day. The brewer admitted that it had around 3 volumes of CO2 in it. Too much for me. We will be having yer actual keg at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival as a matter of interest.

While answers aren't obvious, you should, in the meantime adopt my mantra "It's the offer Stupid."  If you don't get that right these days you are in trouble.

Nicked "Playing the Man" from Mudgie, though I doubt if it is copyright

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Why Bother?


That awkward sod Cooking Lager is pretty good at reminding us of the futility and foolishness of pub going and cask ale worship. Both too dear and if you do go to the pub for a real ale or two, it is likely to be manky.  In fairness he does give some stick to the crafties as well. He is nothing if not unfair to all is Cookie. Good on him.  He did give me pause for thought with this tweet the other day, when I was moaning about poor beer in Scotland.


Now there is a semblance of truth to this, but in reality, I rarely get a bad pint because sensibly, since I'm not a charity, I don't drink in random pubs as a rule. In London I avoid cask beer unless I'm confident in the pub, though of course I do get caught out at times, but as compensation, while the beer may be dodgy, the pubs are usually well worth a visit. Like many others though, normally, I mainly in pubs that I know and I go there because I like the pub and I know the beer will be good. Mudgie wrote about the subject here and I agree within this particular phrase in particular "the point about cask beer is that, when it’s good, it’s much superior to kegs and lagers, and the occasional duff pint is a price worth paying for that. If you stick to pubs in the Good Beer Guide, or ones with a decent reputation locally, you’re unlikely to have much problem." 

This brings me on to another point. Most CAMRA members don't spend all their time crawling from random pub to random pub either, but as I do, go to pubs they can depend on. Naturally a lot of us pub goers will go on holiday or have a jaunt to another beer drinking town. In most cases it will be Good Beer Guide pubs we go to. It is the very existence of poor pubs and beer that makes the Good Beer Guide while not infallible, invaluable.  These entries are likely to be best of breed in the area concerned. It is CAMRA people that select them and we tend not to drink or vote for inclusion in the Guide, pubs that routinely serve sub standard beer. Local knowledge helps too, because in good drinking towns, not being included in the GBG, does not mean beer will be bad elsewhere. Sheffield is a good example of this, but sadly, in areas where there is little real ale, scan the description carefully. Read between the lines. It should sing about beer quality. If it doesn't, beware.

So is pub going and real ale drinking futile? Well what isn't in this vale of tears, but hit a good pub and a cask at its sweet spot and for the beer man or woman, there isn't much better.  Still worth a punt then I'd say, but hedge your bets and make enquiries if possible.

Sadly, like most things in life, the quality of pubs and beer cannot be taken for granted or assumed.

Monday, 11 September 2017

That Quality Thing Again


I have a lot of sympathy for my CAMRA colleagues in the South West of Scotland. Real ale is rather thin on the ground around these parts and it must be difficult, in a sea of Tennents, to keep the cask beer flag flying.

I was in Dumfries and Galloway a couple of weeks ago and though my friends and I didn't try all the pubs that sold real ale, we had a go at quite a few of them.  Some, it has to be said, even though they were listed in the Good Beer Guide were less than enthralling quality wise.  The most common fault being tired beer and warm beer, probably  indicating turnover wasn't all it could be. There was exceptions though and hats off to the  Cavens Arms in Dumfries for spot on beer - though dining pushes drinkers rather to the side here - and the Selkirk Arms in Kirkcudbright whose beer was immaculate and, as we were the first customers of the day, was carefully pulled through to ensure quality. The resulting pints of Kelburn Pivo Estivo were well up to snuff and the beer garden, in unscheduled sunshine, was quite a bonus too.  So it can be done.

One thing we did notice was the dominance of beers from Greene King, supplied no doubt through their Scottish subsidiary, Belhaven. Fair enough, but not once in the half dozen or so pubs that sold Greene King, was a single cask ale from Belhaven available. Shame that.  It was sad too to see that beers in the local Wetherspoon in Dumfries were dominated overwhelmingly by Greene King and Marstons, though in fairness here, quality of what we had was good.

Now of course where there is a brewery tap, one can breathe a sigh of relief and relax in the knowledge that here at least will be a friendly welcome and beer as the brewer intended. Well you'd like to fondly imagine so wouldn't you? Sadly in the visit to the local brewery and tap, in my second Scottish home town of my youth, Castle Douglas - my grandparents lived there - that wasn't to be.  The beers were lifeless and warm and frankly near enough undrinkable. A quick look under the bar showed that the casks were not temperature controlled in any way and when this was mentioned to the barman, we were advised that real ale was meant to be served at room temperature. 

We made our excuses and left.

Yes, I will be dropping a note to my CAMRA colleagues in South West Scotland about the brewery tap. Brewery taps should be a beacon of real ale excellence. After all if you can't get cask beer there in the best form possible, then where can you? The only other bar in Castle Douglas purporting to have real ale, didn't have. We beat a hasty reteat to Dumfries for liquid sustenance.

The photo isn't beery, but shows Dumfries railway station at night. I spent many a time there with my Mum and sister waiting for the train to CD. Alas the line was axed by Beeching.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Where there's Murk, there's Brass


The controversy over hazy/cloudy/murky beer continues apace.  Twitter is full of photographic examples of beer which is so densely cloudy it looks like chicken soup, while all the while those posting said photos proclaim what a lovely drop it is.  There isn't much light I can shed on this phenomenon other than to suggest, mildly, that this has become a fashion that at its best can be described as bringing a new, open minded interpretation of beer presentation to the drinking public,  or at worst a con on the gullible with experimental beer, or a batch gone wrong, or even a brewer who doesn't know what the heck he is doing, pushing out bad beer at top dollar prices.  It's a thing though, so how should we react?

The simplest way is not to buy the stuff if it offends you, but of course it isn't that straightforward.  In the days before murk, it was easy. You got a cloudy or even hazy pint and you took it back. You knew that beer was meant to be bright and if it wasn't you returned it and asked for an exchange. In those days that was the norm. Customers knew it and bar staff knew it. It wasn't an arguable point. There was a rule - a clear rule if you like.  Nowadays there are those, rightly or wrongly that don't fine their beer in the belief, again rightly or wrongly, that by not fining the beer, the customer gets a "better" pint.  Now of course the flaw in this argument is that it is very subjective. Some like the added taste that not removing solids from beer gives - and that taste isn't all or always good - and some consider, me among them - that the flavours become imprecise, muddied if you like. Overcoming inbuilt norms, is not an easy thing either way.

There are brewers, good ones who take beer seriously that fret over this, but usually they have a tendency to go one way or another. You know the beers and you can choose accordingly. Ah, Yes. If you know the beers you can, but what about when you don't and most customers don't? Well, you rely on the brewer putting an explanation on the pumpclip, or the barstaff telling you (assuming in these days where quality control at the point of dispense has seemingly become the job of the purchaser) that the barstaff either know or care.  Never has it been easier for those selling a product that isn't quite right to say "It's meant to taste/look like that", especially as it sometimes is.

This, like it or not, is a particular problem for cask conditioned beer. I know some brewers haven't fined their beers for years, but they use an appropriate yeast and they allow the beer time. They may even re-rack almost bright into conditioning tanks and, providing the beer has enough viable yeast for a secondary fermentation in the cask, why not? Who cares? Certainly not me. The issue though is that with so many brewers of cask beer around now, some beers are frankly not worth drinking on taste alone, but if in addition they are cloudy, the customer is put in a position where he or she has to argue the case at the bar. Not good. Years of certainty over beers look and appearance count for nothing now.

What about craft beers? Well, here there may well be a different case to argue. Beers in this genre tend to be a lot more edgy, a bit more experimental. I read recently of a huge number of kilos of fruit pulp being added to beer. The brewer advised Twitter of the fact with pride. And why not?  I am not against such things - the Belgians have been doing it for years after all. Mind you they produce in the main very pin bright fruit beers - but we aren't Belgian here and in these cases, the resultant beer, cloudy as a fruit juice is what is intended and of course, here there is little argument. It is likely sold as what it is to those who have a fair idea of what they are getting and they pay and enjoy accordingly. That's fine by me.

So is this an issue and why is it happening? Most likely because it can happen and we have a new wave of brewers and drinkers who don't feel bound by a previous norm. They like it that way. That's fine, but brewers and publicans, please tell us in advance at the point of sale, in the case of cask conditioned beer at least.

London Murky is possibly the founding source  of this, but is separate and possibly more dodgy manifestation of this trend. It inspired the title of this piece in a way.

This blog piece which lends itself all too easily to dodgy puns, was at the back of my mind for a while. It was brought to life by an inability to sleep this morning and this piece here, where this issue seemingly precipitated a very unsavoury incident.

Friday, 18 August 2017

How Was GBBF for You?



The Great British Beer Festival - GBBF for short - is over and once again there is reflection on how it was and indeed how it should be.

For me, working on the German and Czech Bar, it was business as usual. The bar is always fairly quiet until around three o'clock and then business picks up. It is quiet on Tuesday and to some extent Wednesday until work finishes and rammed the rest of the time. So far, so normal.  It is my habit to skive off early doors - around 12.30 or so - and with my old mate Graham, take a wander around. Our bar is quiet then and fully staffed. The newbies can cope. Our forte is digging people out when it gets busier - or so we like to think.  Comparing GBBF year on year is difficult, as layout changes, the number of brewery bars varies, and frankly, you just can't remember how it was.

My impression this year was that it wasn't quite as busy, though that varied from day to day, but that there was a very much younger crowd, though of course, the diverse (some might say motley)  nature of the customer is very much a plus for me.  The cask beer I tried - and it was more than I usually do - was all cool, conditioned and enjoyable, the food was great, especially the addictive chicken tandoori wraps with fearsomely hot chilli sauce - and my abiding impression was the exuberance of the customers who had clearly come for a good time and were jolly well having it.  For me, as a long standing volunteer, it was one of the best. A great atmosphere, beer quality has never been better, I met lots of people I knew on trade day and enjoyed talking to them, our bar was excellently staffed by old friends and new and I had a really good time.  It is just as important to enjoy yourself as a volunteer as it is as a customer. Us volunteers wouldn't come back otherwise and then, simply, the show wouldn't go on.

Ah yes, good times?  The purpose of the Great British Beer Festival is to promote and showcase cask conditioned real ale and to encourage the drinking and understanding of it. In addition to cask beer there is the bottled beer bars flogging both brewery conditioned beers from abroad and real ale in a bottle from the UK. We also have our German and Czech, our Belgian, Italian and Dutch bars and of course traditional cider and perry. So pretty much something for everyone - unless you are a craft keg drinker - but hey, still enough to go at surely?

It is an expensive business to put on a show such as this.  I don't think it is giving away much of a secret to acknowledge that it isn't a money spinner. It's main aim is to be a showcase and in that it succeeds admirably. Around 50,000 punters had a good time and drank lots of beer and went home happy with good thoughts about beer drinking. Job done? Well it depends on your point of view. My good friend Matt Curtis, looking at it from the standpoint of a beer writer rather than a customer, made this point on Twitter:



Now is this fair?  I can see where he is coming from as far as the aforementioned keg craft is concerned and this "modern" style of beer is either a wonderful, innovative interpretation of the brewer's art - or in in the view of some - me included in the case of "London Murky" - a pretentious way of starting a new trend to mostly sell to the gullible. We at Manchester Beer and Cider Festival do sell keykeg beer, but it is conditioned in the keg and while hazy, not opaque.  Personally I can see no issue in selling keykeg that meets CAMRA's real ale definition and there are some splendid and enjoyable ones around, but would draw the line at the kind of stuff described on Stonch's Beer blog:

"I'd forgotten just how shameless London micros are in putting out murky, unfinished product. People must still be buying pint after pint of this stuff, though, or those that make it would need to brew their beer properly. As it is, they're still getting away with beery murder. When will consumers wise up?"

You can see the offending pint here and make your own mind up.

So is it the job of CAMRA and the GBBF to promote "modern" beer or should it stick to its knitting and continue to promote traditional beer and its enjoyment in convivial company, while slowly nudging forward in favour of non real ale styles?  That is what CAMRA's Revitalisation Project is really about and it won't be long until us members have to make our minds up.

Choose wisely Folks, but remember the murky.

Yes GBBF should continually modernise, but like CAMRA itself, beware of babies and bathwater. At least you don't have to put up with suicide inducing repetitive bass as is so often the case in modern bars and beery events. 

We should always rember too, that beer is an accompaniment to good times, not neccessarily the good time itself.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Losing Confidence in Cask?


I was in Scotland week before last and as usual, in the land of Tennents Lager, was wary about choosing cask beer where there was any. My experience, even in high turnover places like Wetherspoons, is that it can be hit or miss and more often than not, it misses.  As it happens, my first opportunity, fresh off the train was in the Counting House off George Square and it was hot, so looking at the pump clips with an array of dark Scottish beers, I decided, given the heat, that I wasn't chancing it and enjoyed instead - and I did - a couple of pints of keg. More of that later.

That night in the Captain James Lang, another JDW house, I thought, having spotted that Loch Lomond Brewery's Southern Summit was on the pumps, that I'd give it a go. It was only £1.79 and actually fairly good.  Alas when I returned to the bar, it had gone. I chose Skye Blonde and was immediately, before I'd go it to my mouth, assailed by a distinct whiff of vinegar.  I pointed this out to the barperson who had obviously read the Book of Barkeep Excuses.  "I think" she posited "it's meant to taste like that". Moving on to page 2 of the tome she added "I don't drink beer myself".   I was though given an exchange and turned down the offer of a whisky flavoured 7.8% beer from Strathven - despite it also being £1.79 a pint - in favour of a bottle. Minimum pricing? Take that Scottish Government.

I was in Helensburgh next day meeting an old pal. Alas in the Henry Bell, there was no cask I wanted to drink. All were around 4.8% and brown. As the barmaid herself, a Northern Irish lass of some character, noted "They could do with something pale and hoppy on, that's what I drink". Put her in charge of the cellar I say.  I did take her wise words on board as I stood wondering what to have. "Don't have the Tennents" my sage advised, "it's really shite."  This lass will go far or at least, ought to.

The day after my sister took me out for an hour. We went to the Balloch Hotel on Loch Lomondside, me having noted that it has a wide choice of real ales.  Of course it wouldn't be a Tandleman day out if some idiocy hadn't occurred.  The bar as you enter is L shaped with a bank of five handpumps immediately on your left. On the wall facing is the sign in the photo. My sister sat and I surveyed the wickets. "I'll have the Adnams" I thought. A few moments passed and I looked up the bar to the corner of the L. No barperson appeared but an old soak on a barstool shouted along the other angle of the bar and after a while a barmaid appeared. She seemed annoyed. "You should have come up to where the tills are quoth she."  "Are there more cask beers there then? I enquired. "No" she said "but I stand up there." This was getting interesting, but she had the last laugh. Only two handpumps were on. I chose London Pride which was a little tired but OK. This place is owned by Mitchell's and Butlers as a matter of interest.

On my return to Glasgow Central I had a pint in the Counting House again. This time I went for cask in the shape of Oakham JHB. That distinct whiff and then taste of vinegar again.  On pointing this out the server called a colleague, presumably the cask beer champion or something along these lines.  He took a straw out, dipped it in my beer and allowed a drop to roll onto his tongue."Hops" he pronounced. "And something else."  I agreed and pointed out the something else was vinegar.  My duff pint was exchanged for, yes you've guessed it. Keg.

Right I'm getting a bit fed up of reading this myself, but I am sure you get my drift by now.  Dodgy beer and dodgy bar staff don't make for a great combination.  It's the offer Stupid. If that isn't up to snuff, then you are on a loser.

I rather liked the beer pictured above from Jaw Brew whom I haven't even heard of. Really decent, though you do have to knock a bit of the CO2 out. I had it both visits and despite the murk, it didn't disappoint. Oh and I'm not losing confidence in cask really, but rubbish cask makes others do so.

For those that know Glasgow, I understand, Camperdown Place, another JDW just 50 yards away from the Counting House, has now closed due to Queen St Station redevelopment. Shame, as for the traveller with a suitcase, its ground floor toilets were a boon even if the beer choice was less extensive.

Monday, 17 July 2017

In With the New


When I met my oldest friend Mike for a few pints, I made it my mission to take him to entirely new (to him) pubs.  As we met at Piccadilly Station, him fresh off a rail replacement bus, we started in the Waldorf, a neat brick built pub just off Piccadilly itself and a pub that has, over the years, had more makeovers than a Channel 4 house.  It was more or less exactly one on a Saturday afternoon and the pub was inexplicably rammed and for Boak and Bailey whose thoughts on pubs I have just read, it was rammed with young people. Well when I say young, I'd say mostly twenty to thirty year olds. Bloody young to me anyway.  It was impressively noisy and our joint choice of Purple Moose Elderflower Ale, sufficiently interesting for us to declare it a good start, despite the rather grumpy service.  What also interested me was why the pub was so busy. It wasn't a number of large groups, but just bunches of varied people having a good time. Maybe the Waldorf has found the magic formula at last. I hope so as it is rather a good looking boozer.

My plan fell apart at the next hurdle as Mike fancied a pint of Hydes, so we nipped into the Grey Horse on Portland St which was almost deserted.  Nonetheless, despite me picking the worst tasting beer on the bar, we had a good time by the simple expedient of chatting to the few people there.  The cricket was on the TV and followed with serious intent by a gent on the next table. We nattered about the slow rate of progress and general this and thats and then struck up a conversation with a Burnley fan, in the team shirt, though I had to inspect it closely to rule out impostors such as Aston Villa and West Ham.  The forthcoming season's chances thus discussed, we left with sense of contentment that simple friendly interaction with strangers often brings.

Next up was back on the "new" theme in the shape of the Brink, a newish downstairs bar that majors on beers from no further than 20 miles from its location. That still gives it plenty of scope. They also pride themselves, rightly, on the quality of their cask beer and we supped our pints happily, while the pub, not big and busy enough to start with, became even busier and even noisier.  This was a mixed crowd, mostly young, but spread across the age range.  We had a couple, then retreated as it had become difficult to have our usual detailed political discussion, due to the enjoyment of others being expressed in rather Stentorian tones.  This is actually a cracking little bar and I certainly don't begrudge others their loud appreciation of it.

Last up was another underground bar, the white tiled Gas Lamp.  Just across the road from the Brink in Bridge St, but actually much more pubby to my mind, though the old white tiles do give the slight
impression of supping in a public lavatory.  Here we encountered celebrity in the shape of Aiden Byrne, still dressed in his chef's whites and as he was having a few, hopefully not going back to the stove.  Sadly Mike, a fellow Scouser had never heard of him, but there you go. Again the pub was jumping and we found seats only because a couple left and Mike, quick witted as ever, jumped into their graves as it were. Beer here's a good mixture of cask and keg (think Magic Rock, Kernel, First Chop etc.) and the crowd was anything from 20 to much older with the majority being in their 30s. For some unaccountable reason, instead of my usual cask,  I enjoyed some Schneider Weiss mein Helles which was rather good, though pricey. (As an aside, Schneider, to my mind, is the most improved brewery of the German biggies - most of the rest have gone backwards.)

And that was it. Leaving Mike to stagger off to his longish bus journey, I reflected on our visits. Four great pub experiences, though all slightly different and apart from one, all really busy. There's hope for the pub yet.

I somehow forgot to take any photos. Those here are from the pub's websites.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Sarajevski Pivare


Sarajevo had it bad during the last war. When they say "last war" in Bosnia, they don't mean World War 2, but the civil war which followed the break up of Yugoslavia. Sarajevo was besieged for 1425 days by the surrounding army of the breakaway Republika Srbska with over 10,000 killed.  The scars, faded though they are, can still be seen there today.

We had dinner in the Sarajevo Brewery Beer Hall one night. The brewery itself, also badly damaged in the siege is a big one dating back to 1864 and was the largest brewery in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, though extensively modernised in 1991. Sadly it was a victim of the war and it took until 2006 before it was restored in its mix of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian styles. Frankly, looking at the outside and indeed in the Beer Hall, with its fin de siècle decor, you'd never know, though in fairness, we visited in the dark.  The building is large and current production capacity according to their website is around 400,000 hectolitres. As far as I can tell, the brewery is still locally owned. Its beers are everywhere in Bosnia-Hertzegovina, or rather, Sarajevsko Beer, a standard continental pilsner type was everywhere.  The only place I saw the dark was in the brewery. And trust me, I looked.

The Beer Hall is superb. On the ground floor is a large bar and lots of wood and wrought iron with a large upstairs gallery where we ate and drank.  there is a fine vaulted ceiling made of bricks and its dim lighting certainly made the place atmospheric. It was only opened in 2004, but to look at it and to experience it is to be transported back to grander times.  I really don't know if some of it is old or restored, or if it is all "new". Either way, it looks tremendous and looking down on the bar from above is quite a delight.

What of the beer though? I drank the dark beer which was really rather good, soft, sweetish and mild- like, but I didn't try the unfiltered  lager, though maybe I should have. I looked in vain for the Oettinger Weissbier which is brewed in the brewery under license, but there was no sign of it there, or, indeed, anywhere else.  The food was excellent and in the typical Bosnian way, substantial. You don't tend to need a bag of chips on the way home after dining out thereabouts.

If you visit Sarajevo, don't miss it.

Looking back at the photos on the website, it has a kind of Wetherspoon look. But only in the photos.  In real life that didn't occur to me.

I'd have gone back again if we'd had time. Maybe I could have found the weissbier. After unrelenting taste-alike pilsner upon pilsner, that would have been nice.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Always Read the Label


After my less that satisfactory drinking experience written about here, we sought some scenery. You can't go to Dubrovnik without sitting at a harbour-side in the sunshine, with houses tumbling down the hillside and the sun glinting off the water as the boats go in and out. People watching in such circumstances is not only a pleasure, but an absolute must.

We found such a harbour and a little restaurant with tables outside and after a sneaky look at the menu I reckoned we could have a couple of drinks each and use up our meagre ration of Croatian kuna. A glass of wine for E and for me, taking a punt, a bottle of a dark beer called Tomaslav.  Now this at first appeared to be rather caramel like, but as I got stuck into the 500ml bottle, it became much more tasty and I started to really enjoy it.  It made a refreshing change after many tastealike standard yellow lagers. Now we were up against it time-wise as we had to get back to meet the guide and our fellow travellers in the next half hour. I ordered one more and necked it fairly quickly, deciding, as you do, to take a photo of it for posterity.  I was more than a bit taken aback to find it was 7.3% abv. Oops.  As we set off to dinner, I did feel a bit of a buzz, but a couple of hours later, after a modest couple of (0.1) glasses of wine, I was more or less recovered.

Bit of an amateur mistake that for an old soak like me.

Seems in the Balkans, like the UK, any old glass will do. You rarely got the right glass, even if available.

E thought my buzz was all in my mind, remarking "You felt fine until you knew how strong it was."  Maybe.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Manchester Tops the Beer League


It isn't often - if ever - that I post a press release, more or less as intact, but this needs to be done.  Those of us lucky enough to live in Manchester know what a great place it is to drink beer and now the we have the figures to prove how good it really is.

Have a look at this:

Manchester has emerged as the cask beer capital of Britain, following a major new study into the beer sold in the city’s pubs and bars. The Manchester Beer Audit 2017 found 411 different cask ales on sale in venues throughout the Manchester City Council area, beating nearest rival Sheffield, which boasted 385 beers in its last survey, as well as Nottingham (334), York (281), Norwich (254), Derby (213), and Leeds (211).


The survey also confirmed that Manchester is leading other cities in kegged “craft” beers too, with 234 different beers on sale throughout the city, an increase in variety that has been sparked by the recent boom in craft brewing.


More than 80 independent breweries now operate across Greater Manchester and these breweries account for 38 per cent of all cask beers on sale and 36 per cent of craft keg beers.


“The figures confirm what Mancunians already know – this is one of the best beer cities in Britain and possibly the best place in the world to enjoy great cask beer,” said Connor Murphy, organiser of Manchester Beer Week.


“Manchester has a healthy respect for cask and not only is there a huge variety available but the quality of cask ale in this city is hard to beat. The growth of craft keg beer is also heartening and raises hope that our independent brewing scene can continue to thrive and grow.”


 “But venues could still do more to support the independent Mancunian brewing scene. Although variety remains important and it is great to try beers from across the world, the fact that less than 40 per cent of all available cask and craft keg beers are from Greater Manchester shows there is still room for improvement.”

The Manchester Beer Audit 2017 was organised by the Greater Manchester Branches of CAMRA (The Campaign For Real Ale) in association with Manchester Beer Week and saw 311 pubs and bars surveyed by more than 100 volunteers on one day in May
It found 824 handpumps and 1,957 keg fonts on bars across the city, with 72 per cent of all pubs and bars selling cask ale.

Well, we all knew it here, but it's great to have it confirmed. 

This was a splendid piece of real campaigning by CAMRA. I'm pleased to say that my Rochdale, Oldham and Bury Branch participated in such an important piece of work. 

Manchester Beer week is in full swing. Connor Murphy, the Organiser is doing a great job of supporting and promoting this great beer city.  He makes such an important point about the great quality of the cask beer here. Come and drink it with confidence.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Up the Garden Path


Bosnia was reassuringly cheap, but what about Dubrovnik? Dubrovnik, just over the Bosnia-Herzegovina border  is one impressive place.  Well preserved walls, glamorous with tremendous eye appeal, a number of picturesque harbours with red roofed villas, climbing up mountainsides, it has everything. It even has craft beer. And lots of tourists.

We spent our last holiday night there and after a wander round the walls - well some of them - there are miles of the things - a beer was required. We had no Croatian money, but a quick visit to an exchange point and with €20 worth we thought we were good for a couple of drinks each. Dinner was going to be a credit card do. Foolish Tandleman.  As we wandered we spotted a little bar with that most alluring of signs "Craft Beer".  Razonoda looked fairly small, but well appointed and almost empty.  Apart from us there were three others. It turns out to be part of the very posh Pucic Palace Hotel.  Google is your friend.

I chose a draft pale ale from Zagreb's Garden Brewery. A third of a litre and pretty good it was too. Sort of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in style if you know what I mean.  The wine list was comprehensive and meaningless if you, like us, don't know Croat wine. E chose one in the middle of the range. The measure was 0.1 of a litre, making what I first assumed to be a damp glass, a pretty expensive drink. At £6 a glass that's £60 a litre. I reckon Jeff Bell would admire that GP. My beer was an unknown quantity price wise. It wasn't on the menu. We lingered over our drinks and paid up. The waitress asked me if I'd like to pay by credit card.  Looking at my paltry sum of Croat dosh and the tab, I agreed with her suggestion.  Converted it was a tad under £12. Our subsequent meal was pretty dear too, but in our rather nice hotel, drinks were under half the price and the wine was in little 200ml bottles. The beer was reasonable too.  

Sadly there was no craft, outrageously priced or otherwise.

My oldest friend who has recently returned from Croatia assures me prices are much more modest away from Dubrovnik, but he encountered no craft. I'm sure too that better prices can be found in Dubrovnik

At least my £10+ a pint beer wasn't murky and I did enjoy it. Craft eh? You have to admire the chutzpah.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Even Me Now It Seems


On Saturday I fancied watching the football. OK I dreaded watching the football as it was Scotland v England, but I still wanted to see it. I like the suffering you see. Of course we could have watched it at our flat, but I like to watch such things in the pub.  Among people. I had also just come back from my holidays abroad and after generic 5% lager, I fancied a pint or two of real ale.  As you do. In two different pubs - we switched pubs at half time - the beer was poor.  Usual problems of it being warm and flat and in the first, nobody that I saw at least, was drinking it, while in the other, it was just not kept well enough.  So far, so normal.  I was after all in London where it is foolish to believe that hope will overcome experience, especially in summer.

Next day we walked along Wapping High Street and we had a drink in Sam Smith's Captain Kidd. E likes it there, but then she has a higher tolerance of the Wapping set than I do. I had Sam's Wheat Beer - I wasn't chancing the cask -  and E a half of Pure Brewed Lager. I believe it was the best part of seven quid the pair in this "cheap" Sam's outlet. We left after one and continued our walk and as we neared the flat, debated another drink in a pub.  We decided on balance not to and nipped in to Sainsbury's to buy a Sunday Times.  Being lushes, we also bought a cheapo bottle of wine for just under £7.50 for both wine and newspaper.  Back at the flat we read the paper and supped the wine.  It kept us going for over three hours for around 70p more than our OK-but -nothing- special beer in the Captain Kidd.  And the wine, (on offer of course) was just fine as a background accompaniment to the Sunday paper.

No wonder people sup at home. No wonder pubs are empty. And some galoots will tell you we aren't paying enough for beer!

I'm not picking on Sam's here. It would have been seven notes almost everywhere in E1.

The football wasn't that bad either as it turned out.comparatively speaking.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Kentish Capers


One of the things I do like is travelling by train. I come from a railway family and somehow it really is in the blood. Short or long, I like to bash a bit of track and keep my eye on which type of unit is at the front end.  As well as meeting Erlanger Nick for a bummel round some Kentish pubs, I get a chance to take the Javelin (BR Class 395 don't you know), to deepest Kent. Fast and comfortable, and with my Senior Railcard, under 20 of your British pounds, what's not to like?

Our first destination was Whitstable, a place I didn't know at all, never having been there, but for Nick with his extended Thanet fetish, familiar territory. The weather was warm, I was on time, Nick was on time, so we set off through some attractive suburbia, heading for our first micropub of the day and what a good one it was too.  The Tankerton Arms is a converted shop of some kind on a High St, rectangular inside with a few nice bits of ephemera and the beer at the back behind a plastic curtain, where it is stillaged in a cool room.  We chose Kent Session Pale Ale and sat outside on the sole table, watching old ladies rummage through the outside display of the charity shop next door and other folks doing their shopping at the butcher's opposite. It was all very Warmington on Sea. So good was the beer and so comfortable the spot that we had a second before setting off for a fairly long walk to the next pub.

Hotel Continental is on the the sea front.  Inside all was modern, spick and span and spotlessly clean. Beers from Whitstable Brewery were procured, both keg and cask and all were pretty good, as was the charming service and welcome from the two barmaids-cum-waitresses.  We sat outside while Nick enjoyed some oysters. The Oyster Stout though was a disappointment. Served on CO2, it was headless and dull. Stick it on nitro and it would be transformed. Just say"no" to CO2 served stouts. They are dull as ditchwater. Despite the headless beer - all of it was - we left with some reluctance, not least of all because of the welcome.  It does work you know.

Next a mistake.  I liked the look of the Pearson's Arms just off the sea front.  Two staff were busy mixing cocktails as we sat at the bar. Neither looked up.  Much farting about took place and in a pub, otherwise empty apart from a young couple, both in turn went off upstairs where presumably others were awaiting their mixed drinks. As they came back neither acknowledged us again until I piped up. It had been seven and a half minutes without so much as a nod in our direction and no real apology for the omission either.  We had a half each of Harvey's Best, which was, unsurprisingly, below par. Piss poor all round.  We couldn't get out fast enough.

No such disappointment at the The Old Neptune, right on the sea. This is a clapperboarded delight and again the welcome was a warm one.  We struck up a conversation with a delightful old man who had come on a commission to paint the pub. No, not with emulsion and gloss, but with oils.  Astonishingly Nick sort of knew him from a forthcoming gallery exhibition in Broadstairs.  This time the beer was spot on and two pints of Harveys Best later, we left, having had a great experience. It's the offer as I always say and this was cracking.

It all gets a bit disjointed after that. We visited The Peter Cushing, a JDW house where we duly experienced horror in the shape of two vinegary beers and a poor soul with a new tattoo of his just deceased brother's name on his arm. We commiserated with him as he explained further turmoil was imminent, as said tattoo had been expressly forbidden by his wife. We left our companion to his thoughts, me reflecting that all life can be found in the pub.  Two more pubs for Whitstable though. One I can't remember, but was ordinary though pleasant enough I recall, and finally, the Black Dog, a micropub, where we had a nice chat to the barman and I agreed to disagree on cloudy beer.

Then to Margate, which I hadn't been to for many a year. Brilliant sunshine greeted us and we walked past a godawful, East European-like eyesore of a block of flats by the station. What were they thinking of when they gave that monstrosity planning permission? Skirting the front we walked to the harbour and the Harbour Arms.  This micropub did nothing for me, nor did the stinking mud of the harbour, so I'll draw a veil over it. Nick quite liked it though.

Last stop was to meet Nick's Mrs (and their dog Tabor.)  Becky is always an absolute delight and we snaffled the table for three under the open window of The Two Halves, which was buzzy, busy and just very good indeed.  We caught up with each other while Tabor the dog made friends. We watched the sun go down until I had to go for my train. By this time I was drinking Rhubarb Cider because I could.

I may have nodded off once or twice on the way back to St Pancras, but I was actually relatively sober by the time I reached Tandleman Towers (South).

Oddly, we only really had two bad pubs beer wise. Most were actually good to very good, but it really is the welcome that sets pubs apart. 

Kent - well this part of it anyway is a delight. I can see why Nick likes it though the bugger is always lucky with weather.  Unlike me.