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    Wednesday, 30 May 2007

    Organic Beer Not Allowed In Organic Glass

    News reaches me from Somerset that Britain's greenest festival is see the launch of an organic ale from Moles Brewery: Sunrise Celebration Ale. However the plans to serve it in a compostable corn starch glass are being outlawed by local trading standards officials as these glasses do not have the official EU stamp mark on them.

    However, one of the organisers of the festival states "The contentious issue (with the glasses) is the size although the glasses are clearly marked and measured with the right capacity, with 4oz extra to allow for the head of the beer, fulfilling all the required criteria."

    So the arguement is that the glasses have the wrong type of stamp. How ridiculous and what a waste of a perfect example of a green initiative.

    I think I would prefer to drink my beer from glass but on this occasion I would use these glasses just to highlight the madness of bureaucracy.

    The beer will be launched nationwide after the festival. I will try to seek it out.

    Well, Bully For You

    So a landlord in Bolton is threatening to flout the smoking ban on July 1st by holding a demonstration on the day with punters lighting up in some sort of organized manoeuvre at 3pm. He claims the smoking ban is a violation of civil liberties and that if the demonstration is successful, he will continue to allow smoking in his pub, even if it means his going to court. He states smoking is a legal pastime, and of course it is, BUT it ain't gonna be a legal pastime in pubs from July 1st.

    I do wonder if this is some wonderful publicity stunt to fill his pub and have magnificent takings on what might normally be a quiet session for mine host, or if he is setting himself up to be some sort of martyr? Either way he has earned himself publicity in the Manchester Evening News and , of course, here, but if his aim is to beat the smoking ban, he's not going to win.

    So I say: "Enjoy your moment in the limelight, but prepare for defeat"

    Monday, 28 May 2007

    What a Dreadful Article

    This article in what I always thought was a quality newspaper took my eye this weekend. What a load of stuff and nonsense. I have no problem with people having different tastes to me, and as I don't drink beer with curry I cannot pick holes in their ideas of what beers best accompany King Prawn Jalfrezi or Vegetable Bhuna.

    What I do take exception to are some of the ridiculous inaccuracies and spelling mistakes. Firstly White Shield IPA is sharp and hoppy, because it's a live beer. So all bottle conditioned ales are naturally sharp and hoppy and have less malt do they? Hmmm interesting.

    Then we have "Kostriker" (sic) I'm sure they mean Köstritzer Schwarzbier. Apparently because this is very, very dark it should be heady. Also it's "much more of a lager than you'd think. Well, surprise, surprise, it is a lager. Schwarzbiers are lagers, don't you know that Observer??

    Cobra is described as " a beer to knock back of an evening". What does that mean?

    Finally Budweiser Budvar tastes like an "unemptied diptray". Crikey! This is a beer revered by experts World wide. It may not be my favourite but it's better than that.

    This article does no credit to the beer industry. It doesn't help prove that beer is as good an accompaniment to food as wine is, and it certainly does nothing for the journalistic credentials of the paper. Come on Observer you can do so much better. Can't you?

    Northamptonshire Breweries Past (From 1980)

    Although I was born in Surrey, I have spent all my adult, and thus my drinking, life in Northants. The Rose Of The Shires was a bit of a beer desert when I became interested in beer in the early 1990s. There were precious few free houses, and the Watney Mann takeover of pubs had taken a particular stranglehold. The best of the tied houses were Marstons houses. Marstons Pedigree was the first beer I fell in love with. It just tasted wonderfully balanced and the hop bite was lovely. The extra alcohol of a 4.5% beer against the weak keg beers was also particularly welcome. Sadly Pedigree is a total shadow now of its former self. A victim of its own success.

    The microbrewery revolution was very slow to come to Northants, although one of the founding members of the revolution was based in the county. Litchborough Brewery was set up by an ex head brewer of Watneys Bill Urquart. Litchborough is only a tiny village but brewing pioneers such as Peter Austin and Simon Whitmore beat a path to Bill's door to learn from the master. His Northamptonshire Bitter became a huge seller in the area. I only have a vague recollection of drinking the beer in The Falcon at Fotheringhay. By this time it was probably brewed over the county border in Rugby Warwickshire after a short spell in Daventry also. I seem to recall enjoying it but cannot provide any tasting notes from recollection. The brewery ceased to exist in 1984.

    1984 also saw the setting up of a pub brewery in Northampton. The Abington Park Brewery in The Abington Park Hotel was part of the Whitbread family and the beers were served from cellar tanks. The beers were far from interesting but sold well enough in a pub which was definitely "on the youth circuit". They were certainly better than the fizz available in most Northampton pubs at the time. The brewery had a few periods of inactivity before ceasing completely in 1997.

    Next up was Nene Valley Brewery which started life in Higham Ferrers in 1992. I was fond of their beers. They tended toward the malty and sweet but were very drinkable. The Medusa Ale at 8% and the thick syrupy Christmas Beer Santa's Tipple at 13% were certainly nothing like anything else from the county. In 1996 they merged with Nix Wincott Brewery from Turvey in Bedfordshire to form Leyland Breweries and they relocated to Wellingborough. I was also a fan of Nix Wincott beers and the new conglomerate's beers retained the best of each brewery's beers. They were fairly widely available in the better pubs in the area. Sadly they met with financial difficulties in 1999 and were bought out by a company who became Payn Brewery of Cambridgeshire.

    In January 1993 The Cannon pub in Wellingborough started brewing. Also known as Parker & Sons, they brewed core beers for the pub and some occassional beers which found their way to beer festivals. I had a number of their beers but was an especial fan of Cannon Fodder, the 5.5%, excellently named strong ale. Other core beers were Cannon Pride and Light Brigade. The pub always seemed popular and the majority of customers appeared to enjoy the real ales. Cannon brewed continuously until 1999. In 2000 they restarted, but the pub was sold the following year and the brewing ended with the sale.

    Our next brewery started life in 1994 in the tiny village after which it took its name. The Edgcote Brewery was a pretty small concern initially but expanded two years later moving to a larger village: Chipping Warden. The brewery changed its name to Merivales Ales. Sadly they only lasted two more years before being sold. It is a great regret that I never tried any of their beers. They were present at the 1994 Northampton Beer Festival but due to a crazy error of judgement I never tried them.

    The final brewery to start which is no longer with us is The Hop House Brewery. This was a strange affair as it was based in a pub, The Cock Hotel in Kingsthorpe Northampton, which didn't previously appeal to real ale drinkers, nor did it seem to make much of an effort while it was brewing. It only brewed for around eight months during 1995 and 1996, although it did recommence for a short time in 1997 when it was renamed The Cock Tavern Brewery, but it only lasted a couple of months. I did try their core beer but it was pretty unmemorable.

    So that's six breweries which have come and gone since the second coming of real ale. Three based in pubs and three elsewhere. Some very good, and some pretty poor. We currently have seven microbreweries and the massive Carlsberg factory. I'll be writing about them all individually in the future. There have been rumours of a new Phipps Brewery but that seems to have gone pretty quiet.

    Saturday, 26 May 2007

    Cambridge Beer Festival

    Thursday May 24th found me at Cambridge Beer Festival. This is the 34th Summer Beer Festival run by Cambridge CAMRA, and has grown to become the third biggest in the UK behind GBBF and Peterborough.

    This year it boasted more than 170 real ales, and 60 plus ciders, perries, foreign beers and meads. I think they undercounted on both those figures having read the programme.

    I was impressed with the range of beers. I think it's particularly important for festivals to support local breweries, and all of Cambridgeshire's were in evidence. There could have been more milds as it is May, but all in all the selection was good. There were local cider and perry producers also, and a local vineyard for the wine lovers.

    Once again the festival was on Jesus Green, a public area of greenland just a short walk from the city centre, and was held under canvas but with a reasonable amount of seating outside. There would have been insufficient indoor seating in the event of rain, which I encountered in 2005 and 2006, but we were lucky weather wise this year and I have the white marks to prove it.

    As I was drinking alone I was limited to just twelve new beers and I aimed primarily for new breweries for me. Unfortunately two I was hoping for were not available on my visit (Devil's Dyke and Famous Railway Tavern). So I was lucky to score the following new British breweries:

    Red Rock
    Cumbrian Legendary

    Additionally I had two foreign beers and a cider and a perry.

    The beers were struggling a bit in the heat but the condition could certainly have been a lot worse.

    My beer of the festival was Kilderkin Double. Kilderkin Brewery is a fairly new brewery based in Cambidgeshire and they appear to be specialising in Belgian Style beers as they brew a triple also. The double was pretty true to style but perhaps had a little too much in the way of licquorice flavours and not enough candy sugar sweetness. I'm really not complaining though as I am excited that a British brewer is being adventurous in its beer styles and I hope others follow suit. I shall be on the search for their triple.

    Another thing Cambridge BF is proud of is its cheese counter. Speciality cheese can be purchased together with good homemade bread and pickles and pies. I must admit I think the food is expensive, but I am all in favour of good real food.

    The festival was non-smoking under canvas and the rule didn't appear to be broken. Additionally there were sufficient toilets which is always a good thing at festivals.

    My festival ended with six new beers to take out from the foreign beer stall and a trip to Bacchanalia on Victoria Road where I bought seven more. Happy days!

    Monday, 21 May 2007

    The Lure Of The Pub

    For me the best place to drink beer is in the pub. Don't get me wrong, beer festivals are great and I love them too, but they are just a bit clinical with entrance fees, glass hire, often inadequate seating and toilets, and, for the most part, an advertized beerlist which we can peruse before attending and more or less decide what we are going to drink before we set off for our day's imbibing.

    Good pubs on the other hand are a mystery. You don't know what's going to be available before you get inside and study the pumps or the beer board. Good pubs serve guest beers and guest beers mean you could find anything, from a brand new micro to the most common of national or regional brewer's beers. These pubs may have their regular range but the guest beers usually outnumber them meaning more intrigue.

    My local The Malt Shovel in Northampton has up to seven guest beers alongside three regulars and two additional beers from Great Oakley Brewery and these guests might come from anywhere in the UK.

    So it's much more fun and much more off the hoof to find new beers in this way, and after July 1st (you knew I had to get that in), it will be even more fun.

    Of course some pubs have actually taken to sticking their beerlist on their web page. But The Wellington in Birmingham's page really is taking it to another level. And in any case their pumps go through so many different beers so quickly, this will have changed by the time you get there!

    Sunday, 20 May 2007


    As is becoming obvious from this blog, I love beer. I love buying beer, drinking beer, talking about beer, reading about beer, and rating beer. Yes – rating beer. And there’s no better place to do this than Ratebeer This is predominantly an American website, but has expanded dramatically over the last two or three years and has users all over the World, and in Scandinavia it is growing beyond all expectations. There are about 60 regular users in the UK.

    Ratebeer is primarily a website for rating beers (i.e. giving scores for aroma, appearance, flavour, palate and an overall score) and writing a short but fairly succinct description of your impressions of the beer. But it has grown to much more than that. There are the obvious forums to talk about beer and beer events. There is a forum about homebrewing with recipes and hints and tips shared. There are pub reviews, although this is an area which we are trying to expand. There are regular meet ups between members at festivals, and increasingly at people’s houses where each participant brings beers along, and a huge tasting session ensues. There is also beer trading where people swap beers either in person or (pretty common overseas) by post. There are obvious risks to trading but more than 99% of trades are problem free.

    I have been on Ratebeer since January 2004, and have seen it grow to the biggest drinks website in the World gaining the most hits. I have met more than 40 other members (never thought I would meet people from the internet!!), from England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Netherlands, Gemany, Australia, USA and Canada. More importantly every single person I have met has been really great and I have made good friends on the site.

    Every new beer I try I rate on the site and at the time of writing I have rated 2926 beers. It is not all about the numbers, but it does become a bit of an obsession trying different beers (ooh I must try that Ethiopian lager). Because of friendships made I have tasted some of the world’s best beers from other countries which I would never had managed to see otherwise.

    Ratebeer is now my homepage on the net and is definitely the site I spend more time on than any else. Visit it, you might just get hooked!

    Thursday, 17 May 2007

    Don't Be So Defeatist

    An article in The Publican magazine caught me eye this week. A pub company named Pubs ‘n’ Bars state they will be badly hit by the smoking ban. Now apart from the fact it’s clearly a dreadful name for a company and a company I’ve never heard of I thought: “Serves you right”.

    I gave them the benefit of the doubt though and visited their website to see if I recognised any of their pubs and if they were worthy of surviving the smoking ban. Lo and behold I see they include the Hobgoblin chain. These pubs were previously owned by Wychwood brewery and served a decent range of beers especially the one in Reading which was one of the first pubs in England to sell more than 1000 different real ales. So they do have some decent pubs which are worth supporting. There are one of two other pubs I have heard of, and despite the name they don’t seems to be catering for the youth market.

    So why do they think they will be badly hit? They are preparing nicely by creating smoking areas outside with the legal levels of cover, and even providing heating and lighting They estimate they will have spent £30000 by the time they have done all this work, but the company made £1.07 million profit last year, so surely they can afford it.

    I wish them well as they have some decent pubs and they are thinking about the ramifications of the ban. But why are they being so negative? Embrace the ban and make the most of your internal premises.

    Sunday, 13 May 2007

    And The DoH Survey Said...

    According to a Department Of Health survey 90% of people know there’s a smoking ban coming, but only 50% of people know the exact date of its introduction.

    I don’t find it alarming that these people could not name July 1st, as all too often we bury our head in the sands where upcoming dates are concerned, but then they hit us in the face and are here, and we have to react as there’s just no choice..

    What is disturbing is that nearly 10% of people didn’t know it’s coming. Where have these people been? Unless they have surveyed housebound people with no visitors or those without a television, radio or access to newspapers, then I am seriously worried about this ridiculous lack of knowledge. Well wake up because it’s coming – like it or not.

    The Government has prepared an advertising campaign where the sorts of places which will be smoke free will be demonstrated. I look forward to this campaign and the doubtless laughable way they try to get the message across. I mean look at the drink/driving adverts. They are pretty poor even though they are trying to get across a serious message.

    The other interesting statistics to come out of the survey are that more than twice as many people said they are more likely to go to the pub more often after July 1st than those who said they were less likely. Hopefully these figures will prove to be correct as I really don’t want pubs to suffer. I want them to flourish unlike what many are predicting. Presumably smokers and non smokers were surveyed. There is no reason for a smoker to visit the pub less. They manage not to smoke now whilst on buses, trains, in shops, in the office and at a plethora of other places. They’ll cope when down the pub I’m sure.

    Saturday, 12 May 2007

    A Few Beers In Rugby And Then Home

    On 11 May, I took the short train journey to Rugby to visit their festival. I arrived 45 minutes before the festival opened so strolled to The Alexandra Arms. This pub sells five real ales, sometimes including those from their own brewery “Alexandra Arms Brewery”. I sampled the Quaffers Ale, a 3.8% quaffing beer. It is light but easy to drink. A bit steep I thought at £1.05 for a half seeing it was home brewed. The pub is what I would call a local. At first glance it appears to be one roomed, although hidden away at the back is a games room which also has a loud jukebox. It is a six times winner of Rugby CAMRA pub of the year, a title though it would struggle to win at the moment as there are two better bets in town in my opinion. The pub was pretty smoky on this visit (I have found it less so before) with a chap at the bar smoking a particularly strong cigar. It’s hard to avoid peoples’ smoke when they seat themselves at the servery.

    Then it was time to walk to the Festival. This is held in an indoor bowling centre which in spite of Rugby CAMRA’s claim is a 20 minute walk from the station. This is my third visit and I found the beer quality and range to be better this year than on other visits. I had beers from the following breweries:
    Great Orme
    Purple Moose
    Franciscan Well
    Messrs. Maguire

    My Beer Of The Festival was Bushys Old Bushy Tail a lovely malty fruity beer with great bready flavours. Very nice. I sampled an excellent Chicken and Potato Curry which is the best curry I have ever had at a beer festival and cooked by an English lady. A word on the smoking. It was barred from the room where the seating area was but allowed in the bar area where the beers were. Customers don’t have to go to the seating area but they do need to buy beer so a bit arse about face really. Smoking has been banned from most festivals for a little while now.

    After the Festival I went to The Victoria Inn which is owned by The Atomic Brewery. I sampled two of their beers Reactor and Bomb, both of which were lovely pale hoppy beers. The pub has a smoke free lounge and a bar/games room where smoking is allowed.

    My final pub on my crawl was back in Northampton to The Malt Shovel. Here I had the new mild from Great Oakley Brewery brewed for May, and a Hambleton beer. The pub was busy as ever and there was a small proportion of people smoking but it wasn’t too bad.

    I shall visit all of these pubs soon after the ban and will report on how they have changed. All in all a good night’s crawl with some very good beers at great pubs, and only a couple of duff experiences.

    A few links:

    Rugby CAMRA:

    Alexandra Arms:

    Atomic Brewery:

    Malt Shovel:

    Great Oakley Brewery:

    50 Days To Go

    Yes, it’s 50 days until what for me is the most exciting and necessary development in the life of a pub. July 1st 2007. The Smoking Ban. I am a fervent non-smoker but do see that for some it’s an addiction they just cannot kick. And a pub is a public place, so why can’t they smoke in public? But pubs are too enclosed and the smoke just gets in the way of my enjoyment of the pub, and it’s most important product: BEER. I love beer and enjoy its aroma and taste and don’t appreciate smoke spoiling my enjoyment. I walk out of pubs stinking of smoke and my clothes smell disgusting also. I have friends and family who smoke, and for the most part they are considerate, but not everybody is.

    However I don’t want this blog just to a rant about smoking. I want it to be an appreciation of beer and the pub. For pubs are, in my opinion, the best places to enjoy beer. I go to a number of CAMRA festivals, and they are good. However I think they are too clinical and lack the atmosphere of a good pub. The pub is a quintessentially British thing and their like are not seen anywhere else. I’ve drank in bars in USA, Canada, Belgium, France, Netherlands and elsewhere but none of these countries has what I would describe as a pub in the British mould.

    I will describe in this blog my drinking and pub experiences, as I intend to do a lot more of my drinking in pubs after 1st July. Between now and July I will report on the preparations for the ban, and recount any anecdotes I come across both before and after the event, as well as describe my drinking and pub experiences in the build up. As the blog progresses I hope to not even consider mentioning the dreaded “S” word.