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    Wednesday, 31 October 2007

    Pumpkin Beers - English Style

    We don't have many pumpkin beers in the UK. Indeed when I wrote this article, I thought that the beer from Badger was the only one. As Craig kindly pointed out Bridge Of Allan make one, and as I've discovered, so too do Leek and Wychwood.

    The offerings from Badger and Wychwood are readily available in one major supermarket or another, so as it's Halloween tonight, I decided to taste them one after the other to contrast.

    My previous experiences of pumpkin beers are few and far between. I have had offerings from Brooklyn and Shipyard from USA, and Uberach from France. The American beers were both very spicy whereas the French offering had more of a vegetable feel and less spicing.

    I started off tonight with Wychwood Pumpking. It appears this was last brewed in 2003 and it is unclear why it has taken this long to be reintroduced. It's dark in colour and has fruity malty flavours and vegetable notes. It is apparently brewed with mace although I certanly didn't pick that out, although there was a little spiciness. It's a reasonable enough beer. Not interesting enough to want to drink with any regularity, but worth trying once a year.

    I followed this up with Badger Pumpkin Ale. This is a new beer on the scene and exclusively available in Tescos at the moment. This is much lighter in colour than the Wychwood, and spices hit you quite openly in the nose. The taste reveals some subtle spicing. It's brewed with cloves but there is a definite cinnamon flavour to it. This is much more like the American beers; it is pretty refreshing and quite interesting, and the spices add an extra dimension. I would definitely drink this again over the Wychwood, and hope Badger reproduce it for future Halloweens. If any of you have had either of these, or any pumpkin beers this year, I would be interested to hear what you thought.

    I suppose it is too much to ask for our better brewers to go down this line next year? Thornbridge Hall Pumpkin Ale would definitely be one to savour.

    Monday, 29 October 2007

    Greene King - Only Fit For Cows??

    Greene King, a brewery wrapped up in a business wrapped up in a World domiantion exercise. Loved by their fans, loathed by most drinkers who have a conscience. Brewer of some achingly dull beers, yet with the talent to produce some good stuff. You could almost write a blog entry a day about them. It's all over beerblogdom at the moment about their new dual dispense pump, invented to appease those who like their beer in the Northern style even though it's doubtless brewed in the Southern style. We've also seen great debate regarding their withdrawal of Harvey's beers from a Lewes pub, and my own musings on their text system to critique their beer. Yet their latest venture is actually commendable.

    Cue the jokes, but Greene King are feeding their beer to cattle. Actually to be true they are sending out of date beer to be recycled for cattle feed. There are all sorts of green reasons why this is a nice idea which are mentioned in the BBC report, so hats off to GK. I am not aware what the normal practice is for unusable beer, but this seems as good a venture as there is out there.

    I hope the beer doesn't come to the cows near me though. I really couldn't bear the smell of Greene King IPA cow farts.

    Friday, 26 October 2007

    New UK Fairtrade Beer

    Freeminer Brewery of Gloucestershire are producing a new beer exclusively for the Co-Op chain of supermarkets. They already produce a couple of beers for them, one of which is fairtrade. This one is both fairtrade and organic.

    I seek out new beers regardless of how ethical they may be, but I do like to shop fairtrade if at all possible.

    Fairtrade beer in the UK usually means honey, and UK honey beers just don't float my boat. I can't even say I'm that struck by Belgian beers using honey. I drank a bottle of fairtrade Wychwood BeeWyched immediately after my bottle of Ruddles Rhubarb and I actually preferred the Rhubarb nonsense. The other Freeminer fairtrade beer Bumble Bee is also disappointing.

    The difference here though, is that the fairtrade product is Demerera Sugar. Now obviously I am expecting another sweet beer, but at least it won't be bloody honeyfied. Hopefully after this, brewers can consider using other fairtrade products more often. I look forward to trying it and filing my report.

    Thursday, 25 October 2007

    Norwich Beer Festival Attracts Beautiful Bird

    I haven't been to a Norwich Beer Festival for over ten years, which is a shame as it is a good festival with an interesting beer selection, highlights this year being Bass Museum No1 Barley Wine and Old Chimneys Good King Henry and some good foreign beers, which always attract me more than the average cask ale.

    The festival is held very near the middle of the city in a couple of halls which resemble an old church building. The venue is very atmospheric and all in all I would highly recommend a visit.

    This year's festival nearly became half a festival though, as a sparrowhawk found its way into the hall while the festival was being set up. The inquisitive bird of prey then perched in the rafters high above one of the halls, and despite the concerted efforts of a local falconer it remained in place as the festival opened. The falconer was happy that the bird was in good spirits and not bothered by the imbibing habits of its human companions.

    Obviously this is one bird with impeccable taste as the warmth and conviviality of the festival has got to be better than the cold outside at this time of year. I'm sure it will escape when hunger takes over - that's if it isn't filling up on imperial stouts!

    Wednesday, 24 October 2007

    Tynemill To Become Castle Rock

    Regular readers will know of my admiration for the Tynemill pub chain. I am lucky to be able to travel around the East Midlands and visit their wonderful pubs, all of which have a great attitude towards cask ale, other quality beers, and good food.

    Well, Tynemill is soon to be no longer, as the pub group is to change its name to mirror the brewery which they own.

    I see this as a positive move. Castle Rock is a thriving brewery with good products, and, in my view, breweries should be seen to be owning pubs rather than pub groups.

    I cannot see that the pubs will be affected in any adverse way; I refuse to believe that they will cut down on guest ales in favour of expanding the range of their own beers in their pubs. Please prove me right Castle Rock!


    It's been a pretty miserable seven days in this household. Firstly all four of us had the cold, and then, just as we were recovering, three of us got a sickness bug. Fortunately my two-week old avoided it. Unfortunately, I didn't. Eating has been sproadic, enjoying beer has been out of the question. Even surfing beer web sites and blogs doesn't appeal when you know you're not in a fit state to drink.

    Being physically sick is one of the worst experiences out there; it's like an out of body experience where you have absolutely no control over your own faculties.

    It made me wonder why people go out regularly to get drunk, and then throw up. There cannot possibly be any enjoyment in that. I like a beer as much as the next man, but do it in moderation. I like quality not quantity. I have not been sick on beer since the mid 1990s at Nottingham Beer Festival, and even then I blamed it on the cornish pasty I ate!!

    Anyway, hopefully things are on the mend now, and I can be drinking soon, and return to regular blogging.

    Wednesday, 17 October 2007

    Crime And Punishment In Olde England's Pubs

    Six folders worth of information of pub history in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire have recently been unearthed. The folders contain information on long lost pubs in the market town, and details gems of information regarding crimes which have happened in or near public houses.

    Clearly you can read the article for yourselves but I was particularly amused by the story of the man sentenced to a month's hard labour for stealing a pound of pig's fry from a pub in 1868, and the man sentenced to prison for a month for stealing goods (a wheelbarrow and a pocket knife) worth 10 shillings from a pub in 1887. Stories like these make you realise how overcrowded prisons would be if these crimes were similarly punished today.

    The information within these folders is being offered to anybody who can make good use of it. I hope a worthy book is in the offing from whoever taked up the offer. Certainly if similar information were available for Northampton, I would snap their hands off.

    Monday, 15 October 2007

    Italian Beer

    I have been enjoying reading Stonch's blogs about Rome and the beers he has been enjoying over there. It has certainly confirmed what I already knew: that there is a growing interest in craft beer in Italy, and that some very decent stuff is being brewed.

    We have seen some of these beers at GBBF over the last three years, although not so many this year sadly. I have enjoyed beers from Birrificio Lambrate, Panil, Rome Brewing Co, and Birrificio Troll. Sadly I am yet to try beers from other renowned brewers, Birrificio Italiano and Le Baladin.

    Sadly though the beers we see on our supermarket shelves from Italy are all pretty poor lagers so at the moment you need to go to Italy to appreciate the good stuff. To prove this point I drank a bottle of Menabrea 1846 last night. It was pretty vile.

    So Stonch, as you seem to have built up a friendship with some beery people in Italy, how about chatting them up to export some good stuff here?

    Saturday, 13 October 2007

    Titanic Stout Is Better For You

    We have all read recently that research has once again shown that drinking Guinness has health benefits. Previous advice was for pregnant or nursing women to drink Guinness for its restorative qualities. Present medical advice in this country states that alcohol should be completely avoided throughout pregnancy and breast feeding.

    My wife has long had it in her head that stout is good for her if her iron count is low for any reason. Due to a high amount of blood loss giving birth last week she does have low blood iron at the moment. So what better excuse for drinking stout.

    I refuse however to let her drink Guinness. Put very simply Guinness is just a poor stout. Its flavour profile is weak and I'm not sure its restorative qualities are all that. No, at times like this, there is a much better stout widely available, which I deride great pleasure watching her drink: Titanic Stout has been voted within the top three British bottle conditioned beers for each of the last four years, winning gold in 2004. At 4.5 % it is slightly stronger than Guinness, but taste wise it is many times more flavoursome. It is very roasty and has good coffee and licquorice flavours. It has a full body, in complete contrast to the watery palate of the Irish beer.

    This beer truly deserves its awards and has just the right distribution so as not to skimp on ingredients and quality.

    .Next time you are under the weather, don't buy Guinness, don't even buy Lucozade. Just get some Titanic in.

    Wine To Overtake Beer in Cymru?

    A report from Wales suggests that sales of wine in pubs across the country will be higher than those of beer by 2039. I am very sceptical about this, and CAMRA have laughed the results off also.

    Wales has seen a good increase in new microbreweries over the last decade, producing some marvellous ales. Unfortunately though the best Welsh beer I have tasted over the last few years Bragdyr Bryn Bitter is no longer around as its brewery has gone out of business. Current favourite Welsh breweries are Jacobi, Cwmbran, Otley and Purple Moose, all of which have started production since 1999 and seem to be doing very ell for themselves. Added to this are some fantastic cider producers like Gwynt y Ddraig and Troggi.

    Reading between the lines there are lots of flaws with this report. Firstly it was commissioned by The French Wines Report. They are hardly likely to create a survey saying wine is in decline. Then we see that 82% of men surveyed didn't like the gassy feeling beer gives them. It seems therefore that the audience wasn't the real ale lovers, but people who seem ambivalent about beer in the first place, drinking nasty fizzy lagers. I firmly believe that a lot of real ale drinkers like wine as well and will drink either depending on the situation. As long as decent beer remains available they will drink it. I drink wine in pubs sometimes and also at home, but never to the detriment of decent beer.

    If this survey was done in the poncey wine bars of London then I would give it some credence, but not in Welsh Wales.

    Friday, 12 October 2007

    St Austell Brewery - A Place For Rare Wine

    St Austell Brewery inn Cornwall has been in operation for over 150 years and brews some pretty decent ales. Particular favourites of mine are Tribute and Proper Job, both of which make good use of the American Willamette hop. They are a pretty large regional brewer by British standards with 167 pubs, and they supply to the free trade giving them over 2000 outlets where their beers are available.

    However it's not their beers which have seen them make the news this month. It is the fact that vintage wines, some dating back over 125 years have been found in the brewery cellars. Unfortunately it seems no decent beers were found, but looking at some of the examples of wines found it's a pretty mean haul, likely to be worth thousands of pounds.

    Of particular interest are a 1950 Chateau Mouton Rothschild and a 1953 Chateau Lafite Premier Cru Classe. It is amazing how such a haul can remain hidden for so many years, and all this coming just months after all that Ratcliffe's Ale was found.

    Thursday, 11 October 2007

    Struise Earthmonk - Oh Yes!

    De Struise Brouwers don't have their own premises. Instead they do their brewing at the facilities of Deca services in Woesten-Vleteren in Belgium. You may not have heard of any of Deca's own beers, and certainly wouldn't go out of your way to find them. Struise's beers, however, are renowned and sought after the World over.

    I was lucky enough to meet Carlo, one of the brewers at a Ratebeer gathering in Antwerpen in September 2006. I had been given a bottle of Pannepot the year before and drank it just before going to Belgium. I loved it and gave it a very high score on RateBeer. To my pleasure, Carlo had read my rating and commented on it when I met him.

    Carlo was extremely generous at the meeting and gave us all bottles of his beers to take away as well as newly unveiled Struise glasses. Until yesterday I had drank all the beers I had been given except the sour beer Earthmonk.

    In view of my ongoing celebrations this week, I thought the time was right to crack it open. I had high hopes and Oh Yes, it's good. No actually it's bloody amazing. It is so drinkable. The sourness is just how I like it; it puckers the mouth but it doen't have that over the top acidity of some Cantillon beers for example. It has great woody notes and hints of chocolate. It is an absolute masterpiece. A beer worthy of its position just outside the top 50 on RateBeer, in fact it should really be higher but a lot of people don't actually get sour beers, just tasting vinegar notes (poor them). It's a beer worthy of marking any celebration, and a beer I will hopefully get to drink more of.

    You can read my review here if you wish. My words may not be those of a master critic but my pleasure is there for all to see.

    Tuesday, 9 October 2007

    Beck's Vier - There Is No Beer Here

    Driving home from the hospital on Saturday night I saw an advertizing van for Beck's Vier. The van was resplendent in its livery, and, I dare say, does a good job as a promotion tool up and down the country.

    Although brewed in Bremen, Germany, Beck's Vier is packaged in the UK and is only available in the UK at present.

    Vier is, of course the German word for "four", and this pale lager comes in at 4%. It certainly tastes like a watered down version of its more common brother, which, I have to say, is one of my least favourite beers I've ever tried. The odd thing is I prefer Vier in spite of its lack of body. It's still pretty poor though.

    The point of this blog entry is that at the back of the van there was written "There is no beer on this van". It got me thinking of a new slogan. Beck's Vier - There Is No Beer Here.

    It made me laugh during a stressful weekend! Thanks for listening!!

    Monday, 8 October 2007

    Wetting The Baby's Head

    I've not blogged much in October, and I've drank even less. In fact until this evening I've had no alcohol at all let alone any decent beer. The reason for that is explained by the fact that tonight I am wetting the baby's head.

    It appears that this slang phrase is more commonly known in the UK than elsewhere, and put simply it means having an alcoholic drink to celebrate the birth of a child. It, and other less polite phrases beginning with "W" can be found here.

    My second child was due on October 4th, and the potential dash to the hospital made me keep off the booze for a few days previous. A precious second daughter eventually arrived after a dramatic labour and birth on Friday night at 21:46. She has come home today and now seems appropriate to crack open a bottle of something decent.

    I've chosen my favourite beer, thus far, Rochefort 10. This fantastically rich and powerful trappist beer is wholly appropriate to celebrate any wonderful occasion.

    Hopefully I will get a spare hour or so a day to continue blogging over the next few weeks, but if I am being a bit sporadic please bear with me.

    Thursday, 4 October 2007

    Beer Of The Month - September 2007

    September was a quiet month for beer. I didn't go to any festivals or gatherings, just doing my drinking at home or at brief visits to the pub.

    In total I had 53 new beers, the vast majority of which were cask ales.

    The most suprising beer of the month was Milestone Olde Home Wrecker. I had this flavoursome Old Ale at The Malt Shovel in Northampton. Most of the previous Milestone beers I have had have been disappointing, and lacking flavour, but this is a beautiful beer full of fruity and bready malts, with hints of coffee. It was very tasty.

    I had two good cask ales when I went drinking in in Leicestershire. Potbelly Welland Truly is brewed not far from me in Kettering. It is nicely hoppy with a definite US twang to it. At 4.9% it has a reasonable warmth from the alcohol and a good body. I also enjoyed Mayfields Auntie Myrtle's Premium Ale on the same day.

    I went to The Criterion in Leicester while they were having a mini festival of Surrey and London beers. As well as the festival beers I drank some Oakham Haka. Oakham is a highly thought of award winning brewery, and this beer had a typical Oakham hoppiness. Additionally though it had sweet notes with hints of toffee, and was stronger than average at 5.7%. I also had what amounted to the best beer of the month: Ascot Posh Pooch is another English beer brewed with cascade hops from the US, and to be honest, I can't get enough of them. The cascades really worked here and the beer was fresh, bitter and extremely drinkable. It was my first beer from this Surrey brewery which has been going for just three months.

    There have only been two stand out bottled beers this month. The first was a beer I brought back from GBBF. Haandbryggeriet Dark Force is an Imperial Stout, described by the brewery as "the only Imperial Wheat Stout in the known Universe". It looked beautiful in the glass and had great roasty tastes together with coffee and chocolate. It seemed very bitter to me but there was a worrying element to it, which may well have been the wheat. Although I enjoyed it, I think it was a little too complex for its own good. The other great bottled beer I had was the one I chose to toast Michael Jackson. Emersons 1812 IPA has wonderful hops. Thanks go to Kieran Haslett-Moore for telling me that the taste is distinctive due to the New Zealand hops it uses. It certainly doesn't taste very English which apparently it once did. It is the type of bottled beer I would happily drink over and over again. Without a doubt this was my bottled and non-English beer of the month.

    Tuesday, 2 October 2007

    The End Of Single Bottles Of Beer?

    A busy body trade body are looking to introduce a number of changes to the way we buy our beer in supermarkets.

    I think I am okay with two of these: loss leaders are usually cheap and crap anyway, or better quality products near the end of their shelf life. Special Offers are all well and good if they are interesting brands, but they tend to be stuff from the big brewers like Greene King or Wells & Young so I am not interested anyway. Both of these sales methods promote bulk buying and the alcohol problems the association are trying to put an end to. The cheapness is also stated to keep customers away from the pubs they are looking to protect.

    What I do object to, and what I cannot see the sense in either is the ban on single-unit sales. This amounts to us being unable to buy that single bottle of Brewery X's New Beer. Instead I have to buy a six pack, or even more. Where is the sense in this? It is not promoting sensible drinking, nor is it going to make me more likely to go to the pub. Surely if I buy six bottles I will drink six bottles. If I buy one bottle I'll drink it and then have five drinks at the pub. Additionally one bottle may cost me £2, six will probably cost me £11. I am happy to pay more for a single unit, and should be allowed to. Again the winner is the supermarket, not the pub.

    Perhaps I'm missing the point here. Can someone please enlighten me as to the sense of this suggestion?