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    Monday, 31 December 2007

    Looking Forward To 2008

    The end of the year is traditionally the time we vow to do loads of worthy things during the following 365 days, but rarely keep our promise beyond a week or three. However in spite of previous attempts of mine failing I'm going to try and keep the following resolutions and now that they are being published on this blog I cannot dent ever having said I will do certain things.

    As you would expect of a beer blog most are beer related, but not all are:

    1. Try to lose weight - Who hasn't tried to do this over the years? Truth is though that between the beginning of October and Christmas I lost 14 lbs. Christmas has seen five of these go back on, but a really concerted effort should see success for me this year. Mind you that doesn't mean cutting down on the beer

    2. Eat conscientiously - By this I mean only eat meat farmed organically, or at least that the meat is free range (I really cannot go vegetarian). I already do this at home but I need to stick to my laurels and abide by this when eating elsewhere, like others' homes and beer festivals for example. It's pretty inexcusable not eating more ethically; good food is more expensive but it is most definitely worth it.

    3. Leave more comments on other blogs - I'm sure people appreciate comments being left, I know I do, so I'll try to devote more time to show that I read and enjoy other blogs.

    4. Respond to comments on my blog - Sometimes I just read and publish without joining in the debate, I must get out of that habit.

    5. Don't be so bothered about drinking new beers - this will particularly appeal to some of my readers. I will have had 850 new beers in 2007 by the end of tonight. I aim to reduce that number in 2008.

    6. Drink more local beers - Wherever possible I will drink Northamptonshire beers whenever I see them.

    7. Revisit all of the following beers - I really need to try these beers again in deference to new stuff. To that end, one day a week I will only drink stuff I've had before.


    All three widely available Chimays

    Rochefort 6 and 8

    Westmalle Triple


    Thornbridge Jaipur

    Crouch Vale Brewers Gold and Extra

    Dark Star Hophead

    Bush Ambrée

    Girardin Gueuze Black Label

    Cantillon Gueuze and Rose de Gambrinus


    Okay that last one is a joke, but the list isn't exhaustive anyway.

    So let's see how I do, I'll try and report back in a years time. Meanwhile Happy New Year To All Of You, and thanks for reading my little space in surfdom.

    Sunday, 30 December 2007

    Trappist Lagers And Foreign Meantime

    I've written quite a few pieces highlighting journalistic nonsense. It really annoys me when people who are paid to write stuff for national or regional publications appear to be called to their editor and given the task of writing a little piece about beer, and get it so sadly wrong.

    Sadly these people's interest in the subject doesn't amount to much and their research skills are far inferior to what one would expect from anybody who takes such a job seriously. It's not that I have any great desire to write on a grander scale myself; I know I have many shortcomings, but I'd like to think my pieces have very few factual inaccuracies (although it seems I made a mistake with the Caledonian/S&N issue).

    In addition there are days when I don't have much to say so it gets things off my chest to give you all a laugh at the incompetencies of our writing bretheren. I'll continue to do this throughout next year, although I will understand it if it you think I'm wasting my time getting my heckles up.

    Only today I've laughed (cried) at two articles I've found. The first is in one of our worst tabloid rags and talks about how strong beers are the name of the game at the moment. Two quotes are reproduced below; spot the silly errors.

    "Supermarkets are now stocking strong overseas lagers such as 11% Kasteel Blonde, 10% La Trappe Quadrupel Strong Ale and 9% Chimay Blue."

    "Other dynamite imported drinks include 8.7% Hoegaarden Grand Cru, 8% King Cobra and 7.5% Meantime India Pale Ale."

    See what I mean? The second piece is from The York Press talking about that beer mecca Antwerpen. There's very little mention of beer - I guess it's just as well they didn't visit The Kulminator - but the one bit they have written: The local, amber-coloured Bolleke is a fine winter warmer is a really odd statement. I have never heard the 5% De Koninck described as a winter warmer, certainly when you can buy any sort of really strong beers in that fair city.

    I'd love standards of journalism to get better in 2008, but I don't see it happening.

    Friday, 28 December 2007

    The Dumbing Down Of Deuchars

    Nottingham CAMRA recently surveyed 102 pubs within their branch area. Pleasingly 98 of these sold real ale, and there were 178 different beers found.

    The most commonly found beer though was not something local, or something from one of the biggest English brewers, but a beer all the way from Edinburgh in Scotland.

    Yes Caledonian Deuchars IPA was found in 26 of those pubs visited. And herein probably lies the reason why this beer is not a patch on what it used to be. In 2002 Deuchars won Champion Beer Of Britain. At the time it was a lovely hoppy tasting beer with a nice fruity malty contrast and was wonderfully drinkable. Now the beer tastes like it has less hops and is sweeter than ever. It definitely wouldn't win any awards now and that's not simply because the competition has hottened up; it's because this beer has dumbed down.

    I could blame it on the take over of Caledonian by Scottish & Newcastle, and I am sure I am not far from the truth, but it's such a shame when a beer becomes too big for its own boots.

    Thursday, 27 December 2007

    I'm So Hard To Buy For.

    It's always great to get what you want for Christmas, but pretty rubbish when you get something which is bought with good intentions but actually turns out to be disappointing.

    That's why people don't buy me beer for Christmas. I'm so fussy! I either want beers I've not had before or really good stuff. Don't just nip to the nearest supermarket and buy a random selection for a tenner or, far worse, buy one of those rip off selection packs from British Home Stores or some such place. I will fail to appreciate it.

    Therefore this year I only received one beer and that after receiving a text message asking if I had heard of the particular beer. My Christmas gift was Locher Balik Beer, an 11% beer from Switzerland brewed "to an old Russian porter recipe with brown malt, Russian kwas, hops and water from balik's own source at Ebersol. It is then matured for one year in old oak butts and receives individual care up to its maturity".

    This all sounds pretty interesting, even if you can tell it's not as dark as you would expect from looking through its green glass bottle. I'll get round to drinking it sometime in the Spring probably. I'll feed back.

    Are Germans Losing The Taste For Beer?

    According to Reuters, Germans are drinking less and less beer year on year. An interesting quote from the Brewery Association Manging Director blames it on demographics. Oh that's alright then, there's nothing we can do about demographics! Let's not worry about it.

    My opinion differs though. The simple reason why Germans are drinking less beer is that it's just boring. Don't get me wrong I do like German beer (or at least some of it). Unfiltered German lagers are wonderful, as are the smoked beers of Bamberg, and the rich alcohol infused doppelbocks which I can't get enough of. But other than that it's just pretty boring ordinary lagers.

    A lot has been said about the Reinheitsgebot. I won't attempt to write a great ditribe about it. Ron Pattinson does it far better than I can which you can read here. Put simply, for me, it's time the Germans grew up and smelt the coffee. Beer is far more interesting than just malt, hops, yeast and water (and sugar for certain beers). They need to experiment like other brewing nations do. And they need to import more.

    The Germans are fiercely proud of their beers, but they need to let go and import beers from the other great brewing nations, and let go of their old traditions. Trouble is they will then realise what they are missing and there will be revolt.

    And the last thing we need is revolting Germans!!

    Saturday, 22 December 2007

    Found Today, Bacchus - Liefmans Replacements

    I found these two beers in Sainsbury's today. They are not Liefmans Kriek and Frambozen, but Van Honsebrouck Bacchus Kriek and Frambozen. It is however easy to get them mixed up, such is the nature of the packaging.

    This is obviously more evidence of the difficulties Liefmans have found themselves in. Reports from Belgium are that they have been declared bankrupt. Clearly Sainsbury's and Van Honsebrouck have moved quickly to produce replacements. It remains to be seen how good they are but I shall obviously give them a whirl.

    Thursday, 20 December 2007

    Northamptonshire Breweries Have Bottle

    Two breweries from the county where I live have just started having their beers bottled. Following on the heels of Frog Island and Hoggleys, you can now buy bottled beers from Great Oakley and Potbelly.

    From the former comes Wot's Occurring, Gobble and Delapre Dark, whilst from Potbelly you can find Beijing Black, Pigs Do Fly, Redwing, Jingle Bellies and Crazy Daze.

    Both these relatively new breweries produce some great stuff, so if you find any of these in your local beer shop, then treat yourself.

    Tuesday, 18 December 2007

    It's Christmas, Let's Put The Prices Up

    A couple of days ago Tandleman wrote an interesting piece on his blog about Christmas beers and how they rarely differ from regular all year round beers.

    I fully agreed with him. With a few exceptions they are ordinary beers with a seasonal name and a fancy pump clip.

    Today though I realised something else about beers with Christmas names: Wetherspoons can put their prices up. Just last month the guest ales cost £1.59 a pint. However my half of Grainstore Three Kings, another unseasonal beer cost me 90p. That's a colossal rise of 20 pence a pint. I'm convinced they get away with it because your average customer does feel Christmas beers are a bit special.

    Are Christmas guest ales dearer in your local JDW? I'd be interested to know.

    Monday, 17 December 2007

    Help For Heroes Spitfire - A Deception?

    Without trawling through every page on the Internet, I can find no proof that Help For Heroes Spitfire is a new beer. It is however described as such in various places.

    The beer appears just to be the regualr Spitfire but sold in 250 ml bottles. There is no doubt that Help For Heroes is a worthy cause but there does appear to be some deception here.

    Shepherd Neame are such a huge brewery that they could and should do better than this. If anybody can show me that I am incorrect, and that this is indeed a new beer then I would be glad to be proven wrong.

    Sunday, 16 December 2007

    A Beer For Women? Probably Not.

    Today's Observer carries a story about a new real ale designed specifically for women.

    19 year old Harriet Easton has spent 18 months and £35000 reserching a beer which she appears to believe will be perfect for women. Working together with Hanby brewery she has come up with a pale 4.2% ABV beer with orange extract.

    Confusingly she has named it Harry's Beer rather than the more feminine Harriet's Beer which her name may have led her towards.

    I fail to see this as being anything other than an expensive publicity stunt. Firstly I'm not sure women will go for this. If they like real ale they like it for what it is, and I am sure are not searching for a girly version. They will probably try it but will probably not agree it's a woman's beer. And if they don't like real ale I doubt they will try it anyway.

    Being brewed by Hanby there's little chance of it getting national pub coverage either so it's all set up to fail.

    I would be interested what female readers think. I'm sure you all have sufficiently discerning taste to agree that there is no need for a woman's beer. After all: good beer is for everyone.

    Wednesday, 12 December 2007

    Smoking Ban To Hit Munich

    The Bavarian Parliament passed a smoking ban today which will commence on January 1st 2008.

    I'm a big fan of the smoking ban in this country and wish Bavarians every success with this, but it's pretty short notice. We had months in this country to prepare. Mind you it tends to be the case that something which takes a long time in this country is done in a jiffy overseas (think Football stadia).

    So the Munich Oktoberfest will be smoke free next year. Not that I will be going, I don't really see the point of a beer festival with so few beers.

    Tuesday, 11 December 2007

    Watch Out India - Greene King On The Way

    I'm really not sure what they have done to deserve it. They have influenced the best post pub cuisine available in this country. They have given the World Sachin Tendulkar and Shilpa Shetty. Now what are we giving them back?

    Bloody Greene King Beers. Many years ago of course we exported heavily hopped strong beers to India; now we are sending them Old Speckled Hen and GK IPA. It's such a shame, how the mighty have fallen. Still maybe it will mean there's less of them in this country. We can but hope I suppose.

    Two Awards For Adnams

    Adnams Brewery has won two recent awards. Its Bitter was first named Champion Beer Of East Anglia and now head brewer Mike Powell-Evans has been chosen as Brewer Of The Year by The British Guild Of Beer Writers.

    I like Adnams beers; they are consistently good, and they haven't gone down the road of saturating the market with new beers on a weekly basis. My Dad states that Adnams Bitter is the only real ale which doesn't give him a headache. This is a pretty bold statement but it's clear that he enjoys drinking it and seeks it out wherever possible. Particular favourites of mine are Tally Ho and Old Ale both of which should be around the market at the moment, and certainly shouldn't be missed.

    There is one bizarre side to Adnams though. As reported by Stonch, they introduced a strange hybrid beer Spindrift last year. I've not seen it yet, but I'm not in a hurry.

    Monday, 10 December 2007

    Two Blasts From The Past

    I went into The Coach & Horses in Wellingborough today. This is an excellent pub with eight real ales all in lovely condition, and, following on from yesterday's theme, has a wonderful log fire.

    I was surprised to see, alongside local beers from Great Oakley and other more commonly found guest beers, two blasts from the past. These were Ansells Bitter and Ind Coope Burton Ale. Both of these are produced in much smaller quantities now they are brewed at the Carlsberg Tetley plant in Leeds than they used to be when brewed at either Birmingham or Burton. Indeed Burton Ale was very easy to find following its victory in the Champion Beer Of Britain competition in 1990. It was described around that time by Roger Protz as "one of the most succulent beers known to personkind".

    I couldn't resist trying these two beers, to see if I could recall any memories from when I previously tried them so many years ago.

    The Ansells has a sulphuric Burton type note to it and had friendly easy drinking bitterness. None of your modern American hops in this. It was fairly thin, but drinkable if you don't mind the sulphur. It would certainly appeal to ordinary bitter drinkers. I couldn't recall however, my experiences of drinking this previously.

    Ind Coope Burton Ale also was sulphuric and had some nice hoppy flavours. I did recall the fruitiness of yesteryear but found his far more restrained now. It had a lot of the same qualities as the Ansells but more fruit and more alcohol.

    I enjoyed both beers; they are drinkable and approachable. The sulphur was not off-putting like I found it to be in Marstons Pedigree when I last had it. They were fun beers to drink.

    I should add that I had some Great Oakley Delapre Dark straight after. This knoked the socks off either of the other two, but that's a progressive micro for you!

    Sunday, 9 December 2007

    The Best Of Winter Pubs

    There's a nice piece in today's Sunday Times written by Roger Protz in which he describes his favourite ten British pubs for the Winter. It's a list which takes in pubs the length and breadth of mainland Britain, no doubt to appease readers from all over.

    The best pubs are good all year round but some come into their own in the colder months either because of a wonderful log fire or a particularly good selection of Winter fare, be it alcohol or food. Roger only specifically mentions these things in a couple of cases and seems to concentrate on good walkers' pubs or those which are pretty damn good all year round.

    I've only been to one of the ten pubs mentioned: The Old Dungeon Ghyll in Cumbria, and it was at the end of a longish walk in December. It's a good pub but I don't see that it's necessarily better in Winter. Much better is The Britannia just a few miles away in Elterwater which has a roaring fire or two for those freezing cold nights, as well as a good range of real ales.

    It's worth attempting to visit all the pubs on Roger's list whatever time of year it is as I'm sure they are all lovely.

    It definitely seems to be the case that Winter is with us. Only on Friday at one of my locals, I sat next to my first fire of the season. You just can't beat it.

    Thursday, 6 December 2007

    Pigs Ear - My Impressions

    Apologies that my write up of the Pigs Ear Beer Festival is so delayed. I actually went on Tuesday, the first day. This is normally the date that the most beers are available and, if the festival is open all day, is generally the best day to go.

    I gave myself plenty of time to get there not really knowing that part of the World so well. In fact I arrived so early that I would have been first in the queue had I not spotted the Hackney Museum over the road, where I then spent a quarter of an hour taking in the exhibits (it's not the biggest museum in the World).

    So, having drawn the line of geekdom as being front of a beer festival queue, I found myself third (much better) when I returned. My friend Ian turned up pretty soon after and we waited for the advertized opening time of noon.

    As is always the case with London beer festivals though, the doors didn't open until 10 past. We eagerly bound up the stairs and grabbed a table near the foreign bar and worked out our action plan, whilst waiting for Chris to turn up also.

    It's not unusual for criticism to be levelled as a beer festival, indeed none of them are perfect, and where Pigs Ear disappointed was the number of cask ales which were unavailable for whatever reason. The list is excellent and pretty full of new beers and new breweries, but only about half of the 140 beers advertized were actually on. Don't get me wrong, 70 beers is good, but when you are expecting over 100 then it's not so impressive.

    The foreign list though was superb and all beers were available (just a couple of replacements), and 20 or so German beers added late to the list, were an added bonus.

    The condition of the cask beer was generally very good. Of particular good quality were Dunham Massey Big Tree, a crisp crunchy English bitter and Goode-Brown Neck Oil Porter, a porter from an Essex homebrewer who may or may not be going commercial!. We also tried this year's version of Pitfield Night On Mare Street which last year was a quite delicious 14% Barley Wine. It's 14.2% this year and entitled Night On Mare Street 2. This wasn't as good as last year but still powerfully drinkable and very smooth.

    The best beers though were from overseas.3 Fonteinen Doesjel is a beautifully funky Gueuze typical of the producer with lovely sour lemon acidity, whilst Ølfabrikken Brown Ale was almost as good as Mikkeller Jackie Brown which I chose for my fantasy beer fridge. Additionally I bought a bottle of 3 Fonteinen Hommage to take home. This is a beer I was crazy enough to miss at GBBF.

    I did have a good time in spite of the slight moan. It was my first big festival in over three months, a downpoint being its distance from home. I had to leave before other bloggers arrived unfortunately so missed the chance of meeting them for a good old chinwag. You can read their thoughts here, and here (with presumably more to come), and no doubt here when The Beer Nut gets a chance. Boak and Bailey went later in the week.

    Monday, 3 December 2007

    Beer Of The Month - November 2007

    I had 56 new beers in November which isn't a bad month especially when you consider I didn't really go out very much. I had a couple of trips to Leicester and a short session in Nottingham, but other than that it was pretty much bottles at home.

    The two best beers I had were both from the bottle. Innis & Gunn Rum Cask Oak Aged Beer is the beer which has caused the most controversy in my surfing month, but it is truly a lovely beer, with the character from the rum enhancing the oaky flavours which I&G beers have. The other top bottled beer is Consecrator Doppelbock from Bells Brewery in Michigan. I was lucky enough to be sent this beer by an American RateBeerian together with another couple of Bells' beers. I am a huge fan of doppelbocks, loving the sticky sweet alcohol fused beers, and this one didn't disappoint. It is perhaps not as rich as the classic German doppelbocks like Celebrator or Maximator, but it is still a lovely beer, and not noticeably American. Other commendable bottled beers were Jubeltrunk Altfränkisch, a dunkel from Pyraser Landbrauerei, and Winter Time Winter Warmer, the new seasonal offering from Meantime of London.

    Five cask ales have stood out this month. Two of them are milds and the other three golden ales. I did have some stronger winter ales, but they didn't match up to these five. The three goldens were Hype from BrewDog. A lot has been blogged about this progressive Scottish brewery but one thing is for sure: they are not afraid to use ingredients. This is very well hopped for a 4.1% beer, and very easy to drink. The other two I had one after the other and they were amazingly similar. Both very much brewed in the American Pale Ale mould with piney hops and a nice balance from the malts. These beers were 3 Witches from Oakham, and Gold Rush from Elland. Both are well worth seeking out. The two milds were Rock Mild from Nottingham which I had in the historic old Bell Inn in Nottingham itself. This was a beer full of flavour from the roasted malt, but also suprisingly hoppy. At 3.8% it was quite amazing. The other mild was the current Champion Beer Of Britain, Hobsons Mild. This was the first time I had had this beer in five years and my memories of it being an excellent beer were fully correct. I am not sure it is the best beer in Britain today, but it's pretty damn good, and all at the miniscule 3.2%.

    Overall I would have to award Innis & Gunn the overall beer of the month, and Nottingham Rock Mild the cask ale of the month, bot h very good beers, but I am very hopeful for better in December. After all we all treat ourselves aound Christmas time.

    Pigs Ear Beer Festival Tomorrow

    It's the first day of the Pigs Ear Beer Festival tomorrow and I'm happy to be going. Pigs Ear is so named as it is the cockney rhyming slang for beer. The festival is being held in Hackney for the second successive year after previously being held in Stratford until a problem with the venue meant that there was no festival at all for a couple of years. I'm pretty excited, not least because it's my first big festival in nearly four months, and because the cask and foreign beer lists are very good indeed.

    I am particularly looking forward to a couple of the lambics I've not yet had, and a fair few British milds and stouts look interesting too. Hopefully the problems of last year which were beyond the control of the organisers (powercut) will be a dim and distant memory.

    I'll report back later in the week with how I get on.

    Sunday, 2 December 2007

    A Pint Is Best With Your Pie

    It's nice to see beer getting a mention in a food writer's review of a meal. I found this piece on the blog of the Manchester Evening News' food critic.

    She clearly enjoyed the pint of Acorn Barnsley Bitter she had, and appreciated the part it played in the cooking of her pie. It's good that she preferred the beer a great deal more than the house wine on offer. Acorn is a particular favourite brewery of mine making clean simple English style ales which all somehow seem to taste like they know how best to use quality products. I mentioned them in my ten happening breweries piece, so it's good to see them enjoyed in this way.

    In spite of all this praise on the beer and the meal, I will have to say though that the picture of the pie, chips and peas does't make my mouth water nearly as much as the pint of bitter would!

    Saturday, 1 December 2007

    Around The World In 60 Pubs

    A 25 day, 12 country, 60 pub-crawl has been condemned as irresponsible by Australian do-gooders.

    The World Pubcrawl is organised by Thirsty Swagman in Australia is set to leave London in March next year and it is promised to participants that "the only sightseeing they'll do is the inside of a bar."

    The Australian Medical Association have unsurprisingly described it as "dangerous and irresponsible", and that it promotes binge drinking.

    Of course it is a rather stupid way of spending around £5000 even if a World Beer Tour is something we all aspire to. Our ideas of booze cruises though are very different to this which I am sure will be visiting what are laughingly described as trendy bars, rather than brewpubs and beer palaces.

    Still if anyone really feels they have the liver for such an event then the best of luck to them.

    Czech This Quadruppelbock Out

    A Czech brewery is launching a 21% beer. Not surprisingly, at this strength, it is dark and as it is a Czech beer, it's bottom fermented. It is described as a doppel doppel bock. So that'll be a quadruppelbock then?!

    It will hardly come as a shock that they are looking to export it to USA who get all the good beers in both senses of the word.

    This doesn't seem like the type of beer which would be too popular in its homeland but will appear to beer geeks the World over. I doubt very much though that we will see it in the UK sadly.