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    Monday, 22 December 2008

    Christmas Lunchtime Down The Pub? Not For Me.

    How is it that when I went to my parents for Christmas dinner when they lived in Cumbria, we would walk a mile and a half to the next village for lunch time pints, then walk back again, all the while in our absence Christmas dinner would be progressing nicely, with Mum putting the finishing touches to it on our return, and dinner would turn out wonderful.

    In contrast I'm cooking for eight this year, and couldn't possibly contemplate being further than five yards from the kitchen until dinner is on plates? Going to the pub is just not an option.

    Fortunately I have a garage full of beer so I won't go without, but I'd love to be as cool in the kitchen as my Mum!

    Anyway, if I don't get to write anything between now and Thursday, have a good one and crack open something decent, and think of me slaving over the turkey and all the trimmings.

    Friday, 19 December 2008

    Men Only Clubs

    Back in December I wrote about my visit to a working mens' club which had a men only bar. Well now I discover that a social club which is totally men only has won a CAMRA club of the year award.

    This is worrying on a couple of fronts. Firstly I thought CAMRA had some sort of inclusion policy, part of which is to encourage women to become members. There's a real desire to shift the stereotypical image of beards and beer bellies that this isn't going to help one bit.

    Secondly who actually drinks in these places? What's wrong with the company of women? Ok we all like a night out apart from our partners ocassionally, but that doesn't mean the whole evening should be spent purely in a male environment. The amount of testosterone in that club must be frightening!

    Close examination of the picture in the article I linked to though, does reveal a woman member of staff. That's right Mid-Boldon Club - your obvious idea of a woman's place is to serve the men. Additionally this quote "There's a great atmosphere here, and we wouldn't want the wrong type of person to spoil it." says a million words for the chauvinists of this Neanderthal part of the World. I sometimes wonder what century we are living in.

    I see no similarity at all here with men only gyms, or womens' swimming sessions. Wanting a single sex drinking den is just not right.

    Wednesday, 17 December 2008

    Great American Beers Have Arrived

    Not long after I started this blog, and in comments I left on others, I lamented the lack of decent American beers available in this country. Sure we had a few, and some of them are very good such as Brooklyn Lager and Anchor Porter, but the beers available were mostly from the larger breweries.

    Since then though the range has improved dramatically. We have seen beers from Great Divide, Flying Dog, Rogue, Goose Island, Left Hand and an increased range from Sierra Nevada. I dare say I've missed one or two as well.

    In the last couple of weeks though we've seen more great, and in many cases, pretty rare, beers imported into the country.

    Beers Of Europe's American range now includes twelve different beers from California's Stone Brewery, whilst the Port and Lost Abbey beers I mentioned previously, have now arrived and can be found here and here.

    None of these beers are cheap - what do you expect with the cost of importation and the standard of them - but should be well worth the outlay. It may be too late for Christmas, but New Year's Eve may be a cause for celebration.

    Monday, 15 December 2008

    Are There Too Many Pubs?

    We are constantly hearing about the high volumes of pubs which are closing. Obviously the economic downturn or whatever we are calling it this week is not helping, but other excuses such as the smoking ban, the weather and England's recent sporting failures are also blamed. I wonder though whether there are just too many pubs, and it's merely a case of getting to a more realistic number and that 'survival of the fittest' is happening.

    Closing pubs is far from a new phenomenon. When I first moved to Northampton, and was old enough to realise what a pub is, there was one on every other corner on the Wellingborough Road which is one of the main drags into town. Now there are about three quarters that number.

    Similarly, the village I moved to at the age of ten or eleven had three pubs. It now has two; once upon a time it had five or six.

    It's often a shame when a pub closes; more so when it's the only pub in a village, but there's always a reason for it beyond those stated at the start of this piece. With enough regular loyal custom the pub could survive. But you need to know your customers, and give them what they want and do it well.

    There is a place out there for all types of pubs; be they theme bar type pubs, community locals, rough estate pubs, food pubs, real ale pubs and so on. But they have to know what they are trying to do, and focus. I suspect most of the pubs closing down are what I now refer to as "Woolworths Pubs". That is a pub which tries to be all things, and doesn't do any of them particularly well. A little bit more specialism in the pub world may be exactly what is needed.

    Sunday, 14 December 2008

    Beer In A D Cup

    An underwear shop in Harrow has offered male customers a chance to win beer if they shop in store or online, as an incentive to break their fear at buying their partners something frilly.

    I don't really understand the need for such fear when purchasing such items. At least it means the customers have someone special to buy such apparel for (or they are into transvestitism).

    In a shock move though it's not some dodgy pale lager on offer, but Coopers Sparkling Ale, a half decent beer on offer.

    So there you go then; only a handful of shopping days left to enter. Go and buy something to put jugs in and win something to put in jugs.

    Thursday, 11 December 2008

    Beer Of The Month - November 2008

    The best beer I drank in November was actually Alehouse Robust Porter, a wonderfully rich, hoppy, very American influenced porter. However I've drank the beer before and as this column only deals with new beers to me, it doesn't qualify. It's an excellent beer though; one you should certainly seek out.

    I drank the porter at a Hertfordshire beer festival in The Malt Shovel, at which I also enjoyed Buntingford Witch Project, a dark roasty, fruity bitter with coffee notes; Alehouse 99 And A Half Won't do, a headbanging 10% booze filled beer, and Red Squirrel Springfield IPA.

    This is truly a great beer full of piney bitter American hops. So full in the mouth, and beautifully balanced. The other two people who have rated this beer on RateBeer gave it great marks too. It is a clear Beer Of The Month winner.

    The month of course featured the Wetherspoons Beer Festival, which didn't get close to the high standards set earlier in the year, but one beer did stand out for me, and, I know, for others; although not everybody agreed with me that it was a great beer. Viking's Return was brewed by Mikkel of Mikkeller at Jennings and was both extremely bitter and very burnt at the same time. It was very complex and no doubt challenging. It was liked enough by Wetherspoons customers to place it second in the Beer Of The Festival voting.

    I didn't drink many bottled beers during November, but the one I did really enjoy was BrewDog Chaos Theory. This beer won the prototype challenge, where it was up against a wheat beer and a schwarzbier. It is a typically bold IPA, coming in at 7.1%. I think this is the style of beer BrewDog does best, and this is just about the right ABV for this style.

    December should be an interesting month. I always like to drink a few special beers around the Christmas break so the competition will be hot for the next Beer Of The Month.

    Tuesday, 9 December 2008

    How Important Is The Good Beer Guide?

    If you are a landlord and your pub is in the guide, are you chuffed? Do you think it brings extra custom? Is that custom the type you wish to attract? Do you see it as getting one over your fellow landlords in the vicinity who are not in the guide?

    If you are a landlord who is not in the guide, but feels you should be, are you seriously pissed off? Do you think you are missing out on custom? Are you jealous of fellow landlords who are in? Do you think 'I'm better than them, there must be a vendetta'?

    If you are a real ale drinker, do you exclusively drink in pubs which are in the guide? Do you look in the guide before you go to a strange town, so you can drink in those pubs? If the pub you drink in, isn't in the guide and you think it should be, are you willing to do something about it?

    There are a lot of questions here, but I'm genuinely interested in the answers. Any feedback gratefully received.

    Saturday, 6 December 2008

    BrewDog Beer Rocks Week Three

    It's BrewDog Beer Rocks week 3 time, and this week it's hops. Last week's winning choice for malt and ABV was 6.5% ABV using Pale Maris Otter, Amber Malt and Black Malt. So bearing that and the fact that it's to be a black IPA in mind, your choices this week are:

    Cascade and Centennial
    East Kent Goldings, Fuggles and First Gold
    Warrior, Chinook, Simcoe and Motueka

    Three quite different choices there; a regular pairing of American hops, a triumverate of British hops, or a hop bomb using US and NZ stuff. Plenty to ponder.

    The video and voting can be found here.

    Tuesday, 2 December 2008

    They Drink A Lot In Derby

    My friend Simon, The Reluctant Scooper, lives just outside Derby and spends a fair amount of his time drinking within the city walls. Simon likes a drink, as those of you who read his excellent blog will have discovered for yourself by now.

    It seems though that he's not alone in liking and drinking real ale in Derby, not that I ever expected he was. In fact it seems Derby drinkers polish rather a lot of the real stuff off.

    As this article demonstrates, more pints of festival beer were sold in The Standing Order during the Wetherspoons Festival, than any other Spoons establishment, with the other (better) Spoons pub in town, The Babington Arms coming third.

    There are rumours that beer is so expensive in Derby freehouses that the locals can only afford to drink in Spoons, but that's just malicious if you ask me.

    One thing that worries me though is the comment in the penultimate paragraph of the article that St Austell Proper Job in The Babington tasted like "liquid pasties". Something wrong with their pipes methinks.

    Quaffale - Rest In Peace

    One of the sites I link to in the left hand bar is Quaffale. This website was an invaluable source of information about all breweries in the UK, including those in the planning pipeline. Most breweries had photos, bringing a bit of life to each page.

    It didn't attempt to list each beer brewed by each brewery; that's a thankless and impossible task, especially in these days of prevalent rebadging.

    Beer Festival organisers used the site for contact details whilst ordering beers; scoopers used it to find about new breweries as soon as they hit the pubs, and beer lovers just loved it.

    You'll notice everything in this article is in the past tense. Unfortunately, Quaffale guru Rick Pickup decided to close the site down yesterday. It's a sad event, sadder still perhaps that the information has all gone, but then leaving it as it was, and thus immediately out of date, would probably not have been the right thing to do.

    Rick, I salute you, and thanks for all the information over the last eight years.

    Thursday, 27 November 2008

    Beer Of The Month - October 2008

    Better late than never, I am able now to do my Beer Of The Month post for October. It looks like I had just 45 new beers in the month, almost all of them cask ales with two beer festivals at both Oxford and Nottingham standing out.

    The best beer I had at Oxford was Prospect Nutty Slack, an excellent roasty, yet fruity mild, which I was surprised to find out was the first beer from this Lancashire brewery I've had. The stand out beer at Nottingham was another one from a brand new brewery to me: Bollington White Nancy had lovely fresh orangey hops throughout. I'd mostly stuck to dark beers at the festival and this golden ale beat all of them. Honourable mention though needs to go to Mallinsons Mild Thing.

    The best cask ale of the month though was drank in The Malt Shovel in Northampton; the long-named Empire Pandemonium Vanilla Porter was a magnificent melange of coffee beans and vanilla. I'd been tipped off by a colleague at work earlier in the day, and wasn't sure I fancied vanilla in a beer but this really worked.

    Only one bottled beer stood out all month, but it was good enough to be overall Beer Of The Month. Adnams Innovation was available as a limited edition beer late last year rolling into this year, and came at a premium price in a presentation box. I had bottle number 740 and sadly have no more. It is, by a country mile, the hoppiest beer Adnams produce and at 6.7% has a great backbone to support the hops. I would be more than happy to see Adnams repeat this beer, but this time sell it without the packaging at a more realistic price.

    I always choose a non-English beer of the month as well. In October the best I had was Mysterious Myrtle Stout from Wales' Purple Moose. This was an interesting stout with a little something added. It wouldn't win prizes most months, but there wasn't a lot of competition this time round.

    Sorry the report's a little shorter this time but some of the memories have become a little distant!

    Tuesday, 25 November 2008

    Castle Rock Beer Of The Year

    I've mentioned on here a few times that I am a fan of the Castle Rock chain of pubs, which were previously called Tynemill. They have an excellent commitment to real ale and are comfortable drinking pubs.

    I was somewhat surprised therefore to read that its customers had voted Batemans XXXB as this year's beer of the year.

    XXXB isn't a bad beer but it's hardly Earth shattering. The chain sells much better beers on a regular basis, notwithstanding its own beers such as Harvest Pale and Black Gold which are both very good. Thornbridge beers are regularly seen through the pumps; Jaipur would have been a much worthier winner in my opinion.

    Perhaps Castle Rock's customers aren't as discerning as I imagined, or perhaps it's me.

    Monday, 24 November 2008

    BrewDog Beer Rocks Week Two

    Those of you paying attention will be aware of the Beer Rocks competition currently running on the BrewDog blog. Last week's result saw Black IPA beat Porter and Barley Wine to be the style of choice.

    Week Two is to choose the ABV and the malts for this beer which will form part of the reange next year. Watch the video for the reasons why the following are your three choices.

    8.5% ABV Munich Malt, Dark Crystal Malt, Pale Chocolate Malt
    6.5% ABV Pale Maris Otter, Amber Malt, Black Malt
    7.5% ABV Pale Marris Otter, Roasted Barley, Pale Chocolate Malt

    It's option three all the way for me, but then I wanted a Barley Wine.

    Sunday, 23 November 2008

    The Pub Cat

    Why is it that grown men appear to go soft whenever a cat wanders around a pub? I was in The Wellington in Birmingham last week; the bottom end of the pub was full of men drinking in twos or alone, and in waltzed the moggy. Almost without fail everyone made a fuss of it. Even me, and I really don't like cats.

    There doesn't seem to be the same fuss about dogs, which are much better animals! More pubs should have a pub cat, if only to give lone saddos like me someone to talk to.

    Friday, 21 November 2008

    Having Too Big A Range From The Outset

    I had a beer from a Cornish brewery yesterday, which has only been going two years and already has 91 beers listed on BeerMad. I've had a few beers from the brewery, and while none of them have been bad, they have all been a bit meh, to use the latest word to hit our dictionaries.

    To have produced this many supposedly different beers in just two years is a step too far, and makes me wonder which market they are aiming their beers at.

    If I opened my own brewery I would concentrate on a very small core range for at least the first three months to ensure my beers were appreciated and that they were consistently well brewed.

    I think three or four should be sufficient. A low strength bitter, be it golden or brown; a stronger 'best' bitter; a premium bitter, and a dark beer either a mild or a stout. The experimentation should start afterwards with the beer range increasing at my whim.

    It is either a very brave, very good brewery which brings out tons of beers from the start, or a pretty poor brewery producing a lot of different beers knowing that a fair few people try anything once, and would not need to revisit the same poor beer.

    Tuesday, 18 November 2008

    Pubs Are For The Community

    I had a very interesting and emlightening day last Thursday. My employers were holding a diversity week, part of which involved a cultural tour of Leicester. As part of this tour I visited a hindu temple, followed by a mosque.

    Never having set foot in either ever before, I wasn't sure what to expect, and there was a little trepidation. What I did experience though, was a warm welcome in both places and a real sense of the venues being meeting places which served the needs of their communities.

    Returning home that evening I went to the pub. The pub, which I had never visited before was an estate pub, albeit a nice estate, and was very busy, especially so for a Thursday. There was a poker tournament going on, darts and pool being played in the bar, and (and this is the reason I went), a demonstration outside by a cooper from Theakstons. There was a real warm welcome here and a true feeling of community.

    I'm not for one second suggesting that pubs are like churches, but in many ways they do the same job. It's where you meet like-minded people and make new friends. You are welcomed, even as a stranger, and maybe afterwards as a regular.

    We are losing pubs by the dozen in this country. Hopefully for the most part it is the poor ones, and those which provide a sanctuary from all the crap in the World will be allowed to flourish.

    Saturday, 15 November 2008

    BrewDog Rocks Project Week One

    Don't forget to place your vote in the BrewDog design a beer video blog. The choices are Black IPA, Porter and Barley Wine.

    For some background information on the project click here

    For the video and thinking behind these choices click here

    Friday, 14 November 2008

    Lost Abbey And Port Brewing On Their Way

    Anyone who enjoyed The Angels Share at this year's Great British Beer Festival will be excited to hear that yesterday announced the imminent arrival of beers brewed by Port Brewing/Lost Abbey. This excellent brewery which specialises in both American and Belgian beer styles has won multiple awards for its beers.

    Having only tasted the one beer at GBBF I'm very keen to try more beers from their range.

    I don't have details of which beers are coming yet, but hope to have that information soon. More information on the beer ranges can be found here and here.

    These beers won't be cheap, but they represent the pinnacle of US brewing and may never be seen in the UK again. You wouldn't want to miss out would you?

    Tuesday, 11 November 2008

    You're On The Committee Now Son

    It was my CAMRA branch AGM last night. I've only gotten involved with CAMRA since starting this blog, offering to help both publicise and work at the Northamptonshire Beer Festival. I decided it was time I gave something back to the organisation, and also enjoy the company of local beer lovers rather than just the usual crowd I hang out with at festivals who come from far and wide.

    I enjoyed working at the festival far more than I could have predicted, and have since enjoyed social trips and more branch meetings. It was suggested last month that I might want to join the committee. Our branch needs new blood and I was willing to step to the plate.

    I went to the AGM expecting to pick up the following jobs:

    Membership Secretary
    Brewery Liaison Officer Great Oakley
    BLO for any other brewery that others didn't want.

    I got the Membership Secretary job. It was uncontested not surprisingly, and looks like hard work if you do it properly, which I'll try to do.

    I got the Great Oakley BLO. I've championed their beers before on here, and will continue to do so.

    I volunteered in the absence of other volunteers to be BLO for Cherwell Valley. After all I wrote enough about them when they first kicked off.

    And finally, wait for it, I am now the BLO for Carlsberg Northampton. What have I let myself in for? When my accreditation comes through, I'll be dropping them a line. Not sure how we can work together, but if they're offering free trips to Denmark or bottles of Jacobsen Vintage 1, then perhaps I've made a wise decision. I'm not so sure though!

    Monday, 10 November 2008

    Help Design A BrewDog Beer

    Non-conformist Scottish brewer BrewDog are launching a project this weekend where you can have a big say in a new beer to be brewed. As an unprecendented act of total democracy in the beer world, akin to Ebbsfleet United Football Club, decisions will be made by readers and viewers of their blog.

    You can have the chance to choose the style of the beer, the malts and hops used, the ABV and starting gravity, any added extra ingredients (fruits/spices) and the beer's name and labelling.

    BrewDog have the full support of their overseas importers so the final beer will hopefully be on sale somewhere near you early next year.

    Beer Rocks as the project is called is open to all beer fans so tune in and have your say.

    Sunday, 9 November 2008

    Beer Of The Month Delayed

    Hopefully some of you have noticed that my Beer Of The Month piece hasn't appeared yet for October. This delay will be rectified as soon as RateBeer is available again. All my notes are on there and I have no idea whatsoever what the best beers I had during the month were.

    Just one more reason that we need RateBeer back as soon as possible.

    Beer And Coffee

    I've mentioned my eldest daughter before. She's the one who likes going into churches, paying no respect to my atheism. Now this weekend, she has started to drink coffee. Coffee is the only foodstuff I don't like, but wish I did. Until five years ago I couldn't stand cheese, but now I love the stuff - the stronger the better - but I cannot get past that coffee barrier.

    I'm partial though to the taste of coffee in beer. I have had beers which are brewed with coffee beans and liked them, so I would strugle with the correlation except there are coffee beers which are too much for me.

    One is fresh Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast. This is just too rich for my palate. I've drank the beer slightly beyond it's best before date and it's really lovely; the coffee flavours and the hops working in perfect harmony, but I guess the coffee lost its intensity as the beer aged. The other one I've struggled with is bottled Meantime Coffee. This was just 100% coffee. No beer flavours at all iin the bottle I had.

    Last week though I had the cask version at the Wetherspoons festival. The coffee is there of course, but it's much more mellow, and works nicely. I'm convinced this is a different recipe even if it does use the same Fairtrade Rwandan coffee beans. They must be at a lower ratio.

    Other beers brewed with coffee I've liked, off the top of my head, are Dark Star Espresso Stout, Darwin Java Jolt and Founders Breakfast Stout

    I'm interested in recommendations for really heavy coffee flavoured coffee beers that I might try to see if I can get over my issues. I may even start liking coffee itself one day.

    Thursday, 6 November 2008

    The Tetleys Closure And Northampton

    It's interesting that Carlsberg are blaming, admittedly amongst other things, the current economic climate for their decision to close the Tetley Brewery in Leeds. I wrote this article back in June of last year. It was apparent at the time that one of the two breweries in England would close.

    At the time of course I hoped Northampton would stay open and I'm glad that it will. Inspite of the crap they are producing, it is still an important part of the town, and that site really should be producing beer.

    I am sad for Leeds, and feel for people who face losing their jobs. The World's not a good place to be in at the moment with litle income

    I'm therefore shocked to see comments from Northampton MP Sally Keeble in this article that "Hopefully this should be excellent news for Northampton." She is being just a little too parochial here even if she does add "So I am sorry for Leeds, but it should be really good news for Northampton."

    Carlsberg have suggested that production of cask ales will not transfer to Northampton, but will instead be outsourced to other Northern breweries. There are suggestions here though, that the brewery in Northampton may be in line for a serious extension. Time will tell of course. I'll keep my eyes and ears peeled.

    Tuesday, 4 November 2008

    RateBeer Second Home

    My first home on the internet is RateBeer. I'm on it far too often for my own good, and it's one of the reasons I don't post here as often as I'd like. Well, sadly it is down at the moment and has been for a couple of days due to some serious hacking compromising the security of the site. For anyone who is a regular on RateBeer and is missing the camaraderie or just needs to contact a fellow user, you may find this site more than useful.

    Massive thanks go to Phil Lowry of my favourite British online beer store for the leg work on this.

    Milton Keynes - Giving Wetherspoons A Bad Name

    I'm not a Wetherspoons refusenik by any stretch of the imagination, although I generally prefer to drink in other pubs. I have an issue with chains as a rule, preferring independently run businesses.

    I tend to frequent Spoons more regularly during their festivals, as, I guess, most of you do too. So it was with a sense of interest that I ventured in The Secklow Hundred, and the eponomously name Wetherspoons, whilst in Milton Keynes on Saturday,

    The pleasure was not all mine though, as both these establishments are definitely below par. The Secklow Hundred is a Lloyds No 1 branded pub, but from experience that shouldn't make it inferior to a regular Spoons in terms of beer range or quality. I wish that were the case here though. Just two of the festival ales were on, and the one I tried Hydes Mumbo Jumbo was bland and soulless. Maybe it's meant to be like that but I doubt it.

    I ordered a cheese baguette - described as mature cheddar with salad leaves, tomato and onion - and was presented with a baguette with barely a serving spoon full of grated, dry looking, cheese with no additions at all. In fairness it was exchanged with much apology, but the guy who served it me should have noticed it was hideously underfilled.

    Onwards then to Wetherspoons, and at least the festival appeared to have been acknowledged. Our thirds, though, of Caledonian Smokey Pete, Highgate Red Rogue and Moorhouses Premier were again substandard.

    I was shocked to read in a copy of the Milton Keynes CAMRA newsletter when I got home that this pub is a former branch pub of the year. I really do trust that it was much better once, as if not I do feel sorry for the people living in that area.

    These experiences won't stop me drinking in Spoons over the next couple of weeks during the fest, but may make me more reluctant to pop into new ones without doing a bit of research first.

    Monday, 3 November 2008

    Milton Keynes Beer Festival

    "Come To Milton Keynes", sang The Style Council back in 1985. There aren't many reasons why you would. It's hardly worth a trek for anyone. It's a decent enough place to shop, but it's not really worthy of a visit for the beer lover.

    I ventured there on Saturday though as the Milton Keynes Beer Festival was on its third day.

    I was driven there by my wife, and we did a bit of shopping in the morning. It's a good job we were in the car with decent directions, as the venue seemed to be pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and hideously undersigned as far as directions are concerned. I'd read earlier in the week how tricky it was to find, and that is correct.

    I met fellow RateBeerian Hughie there. He works in Milton Keynes luckily, so knows his way around. Otherwise I'm not sure I would have found my way back to the bus station to get home.

    The festival featured 57 beers, four ciders and one perry. This is a low number for a festival but was probably just about right given the hard to find location. The number of punters when I was there was much lower than you would expect for a Saturday lunchtime, making a seat easy to find, and being served was a fast process..

    The beers were predominantly local with fourteen brewers covered by the locale rules. All the Northamptonshire breweries were there including the brand new Silverstone Brewery. As predicted though their beer had ran out by the time I got there.

    I was disappointed with the beer quality; I often am at indoor festivals except where extra effort has been made with the cooling. Sadly there appeared to be no cooling at all here, so the beer was a little on the warm side also.

    The best beer I tried on the day was Golcar Dark Mild. I was shocked to realise I've never had a Golcar beer before and this was a decent lightly roasty dark mild to acquaint myself with the brewery. The Dark Star Porter was close behind.

    We left the festival after a few hours to take in the delights of MK's Wetherspoons during their festival. More on that next time.

    Thursday, 30 October 2008

    Wetherspoons Fest - Day One

    Today is the first day of the latest Wetherspoons International Real Ale festival, and as is typical Northampton's Spoons has started with a whimper rather than a bang. Just the three festival beers amongst the usual bog standard regular beers were to be found here..Old Baily, Jolly Ploughman and Yona Yona were present.

    Thankfully the Lloyds No 1 fared better as all four pumps had festival beers: Firestone Walker California Pale Ale; Thwaites Nutty Black; Brains Top Notch and Shepherd Neame Fuggles. It's a shame that whereas friends of mine have been drinking the festival beers elsewhere in the country since the weekend and their bars are stocked full of the stuff today that Northampton has made such a slow start. Still, it hopefully means there are lots of goodies to come.

    For the record I was completely underwhelmed by the Firestone Walker. Not a sign of the chinnok, centennial or cascade in my glass; just the merest hint of lemon. Maybe I'll try it again.

    Tuesday, 28 October 2008

    Silverstone - Our New County Brewery Confirmed

    So Silverstone is in Northants. More information can be found here. I would write more, including providing a little about the history of brewing in Syresham, but I'm off to the pub in ten minutes, so that'll have to wait for another day.

    At least I can confirm a new county brewery though.

    Monday, 27 October 2008

    Silverstone Brewing Co - Ready For The Off

    The Milton Keynes Beer Festival this week sees what appears to be the launch of the Silverstone Brewing Company. This may, or may not be a brand new Northamptonshire brewery as, at this stage the actual brewing address appears to be a mystery.

    I have found this article which mentions Cold Higham which is in the county, but according to comments on the yahoo group Scoopgen, the brewery may be in Bucks.

    I will be disappointed if it is situated outside the county and is playing on the popularity of the name "Silverstone".

    I shall be going to the festival, all being well, on Saturday. I should have more information then, if not before, although I doubt I'll get to try the beer, as it's sure to sell out pretty quickly.

    Thursday, 23 October 2008

    I Don't Love Islay

    I rated my 4000th beer on RateBeer recently. I happened to be in the pub knowing that the third new beer I drank that day would be the one that brought that milestone up. Fortunately, I was in The Criterion in Leicester so chances were I could choose something a little out of the ordinary.

    I espied BrewDog Storm in the fridges and decided that would be the beer of choice. My brain ain't what it used to be, so although I recalled it was a strong beer (8%), I didn't remember what was different about it. However I was reminded of its special feature when the request for the beer was met with the comment from the barman: "Have you had it before? It's horrible". It was then that I remembered: Islay!!! I really like BrewDog beers normally. Their Speyside Paradox Imperial Stout is top drawer as are number of their regular beers, especially the Punk IPA. However the Islay Cask Paradox was totally wrong according to my palate. I knew this was going to be a struggle.

    And it was! I'm sure this is a very well brewed beer, and the whisky flavours are certainly distinctive, and very noticeable. But Islay just isn't for me, and I really could not taste anything else at all. Beer experiments are sometimes a good thing. I love the way BrewDog push the boat out. Tokyo is another example of an extremely good extreme BrewDog beer.

    But please - in future - don't put beer in an Islay cask. Send it back to the distillery where it belongs.

    Tuesday, 21 October 2008

    Too Much Beer Or Not Enough?

    The life of a beer festival organiser cannot be a happy one at times. Sure it's very rewarding seeing the crowds of drinkers having a great time sampling all those wonderful beers, but something that would haunt me for weeks beforehand is getting the beer order right.

    Which is worse? Running out of beer a few hours before closing time, or throwing away gallons at the end of the night? Is it possible to get it spot on so that there's just enough left for the staff to have a quick knees up after the doors close?

    It's very rare that I visit a festival on the last day, but I hear reports from a fair few and I know that there are festivals who find themselves at both ends of the spectrum, and may swing from one to the other from one year to the next. At Oxford on Saturday the beer was running out fast and apparently did end a few hours before closing. At Northampton this year we had quite a lot left, whereas the year before it did run out.

    I think given the choice I would throw I away. It's certainly not ideal, and wastage of any type doesn't sit well with me, but as long as a profit is made, then I think it can be justified rather than be in a situation where a large number of punters are cheesed off with the beer running out.

    It's a tricky decision but someone's got to make it. Nobody ever said being in charge is a bed of roses.

    Monday, 20 October 2008

    Marking Up The Third Pint Price

    I'm all for offering third pints measures at pubs and beer festivals as I've mentioned on more than one occasion. I don't always choose to drink nips, but it's nice to have the option.

    What I do expect though, is that the price of a third is roughly 33.3% of that of a pint. I accept rounding, so a pint at £2.60 translates to a third at 90 pence.

    I was at the Oxford Beer Festival on Saturday, and was struck by the mark up in prices of thirds. A £2.60 pint was being sold not at 90p but £1. That's 40 pence more for three thirds than for a pint. A half pint was the expected £1.30, so why the discrepancy?

    There's surely no additional overheads in pouring three thirds that warrants this extra charge. A publican may argue with me that's there's three times the washing up, but that's not the case at a festival.

    I'm not sure if festivals are autonomous of CAMRA, but I can't imagine this is national policy. And if it is I'd really like to know how it is justified.

    Thursday, 16 October 2008

    Nottingham Beer Festival - It's A Big 'Un

    In terms of the number of real ales available, Nottingham comes second only to GBBF. In terms of beer rarity and new brewery availability, most would say it's the best in the UK. It certainly is the number one festival to play scoop the scooper.

    I only managed a short session there this year on the opening afternoon; and with a near two hour bus journey required to get me home, my drinking capabilities were reduced on account of bladder control.

    The festival moved location this year, taking place in the grounds of the castle moving from its previous leisure centre home, complete with perilous covered swimming pool. As with all venue changes it came with teething problems. My two friends and I walked unchallenged through the castle walls where apparently we should have paid an entrance fee, and been presented with a blue wristband. We realised something was amiss when glasses and beer tokens were refused on account of being wristband-less. Fortunately common sense prevailed and we were allowed to pay at the membership counter, thus taking away any requirement to walk back down and then up again the small hill. The canvass seemed to be sweating also, as frequent drips of something undesirable fell with regularity on our personages.

    That's it for complaints though. The beer selection was excellent and the quality was more than acceptable. I only had nine halves, but of these I have to mention Bollington White Nancy, a really nice hoppy golden beer from this new Cheshire micro, named after that odd looking thing on the right.

    Sometimes a festival is too big for its own good. Some might say this about Nottingham as its vast range of beers is more than enough for anyone and you feel unbelievably spoilt for choice, but if you take it at face value and just drink what you can manage and what you fancy then there's no excuse for going home unhappy.

    I got home happy, bladder intact (just). Next year all being well I'll have a longer stint there. Maybe I'll sit outside and take in the views with the wind blowing in my hair - hey Simon ;-)

    Tuesday, 14 October 2008

    SIBA Beer Of The Midlands

    I was at Nottingham Beer Festival last Thursday - more on which at a later date - where the SIBA Beer Of The Midlands award was being judged. The results can be found here.

    I'm a bit skeptical why a monthly special such as Screech Owl is allowed to enter such a competition. I didn't drink the beer so cannot comment on its quality, but to enter such a competition, I feel the beer should be produced for more than one month and then discontinued, which would have been the case with this beer brewed under the Natural Selection banner.

    Castle Rock may decide on the back of this victory to produce the beer more regularly, but I don't suspect that was the intention, and if the beer had not have placed, we would not have seen it again.

    Northamptonshire breweries only carried off two bronzes, with Frog Island Croak and Stagger, and Potbelly Crazy Daze. Congratulations to them, but I'm suprised Beijing Black didn't feature or any of the Great Oakley beers. Oh well, there's always next year!

    Sunday, 12 October 2008

    Another Friday - Another Northants Beer Festival

    The George at Tiffield was the scene of the second succesive Northamptonshire Beers Festival weekend following three pubs event.

    I went on the Friday night, meeting up there with a crowd from Northants CAMRA. There were fourteen beers from Frog Island, Great Oakley, Hoggleys, Nobbys, and Potbelly. I didn't try them all, not suprisingly, but do have to report that Potbelly Beijing Black again took pride of place, although Great Oakley Gobble wasn't far behind.

    It's great that local pubs can put in festivals of this nature in their pursuit of LocAle status. It's not many years ago that there weren't enough breweries in the county to do this. I'm pretty sure all our breweries are doing well, and long may it continue.

    Wednesday, 8 October 2008

    Church Pews

    What's with all the church pews in pubs? The Good Beer Guide seems to make a big deal of mentioning whether this form of seating is available in pubs.

    Let's make one thing clear: I don't have a big arse, yet the bloody things are far too small and uncomfortable for me to sit on. Is this a deliberate ploy to ban fatties from the premises? I think a phone call to the equality and human rights commission may be in order next time you can't find a seat wide enough to park your bum.

    Tuesday, 7 October 2008

    Beer Of The Month - September 2008

    September was a pretty quiet month for new beers. I had 43 new beers in total; most of these were during my North Yorkshire holiday although I did of course go to St Albans Beer Festival. The vast majority of those beers were bottled.

    Only one cask beer actually stood out, which was the 8% Cropton Old Goat which I had in the brewpub. I enjoyed the fruity and vinuous qualities of this English Barley Wine.

    A few bottles were worthy of a mention. Left Hand Smoked Goosinator Doppelbock was pretty authentic tasting although there was less smoke in the aroma. For an American beer, even a take on a German one, it had no excessive hoppiness. Back in May 2007, I awarded Samuel Smiths Organic Cherry Fruit Beer my bottled beer of the month. This month I had, and thoroughly enjoyed the raspberry version. I suspect many would be horrified at quite how fruity this is, and accuse it of being too syrupy sweet, but I found it fun and very moreish. It would certainly stand up to the more commercial fruit beers from Belgium. It's pipped at the post though for best bottled beer of the month by Mikkeller It's Alight!. I loved the funky hoppy bretty sourness of this beer, and at just 4.5% it was seriously impressive.

    Being a sucker for strong beers though, it's the Old Goat which gets overall BOTM. It's a beer I've never seen in the free trade or at a festival, but it's worth seeking out of you can.

    Monday, 6 October 2008

    A Triangular/Circular Beer Festival

    Take three pubs in three relatively close together villages; put on six extra casks of Northamptonshire beers and you've got yourself a beer festival. One which we christened "The Triangle Beer Festival", although on arrival at the first pub we ascertained that the logo for the fest had the pubs' three names around a circle - so an immediate fail on the shape of events.

    The festival was monumental in that it became the event which heralded my first CAMRA branch trip. Oh yes, I have overcome the shyness that some would say doesn't really exist, and gone on a minibus pub crawl with people who were mostly strangers at the start of the evening, and thoroughly enjoyed myself, and will hopefully lead me to participating in many more crawls. After all being driven to beer festivals is pretty heavenly.

    The three pubs involved, in the order we visited them, were The Griffin's Head, in Mears Ashby; The Royal Oak, in Walgrave; and The White Swan in Holcot. All of these village locals were busy - probably busier than usual - and much ale was being consumed. The breweries represented were Digfield, Great Oakley, Hoggleys, Nobbys and Potbelly. Frog Island beers would have been there too, but a temporary period of hospitalisation of the brewer put a scupper on that.

    Having sampled all the beers on offer before I was able to try some old favourites rather than just having new beers for the sake of it. The two beers which stood out for me, as expected were Beijing Black from Potbelly, and Great Oakley's Welland Valley Mild. These two excellent beers are testament to how good milds can be, and proof that some great beer is brewed in this county.

    On the non-beer front, the landlord of The Griffin's Head presented us with a free huge bowl of steamingly hot chips to show his appreciation of our visit. This was a nice touch which sadly wasn't replicated at the other two pubs but beggars can't be choosers. The festival, which hasn't happened before appeared to be a great success and should certainly be repeated in the future. Such shared festivals are getting more common around these parts and in times of pub closures are perhaps a good way of getting more custom at what might otherwise be quiet times.

    Thursday, 2 October 2008

    Going Foreign In St Albans

    This year was the fourth time I've been to St Albans Beer Festival. In terms of beer selection it's pretty good with a nice balance of common stuff, rarer stuff from new breweries and lots of local beers. Being in CAMRA's hometown there's a bit of beer journo spotting to be done earlier in the week too.

    One thing I've been disappointed with over the years though has been the beer quality. I could conjecture as to the cause of the beer not tasting as fresh as it could be, but I'm sure my opinions would have their critics. I do think though that indoor festivals during the warmer months do have their difficulties.

    But UK beer festivals are often much more than cask beer these days, and St Albans has a great foreign selection. This year was no exception so I took my Belgian beer glass along and worked my way through a number of new (to me) foreign beers. It's a more expensive way of enjoying a beer festival but at least condition isn't an issue. It's something I could find myself doing more and more.

    For the record I drank:

    Mikkeller It's Alight!
    Het Levenswater Dikke Deur Blont
    Riedenburger Michaeli Dunkel Hefeweissbier
    Agullons Pura Pale Extra Bitter
    Alvinne Lex'ke
    Klein Duimpje Juniper Ale
    Flying Dog Road Dog Scottish Porter
    Scheldebrouwerij 't Schoenlappertje

    The last beer and the Juniper ale were the worst of the bunch, whilst the clear winner was the hoppy and bretty Mikkeller; another triumph for his superb Danish brewery.

    I can get cask ales any day I want in my good local freehouses, but these unusual foreign beers are much more uncommon, and a treat to behold.

    Northampton 9am

    Picture the scene, a Midlands town market square; people going to work, shops just opening up. Market traders putting the finishing touches to their stalls, and outside the Wetherspoons a small queue is forming.

    I would like to think that they are eagerly anticipating opening time so they can have a mug of coffee with their vegetarian breakfast, but somehow I doubt it. I'm all for extending opening hours so pubs don't have to shut at 11pm, but who really needs a pint at 9am?

    Monday, 29 September 2008

    Around York

    I've had many a pub crawl around York over the years, and have seen good pubs come and go. To do the beer scene in the city justice you need a couple of days at least. I had an hour!

    For some unknown reason, my three year old daughter has a fascination with churches. We'd already been to Pickering and Helmsley churches and Ripon Cathedral on the holiday and now York Minster just demanded a visit. I'm sure she's rebelling against my atheism and will one day end up as the first female Archbishop of Canterbury, or some such other lofty post in the church. Not wishing to go in myself I was therefore granted a small wander round.

    Time didn't permit me to stray too far from High Petergate so just three pubs were visited. It's with regret I didn't get to old favourite The Ackhorne, or new kid on the block Brigantes; they will have to wait until next time. Where I did visit though was The Maltings, The Three-Legged Mare, and The Golden Lion.

    The Maltings is an essential visit. I've been there so many times over the years, enjoying the beer and the monstrous lunchtime chili and chips. This is a real beer pub, with an intelligently selected range of both bottled and cask beers, and a good number of ciders and a perry. I'm not sure the beers are as eclectic as they once were, but there's always something of interest. I enjoyed Roosters Silver Creek (there's nearly always a Roosters beer on), and Milestone Colonial Stout. Black Sheep Best Bitter is a permenant beer here, and it has been said that more Black Sheep is sold in this pub than anywhere else.

    It seems silly not to go in a York Brewery pub while in town, and the nearest to the Minister is the "Mare" otherwise nicknamed The Wonkey Donkey. Five York beers and four guests were available from which I had the house beer, also known as Wonkey Donkey, and Burton Bridge Top Dog Stout. The Stout is a beer which has alluded me forever and it was odd to find it here rather than nearer to home. Having said that I found it very thin for a stout, so I've not missed much.

    I had hoped to go to Koko , recommended by Boak and Bailey next, but it was closed. Is it always closed in the afternoon I wonder? What made it worse was that it's what was the BeerRitz off licence. I didn't know that previously, so two essential visits were scuppered in one go - what a bummer.

    To drown my sorrows I had a quick half in The Golden Lion. Wentworth Strawberry Silk was my beer of choice - regrettably. Still at least I got to use the loo which my main reason for dropping in.

    That was it then for my drinking in York. I did find Pivo , also recommended by B&B, which looked really interesting through the windows even if only one customer appeared to be present. I shall aim to go there next time. Having said hat though, there's a load of pubs I want to do next time, and I'll never get to them all. Seems like a couple of trips are in order!

    Saturday, 27 September 2008

    The New Inn, Cropton

    Our next beery adventure in North Yorkshire was a trip to The New Inn, Cropton; home to the Cropton Brewery. We'd been to Pickering first thing to see the steam trains, and then drove to the village which is on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors.

    We arrived in Cropton before opening time and clocked the pub as being a good size with a large car park to the rear. A short drive then through the wilderness of the moors passing signs explaining how many sheep had been killed on the roads in the last year, imploring you to slow down. I'm not quite sure how you can drive fast enough in those windy roads to cause damage to large mammals, but even so we did see two dead sheep on our short drive.

    We returned to the pub shortly after opening time, and spotted a coach out the front. Parking in the otherwise deserted car park we headed into the "conservatory/family room". A number of pensioners from the coach were seated at the dining tables, but it was still just half full, so we found a table in the corner. My first task was then to view the pump clips to see which beers were on offer. Six handpumps sat proudly on the bar, yet only one had a pumpclip. Oh dear; not a good start I thought; even that beer Honey Gold did not fill me with joy as honey is one of my least favoured ingredients in beer. So a walk to the front bar via the toilet was in order. Ah, much better (in more ways than one) as all six pumps in that bar had clips. At least I knew I was going to get a decent choice of beers and could avoid the honey concoction.

    I returned to the conservatory to witness the waitress telling the rest of the family that our table was, in fact, taken. No reserved sign or anything, but perhaps extra sensory perception is the order of the day? Apparently half the coach party were elsewhere (I doubt they were looking round the brewery or taking a smoking break, so where they were is anyone's guess). It all worked out for the best though as we were able to sit near the top bar, and away from the chattering and clattering pensioners.

    So what of the beer? I had halves of Endeavour, which I found bland and not as hoppy as that commercial description might suggest; Two Pints which was more full flavoured and nicely balanced, and Old Goat, which tastes every bit of its 8%, and is full bodied and vinuous. I didn't spot the ABV when I ordered the beer, so it was a good choice as I would have definitely chosen it had I spotted it, as 8% cask ales are too rare in this country for my liking.

    Our food was good too. The Whitby Cod was excellent (far better than the haddock we had in Whitby itself later in the week), and the sandwiches were perfectly acceptable.

    After a poor start the staff were attentive and the beer was good. There are enough good pubs in North Yorkshire for me to probably avoid going back, but anyone in the vicinity who's not been should probably pay it a visit.

    Tuesday, 23 September 2008

    Haxby Village

    Whilst at The Jug & Bottle, I picked up a copy of York CAMRA's excellent newsletter Ouse Boozer. In it I found an advert for Haxby Working Mens' Club. It turns out Haxby was less than five miles from where we were staying, and also hosted a Good Beer Guide listed pub The Tiger Inn.

    Armed with my CIU card, we therefore went there on the Sunday afternoon, and found the WMC down a narrow street. The large car park was fairly deserted, but a table full of drinkers outside showed us that the club was open for business. Unlike my local club, the door was not receptible to a push or a pull; in fact it was necessary to push a buzzer attached to a CCTV camera to be allowed entry. In spite of our unknown faces, the door was remotely unlocked and in walked the four of us. The entrance lobby had a few fruit machines and doors to the left and to the right. Short of tossing a coin to deceide which way to head, we plumped for the left hand route. The large room in which we found ourselves was resplendent in its large screen television showing Motors TV, and occupied only by a card playing school of male customers. I walked to the bar to peruse the pump clips - Tetley, John Smith's and Ossett Silver King were my disappointing three choices - and the barmaid walked towards us. From the card table came the unexpected call of "Are you gonna tell 'em or shall we?". What crime had we committed? Was the bar about to close? Were children not allowed? No nothing as trivial as any of that. It transpired we were in a men only bar. I thought such things were the property of Lords' Cricket Ground and golf clubhouses only, but no. Here we were in Yorkshire, and my wife and two daughters were the wrong sex to drink in that particular room. We were good humouredly shown into a lounge where persons of both persuasions (and hopefully hermaphrodites too) were allowed, where I had an underpar pint of the Ossett, after which we slunk out to the pub.

    In all fairness I saw one of the men from the other room as I went to sign the visitors' book, and he was quite apologetic, and my wife found the sexism quite 'quaint'.

    We encountered no such sexism in the pub which is a Samuel Smiths house. Therefore cheap prices and just one real ale were the order of the day. My Old Brewery Bitter was suitably dry, and reasonably tasty and just £1.77 a pint - dearer than the beer in the club.

    I shan't forget my trip to Haxby in a hurry. I don't know if men only bars are commonplace in Northern clubs; it's certainly a new one on me.

    Sunday, 21 September 2008

    The Geese Are Coming

    Yet more exciting news regarding good imported beers is to found on Roger Protz's Beer Pages. Four new beers from Chicago's Goose Island Brewery will soon be available in the UK thanks to James Clay.

    We've had IPA, and Honkers Ale here for a few years, but soon we'll have Matilda and Pere Jacques, both Belgian styled ales. 312 Urban Wheat Ale, and the 13% Imperial Stout Bourbon County.

    That all sounds good to me. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled.