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    Monday, 28 January 2008

    Talking Beer With The 'Third Group'

    I go drinking with three disparate groups. Group One is my family and friends. These people all know about my obsession with beer and fuel it with gifts from trips abroad, sometimes bringing me gems and sometimes pretty dull stuff. To them I am the authority on all things beer and what I say goes. They are happy to trust that I am right and will look to me for opinions and facts.

    Group Two is my beer friends. Guys I have met from RateBeer. We love nothing more than meeting up, drinking beer, talking beer and generally sharing beer anecdotes. To most people we must sound boring; but you'd love to join us wouldn't you! We all enjoy hearing each others opinions, and even though I know that some of my friends' beer knowledge is far greater than mine, I am still treated as an equal. All of our opinions matter, and we all have something to offer.

    Group Three are the hardest group to drink with. These are people I know for other reasons, yet we may still end up in the pub at some point during the day. Being in the pub, drinking beer, the topic of conversation is often about what we are drinking, and people may give their opinion on the merits of their drink, and often incorrect beery facts are recounted. I really struggle with these conversations. These people are not aware of my beer life. They don't know I've sampled more than 5000 beers; they don't have the first inkling that I write a beer blog. They just think I'm one of them: a casual beer fan. Sometimes I corect them; sometimes I'll talk about a beer I've had. I'm not sure whether they think what I'm saying has any credence at all. They may think I'm just spouting nonsense. They may wish I kept my opinions and comments to myself. Actually I may think that too. It's not easy being bothered enough about beer that I want to correct peoples errors, but perhaps I should just stay silent.

    I'm interested in your experiences with the third group. Do you just go along with the flow, or do you thrust your vastly superior knowledge on them? Or are you actually lucky enough to not have this problem?

    Friday, 25 January 2008

    Sainsburys Introduce Beer Awards

    Major UK supermarket Sainsburys yesterday announced a new beer competition. On the face of it this looks very similar to the Tesco Beer Awards, but somehow I trust Sainsburys to give much greater consideration to beers from smaller brewers than Tescos ever have.

    It seems uncanny how often Badger Brewery have won awards with Tescos, but far be it from me to suggest any sort of shenanigans!

    The sentence which does confuse me though is: "They will be looking for great tasting beer presented in a way that will encourage our customers to buy it." This does seem to suggest that packaging or image may become as important as taste, which really should be the be all and end all, except perhaps for cost.

    Time will tell of course where these awards go, but let's hope for some interesting innovative beers on our supermarket shelves later this year.

    Tuesday, 22 January 2008

    I Challenge Wetherspoons To Improve Their Beer Range

    JDWetherspoons have announced that they sold 25% more cask beer during the fortnight they had their real ale festival than in the previous fortnight.

    Now what does this actually say? On face value you might think that it stands to reason because there was more real ale on offer, but of course it's not as simple as that. If a usual JDW customer wants six pints of real ale, they will order their six pints of Greene King IPA, Marstons Pedigree of whatever dross is available on a normal night, and when it comes to festival time they may choose something different, but they'll still drink their six pints.

    The truth is that there are two groups of different people drinking real ale at festival time. Group one is the regular JDW customer who normally drinks something else, but seeing all those interesting ales 'gives it a go'. Group two is the real ale fan (maybe even the ticker) who has gone to their JDW pub purely for the festival and thus appreciates the chance to try different ales. These people usually drink elsewhere.

    So, safe in the knowledge that selling an interesting range of ales is a good selling point and increases cash over the bar, why is the beer list at so many JDWs so boring?

    My local JDW and most of those I see in the East Midlands appear fairly disinterested in real ale when a festival is not on. They have a dull range, and the ridiculous sight of "Sorry Not Available" on a pump is all too common.

    There are of course exceptions; The Babington Arms in Derby is like a permanent beer festival, but it really is an oasis in a sea of mediocrity.

    I challenge Tim Martin to give real ale drinkers a better choice 52 weeks a year, not just when there's a festival on. After all it appears more money passes over his understaffed bar counters.

    Monday, 21 January 2008

    Cherwell Valley Brewery

    According to Quaffale, a new microbrewery has sprung up in the South of my home county of Northamptonshire.

    This brings the number of micros in Northants to eight, and we have the Carlsberg megakeggery as well (lucky old us).

    Cherwell Valley Brewery is situated in the pleasant market town of Brackley, and is the first brewery in the town since the 1970s when there was a very short lived brewery called Old Mill. Previously to that Hopcraft and Norris ceased brewing in 1959, having commenced production in 1843.

    I have yet to see any Cherwell Valley beers in pubs, and they sadly do not have a website to link to. So, on the off chance that anyone spots their beers please let me know. And if the guys at the brewery are reading this (after all if I owned a brewery I would google it!), then please get in touch.

    Saturday, 19 January 2008

    US Bottled Beer Festival In Leicester

    The Criterion in Leicester has had an American bottled beer festival on this weekend. It has ran from Thursday to Sunday, and I nipped in on Friday lunchtime. Unfortunately I had my car so could only have a couple but it was still fun.

    The beers available were:

    Anchor Our Special Ale 2007
    Anchor Liberty
    Anchor Porter
    Anchor Steam
    Brooklyn East India Pale Ale
    Brooklyn Lager
    Flying Dog Doggie Style Classic Pale Ale
    Flying Dog Old Scratch Amber
    Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA
    Goose Island Honkers Ale
    Goose Island India Pale Ale
    Goose Island Summertime
    Great Divide Titan IPA
    Harpoon UFO Raspberry Hefeweizen
    Harpoon Winter Warmer
    Harpoon IPA
    Left Hand Juju Ginger
    Rogue American Amber
    Rogue Chocolate Stout
    Rogue Dead Guy Ale
    Sierra Nevada Pale Ale

    Although all of these beers are available elsewhere in the UK it is still unheard of to see this many US beers in a pub at any one time, and for that The Criterion has to be commended.

    They only have 24 or 48 bottles of each so the amount they've ordered for the festival won't last forever; but hopefully it's been successful enough that I will be seeing more US microbrews in this excellent pub in the future.

    Thursday, 17 January 2008

    Wickwar Station Porter - Champion Winter Beer Of Britain

    Despite being a voracious ticker I have never tried Wickwar Station Porter, which has today been crowned Champion Winter Beer Of Britain. I have tried the second and third placed beers Robinsons Old Tom and Hop Back Entire Stout and these are fine brews.

    I have no doubt then that the Wickwar beer is well worth seeking out, and I shall do so at the earliest possible opportunity.

    Wickwar is a fairly small brewery in Cotswold country in Gloucestershire. They started production in 1990, and this is without doubt their greatest accolade to date. I wish them luck keeping up with all the orders which will no doubt start flooding in imminently.

    The Truth About Guinness And Heineken?

    There's a good article on the satirical website The Spoof today. There's not really a lot to add to what they've said.

    Having said that though, the disclaimer at the bottom: " The story above is a satire or parody. It is entirely fictitious" is maybe the biggest lie on the whole page!

    Tuesday, 15 January 2008

    Acorn And American Hops

    Acorn Brewery of Barnsley are releasing a series of single hop beers for 2008.

    Each of these beers features an American variety, and if Acorn's success with their single varietal British hop beers is to be replicated then these should be worth seeking out.

    I have a lot of time for Acorn; their beers are consistently good tasty brews. I also have a lot of time for American hops, even in the relatively moderate amounts that British brewers use them.

    Acorn beers are regular visitors to Leicester pubs where I am fortunate enough to go fairly regularly, so I'll hopefully see a fair few of these beers. If you taste them before I do then let me know how you get on.

    Monday, 14 January 2008

    A Nottingham Pub Crawl

    I had a few hours to kill around Nottingham last Tuesday so that obviously lead to a pub crawl. I thought it would be different to go to some of the pubs I don't often get to go in, so The Vat and Fiddle near the station was avoided in favour of a good deal of walking around. My journey started on Maid Marian Way, and I set off first on a pretty long and mostly uphill walk to The Lincolnshire Poacher.

    This is another pub owned by what is now The Castle Rock pub group, but formally known as Tynemill. It is my favourite of their chain in Nottingham, and always serves its beer in great condition alongside superb food, and all at reasonable prices. It is multi-roomed having stools in the bar area; a lounge; a snug and seats in the indoor courtyard area near the toilets. As well as Castle Rock beers you can always find Batemans products as well as a handful of guests. Some pretty decent foreign bottles can be spotted also.

    After here I walked almost to the other end of town to The Newshouse. I have written about here before, and today it was just as good as ever. I sat in the left hand room which I guess is the bar as opposed to the lounge but it's comfortable as has a good collection of old prints of all types on the walls, if people watching is not your thing.

    From here I wandered back to the heart of the city and the 15th Century Bell Inn. This labyrinthine pub has a superb exterior with old Hardys and Hansons adverts, and has an interesting interior too. This is another multi-roomed pub and has 12th Century cellars which can be visited on Tuesday evenings. Beer is pricier here than in most Nottingham pubs, but that's what places that attract tourists are like. Having said that, the beer is always in good condition.

    From here I went to a pub which is probably even older than The Bell. The Salutation inn is back on Maid Marian Way where I started, but I like the roundabout route. The beer selection on my visit was not excellent and to be fair the pub was feeling tatty also. The Christmas tree was still twinkling in spite of 12th night having passed. I had a swift half, and moved on.

    Next was The Canal House, another Castle Rock pub, but possibly their most disappointing in town from a beer perspective. Only two were available today and I ended up drinking cider. The pub is large and spacious, with a very long walk to the facilities, but is worth a visit if only for the fact that the canal and a couple of barges are actually inside the pub, and you have to cross a little footbridge when inside.

    Next door is my final watering hole of the day. Fellows, Morton and Clayton is a brew pub, but it doesn't feel like the kind of place which is particularly bothered about its beers,and probably rightly so as they are a bit ropey, but there's usually an interesting guest or two and it is fairly near to the station so doesn't make for a detour.

    As good as Nottingham is, and there are other good places I didn't get to today, it does seem to be acity where the sparkler is king, and the beers on the day were spoiled by large heads and creamy textures. No beers were awful, but only Castle Rock Black Gold in The Newshouse stood out as a beer I would have had another of. It's nice to see plenty of local beers in the pubs; half of those I sampled were brewed in Nottinghamshire and there were others I didn't try.

    Nottingham is one of a triumverate of great beer cities in the East Midlands, along with Leicester and Derby. And with Sheffield only a short train trip away, there's plenty of good beer to be had in this part of the World.

    Sunday, 13 January 2008

    Brand Loyalty Or Just Crazy Kids?

    I bought a bottle of Coors Light yesterday. I know, I know, I'm a crazy fool, but it was knocked down to 50pence and the ticker in me made me do it as I've never drank it before.

    Being curious, I then looked at the reviews at RateBeer to see how bad people whose opinion I trust think of the beer. I noticed that a fair few people have signed up for the site and rated Coors Light 5 out of 5 yet then gave Bud Light 0.5 out of 5; which is the lowest possible score.

    Now I've not had Bud Light either, but I'm pretty sure these beers are not chalk and cheese, yet people clearly feel such a loyalty toward the one brand that they have a hatred of the other, and score them accordingly.

    Having a ticker mentality I have never been bitten by the loyalty bug, but if I did, would I really hate a different beer which is to all intents and purposes the same thing (i.e. a bog standard flavourless lager)? I'm quite sure I wouldn't and I sure you, dear reader wouldn't either, so what makes these whippersnappers do so?

    I would like to hear your thoughts. Saying that they should be sectioned is acceptable!

    Wednesday, 9 January 2008

    The Roughest Pub On TV

    Shame on you if you live in the UK and don't watch Shameless. This tale of socially inept residents of a Manchester council estate is now in its fifth series, and unlike most series of its kind, is not showing any signs of getting tired and lacking longevity.

    Like a lot of British television series much of the action takes place in the local pub. In this case it's The Jockey which is without doubt the roughest pub in British television. It's almost unheard of not to buy drugs with each pint; the pub is currently run by a murderer and his wife who previously slept with the man who later became her step-father; and all out brawls are par for the course.

    Yet in spite of all this, the bar is adorned with three handpumps. I have never seen anybody drink beer though from these engines which are currently serving Adnams Old Ale (two pumps), and Wells & Young Bombardier. I am not sure why the otherwise accurate depiction of a rough estate pub has these beers (and there is no way Adnams Old would be on), but I can forgive it as it's such wonderful entertainment.

    Buckle Up Your Beer

    I had to chuckle at the story of a Californian driver who crashed his car earlier this week yet wasn't wearing his seatbelt. Obviously that in itself is no laughing matter, but the fact that he had belted up his twelve pack of beer is pretty ironic.

    Mind you being clearly of below average intelligence it was probably Busch Light or something similar.

    Monday, 7 January 2008

    My Type Of Pub

    Rothwell is a rather unremarkable town in the shire county of Northants, and for most of the 1990s I called it home. I was as keen on beer then as I am now, probably more so where cask ale is concerned, but I rarely set foot in any of its five pubs because, frankly, they were all pretty crap and the beer range was pedestrian and dull.

    However the 2008 Good Beer Guide includes an entry for The Woolpack which of the five was probably the pub I did prefer the most, probably because I saw it as being the 'old man's pub' in town. It didn't though have any decent beer so I still probably averaged less than one visit per year.

    The entry in the GBG though prompted me to pay it a visit today. The guide promised me local guest beers and in the light of one of my resolutions being to drink more local ales, I saw this as a plus point.

    The exterior of the pub has not changed since I was last there, but the inside, if anything, is now even more suited to the older male customer than previously; I was the youngest customer by a good twenty years. The small room off the bar area is akin to someone's lounge cum dining room with comfy chairs, rickety wooden tables and a fire trying its damnedest to be roaring. The widescreen TV looked a little out of place but hey ho! It's a throwback to the 50s but so so the type of room I love to drink in.

    To the beer: four handpumps adorned the bar, enough for a pub of its type. Three local guest beers accompanied the ugly Marstons Pedigree. These guest beers were Best brewed by Potbelly, Winter Ale brewed by Nobbys, and Parsons Nose brewed at the Nobbys plant by J Church. The beers were on good form and cheap; just £2.20 for a pint of the 4.7% Winter Ale.

    Killing an hour in a pub like this with beers brewed less than five miles away at such good value is a real treat we beer lovers don't experience often enough, and is certainly the way I'd like to spend more Monday afternoons.

    Sunday, 6 January 2008

    Reading Beer Blogs Makes Me Thirsty

    It's a typical Sunday afternoon in my house. That means I'm not allowed to watch the football because daughter number one is hogging the television and throws an almighty paddy if I suggest that watching the same Wiggles DVD three times back to back might be a bit much for my sanity.

    So after some important filing work in my office (beer festival programmes etc) I catch up with my beer blog reading. And it's thirsty work! It's amazing how reading about beer makes me want to drink some. Nothing special on this occasion; just a bottle of Tusker. After all the ways things are in Kenya at the moment it may be my last chance to drink this paricular beer (even if it's not very good).

    So I wonder if I'm alone in grabbing a beer while blog reading? Perhaps you're grabbing a beer as we speak, I hope it's something better than what's in my glass. If so Cheers!

    By the way my good friend Simon has updated his blog with a story about a day in Leicester we had recently. It's a good read. Leave him a comment; it might humble him into keeping it updated more regularly.

    Friday, 4 January 2008

    Beers Of 2007

    I've added some information in the left side bar stating my favorite beers from certain countries or in certain styles from 2007.

    Special mention must be made of the year's outstanding beer Struise Earthmonk which I blogged about here. It truly is a thing of beauty. I know it was another blogger's favourite beer of the year also.

    Thursday, 3 January 2008

    Beer Of The Month - December 2007

    In December I had 80 new beers and there were a fair few crackers amongst them. I do try and treat myself to some better bottled beers around Christmas but the beers I had during the rest of the month were also of a very good standard generally.

    I started the month by going to Pigs Ear. I had a great time and sampled some superb bottled beers. The best of these was 3 Fonteinen Doesjel, an excellent new gueuze from this producer which never fails to excite. Other good bottles were Equinox Winter Beer from de Zenne Brouwerij; Ølfabrikken Brown Ale and Night On Mare Street 2, a slightly stronger follow up from last year's festival special brewed by Pitfield. The cask stuff wasn't as good but I did enjoy beers from Alcazar and Twickenham.

    Other cask ales which were worthy of a mention during December were Nethergate Umbel Magna a spiced porter which was my last cask ale of the year, drank in The Malt Shovel in Northampton, where I had previously had two great beers in one evening: Great Oakley Wobbly Santa and Milton Nero; both strongish dark beers which are perfect for this time of year. However the best cask ale of the month was not seasonal at all, in spite of its name. I had Buntingford Silent Night in The Wig & Pen Northampton. It was packed with delicious grapefruity hops, and tasted so fresh and citrussy.

    I had a higher number of good bottled beers though throughout the month. Ridgeway Foreign Export Stout from Hepworth brewery is a strong roasty stout with good licquorice flavours; Isle Of Skye Cuillin Beast is a beast of a Scotch Ale with nice fruity malty notes and a good caramel and alcohol buzz, and my second beer from Emersons of New Zealand: Pilsner is almost as hoppy as the IPA.

    Later in the month I went to a family party and for obvious reasons took my own beer (on offer from mine hosts by the way was a French wine labelled "good French wine" which says it all really). I thoroughly enjoyed the funky Nøgne Ø Saison and the wonderfully full bodied and flavoursome Left Hand Imperial Stout which had lovely chocolate notes to go with the roasty malts and soy flavours. This was the best beer of the month.

    On New Year's Eve I treated myself to two excellent beers. First was the subtle BrewDog Paradox Speyside which was delicious and had far less whiskey flavours than the frankly impossible Islay Cask. This beautiful stout was followed by Fullers Vintage Ale 2005 which was not as good as some previous vintages but is still a great strong hoppy English beer. It was a more than decent last tipple of 2007.

    Tuesday, 1 January 2008

    First Beer Of 2008

    Actually it's not my first beer drank of 2008, but my first beer gift. We went family visiting today, as you do at this time of year. My wife's Pap (a quaint Northamptonshire name for Grandfather) whom we called on, likes his beer and knows I do also. He gave me a bottle of Wadworth Bishops Tipple. I accepeted it gracefully without having the heart to tell him that Wadworth is high on my list of "British brewers whose beers are really not very good", and that even though this is an above average Wadworth product I still think it's poor.

    I've always said every beer is worth drinking once, but I'm not sure that some beers are worth drinking twice. I sense a beef and ale stew in the offing!