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    Wednesday, 27 February 2008

    Oakham Brewery Tap - Go While You Can

    Oakham is one of England's finest breweries producing predominantly pale hoppy beers but no slouch with dark beers as anybody who has tasted Hawse Buckler should testify to. It started life in 1993 in the town of that name. The largest town in the smallest county: Rutland, but six years later outgrew those premises and moved to Peterborough where it already owned an awarding winning pub named Charters; a Dutch barge on the River Nene.

    The brewery set up shop in an old jobcentre, naming the venue The Brewery Tap, which was reckoned to be the biggest brewpub in Europe, although there are many doubters to that claim. The brewery's reputation grew and grew, culminating in a Champion Beer Of Britain overall title for Jeffrey Hudson Bitter (JHB) in 2001, two years after it won overall silver. The pub is sprawling and modernistic with huge glass panels allowing a perfect view into the brewing area. Lovely Thai food is served also.

    It seems to have been the case since day one though that the pub was living on borrowed time. Redevelopment has been threatened in that area, and with some foresight Oakham opened a new brewery in another part of the city two years ago, although brewing is still done at The Brewery Tap. Now, however the redevelopment plans are running at full kilter and the pub's days really do seem numbered. As would be expected locals are up in arms, and the brewery has started a campaign to stop the pub's impending demolishment. The purpose of this blog entry is twofold: first join in the campaign - personally I feel it may turn out fruitless but you never know - and second if you've not been, make it there before you lose the chance. There are enough decent pubs in Peterborough to do a damn good crawl, so make a day of it. It really is a must do before you die issue.

    Tuesday, 26 February 2008

    Brooklyn Lager - It's Lovely

    I first drank Brooklyn Lager in early 2004. I was underwhelmed, finding it a little too sweet and cloying for my palate at that time. I hadn't really discovered American beers and hops at that time, and should probably admit to not understanding the hops and even being put off a little by the word "lager".

    However recently I've read a few comments from people whose taste in beer is similar to mine stating how much they enjoy the beer and at £1 a bottle in Sainsbury's, what a great 'go-to' beer it is.

    So I parted with my quid and tried a bottle on Sunday. What joy! It's actually a beautiful little beer. The aroma is so subtly hopped, you can smell the cascades but it's far more delicate and welcoming than some beers with that hop are. I guess that's the hallertauer mitelfruh talking. The taste too is beautifully balanced. It's still got that sweet edge I noticed before but it's a bitter sweetness with really pleasant hop notes coming through. It doesn't even taste like it's bottom fermented to me. I would have said it's a pale ale if I'd tasted it blind, albeit it with a lack of any agressive hopping.

    I drank a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Sierra Nevada Celebration straight after and easily enjoyed the Brooklyn more.

    And all that for just 100pence. I think I'll get me a few more bottles.

    Friday, 22 February 2008

    Faitrade Fortnight

    Fairtrade fortnight starts on Monday and runs, rather predictably, for a fortnight.

    According to the Fairtrade website there are only four Fairtrade beers produced in the UK. That comes as a bit of a surprise to me although admittedly I cannot think of any that aren't on that list.

    Additionally the Mongozo beers from Huyghe in Belgium are readily available over here, if you like that sort of thing.

    Faitrade is a cause well worth supporting and there's no better excuse to support than during this fortnight.

    I've still got my bottle of Freeminer's latest Fairtrade beer which I will get round to drinking and reviewing during the next couple of weeks.

    Old Speckled Hen The Ale Of Choice?

    Apparently Old Speckled Hen is the ale of choice for premium lager drinkers. So proud are they of this that Greene King are spending £1.5 million advertizing the beer is publications which appear to appeal to lager drinkers.

    Confirms what I've thought all along. It doesn't really taste of much at all like the majority of premium lagers available in this country.

    Note however that the image above is the days when the beer was brewed by Morland and was 5.2% as opposed to the mere shadow it is now.

    Monday, 18 February 2008

    Sarah Hughes Kicks Out Old Man

    A 90 year old widower who has been drinking at the famous Sarah Hughes brewpub, The Beacon Hotel in the West Midlands has been barred for raising his walking stick to another customer.

    It is alleged the oher party was taking the rise out of his mobility issues - a pretty shameful thing to do to a man of his age - and took a wave of his walking aid in the face, although he was not struck by it.

    The pub's landlord who appears to be a descendant of the original brewster Sarah, and who wasn't there at the time, has decided to bar him for life based on the reports of his staff.

    All seems a little harsh to me, although of course there's two sides to every story, and our intrepid nonagenarian may be more guilty than he's letting on. I'll still continue to seek out Sarah Hughes beers; this isn't worthy of a boycott.

    Sunday, 17 February 2008

    Naked In Northants - Cancelled!

    I reported on Wednesday that a Silverstone pub was planning a nudist's corner for Valentine's Day.

    Well surprise, surprise the local constabulary stepped in and had the event cancelled. Apparently it may have broken certain laws under the Sexual Offences Act.

    So Health & Safety had already made the event cold food only, and now the law had it cancelled entirely. Local naturists are going to complain to police so it will be interesting to see if the event goes ahead in 2009. Mind you, I still won't be attending!

    Merton Winter Beer Festival 2008

    Merton is a small village about five miles from Bicester. It doesn't have a pub but it has plenty of residents who appreciate a good pub and good beer. Therefore twice a year its village hall is home to a beer festival.

    Yesterday I visited the Winter Festival an event which runs from 6pm to 11pm on the Friday, and then all day Saturday from noon. In spite of the rural location and lack of suitable public transport it gets very busy, and with good reason: the beer choice and condition is superb. Added to that the prices are low and the staff and locals are welcoming to the extreme. Nothing was too much for anyone; kettles were boiled to heat my baby's bottles; newspapers were laid out for those who like to read with their pint, and popcorn was on all tables and frequently replenished.

    Mind you, for me it's all about the beer and Fin and crowd did a wonderful job with the selection. Eighteen real ales and half a dozen ciders and perries is about right for a festival of this size, and because the range is suitably small, it might be easy to choose ordinary beers. But no, there were some rare finds, some brand new beers and some very, very highly rated beers. Out of the ten beers I had the lowest score I gave on the RateBeer scale was 3.3, and the highest was 4.5. The stand out beer was Old Chimneys Good King Henry, a delicious Imperial Stout, but very honourable mention needs to go to Oakham Oblivion a superbly hoppy full bodied beer, and Milton Marcus Aurelius, another Imperial Stout.

    The Summer Festival is on 18 and 19 July. I cannot recommend more heartily that you should make every effort to attend.

    Friday, 15 February 2008

    Still Searching For Cherwell Valley

    My quest to sample the first beer from the new Cherwell Valley Brewery in Northants should have reached fruition today as I went to a small beer festival at The Old Grammarians Club in Wellingborough.

    I was promised twenty local beers to include Cropredy Bridge 1644, the first output from the brewery. Alas it was not to be; I was told "they couldn't deliver". So presumably their vehicle caught a puncture (or other stupid excuse). Still there were beers there from Great Oakley, Hoggleys, Nobbys and Potbelly as well as a few non-Northants beers so I shouldn't complain too much.

    Plus tomorrow I'm off to the Merton Winter Beer Festival where I'm promised some superb beers (sadly no Cherwell Valley though). I'll report back later.

    Wednesday, 13 February 2008

    Naked In Northants

    If nudism is your thing and you are in the Northamptonshire area this Valentine's Day, then feel free to get your kit off at The White Horse in Silverstone.

    This is the second year that nude dining is allowed on the day for lovers. Last year though only one man turned up!

    You may feel it's my duty to go along tomorrow and get a blogger's eye perspective of the occasion, but I'm washing my hair.

    Eiken Artois Replaces Artois Bock

    I was pretty shocked to be truthful when it was recently announced that Artois Bock was being discontinued. I didn't think much to it, but it seemed to sell pretty well in my local Sainsbury's, and colleagues of mine sung its praises more than once. However, gone it will soon be.

    In its place we will find Eiken Artois an oak-aged lager, described as "fruity, hoppy lager with subtle floral notes and hints of vanilla". I'll give it a whirl when I see it; it's got to be better than regular Stella.

    One thing intrigues me though. Can anyone translate Steve McAllister's quote?: "It will drive the frequency of purchase by ensuring more occasions can be met by premium lager and will also drive shopper interest and penetration by encouraging more consumers from other categories to buy into it".


    Tuesday, 12 February 2008

    RateBeer Does An Oxford Pub Crawl

    Saturday February 9th saw 20 RateBeerians, partners and friends do a tour of Oxford pubs. The event has been long in the planning, but was clearly worth the wait, as a superb day of good beer, good pubs, great company and unseasonally nice weather was enjoyed by all.

    To be fair the start of the day was a little inauspicious as the early starters arrived at St Aldates Tavern at around 11:30 to realise that it wasn't opening until noon. A short walk to the nearby art deco delights of Three Goats Heads found that closed too, so we trekked back to our original starting point desparate for sustinence.

    Finally the doors opened and in we traipsed and sat ourselves down to await the rest of our party. The pub is fairly unremarkable but the beer condition was good although even well conditioned Brakspear beers are not that special. The White Horse beers were nice though; the Bitter was on particularly good form.

    Next pub was The Bear which featured in an episode of Inspector Morse and proudly displays the ties that were an integral part of that episode. Beer range was three Fullers beers, and Hook Norton Bitter. The vast majority of us drank the Hooky which we enjoyed outside on the benches as the inside was pretty packed, including people presumably breaking from a wedding. The bloke in the purple hat was particularly fetching! The beer was nice although I am not as enamoured by Hook Norton as some Oxfordshire based drinkers I know ;-)

    Onwards to The Turf Tavern, a sprawling pub with tons of outside drinking area. This pub has won numerous awards over the years and has been the scene of various historical events, such as alleged presidential drug taking. It also had more real ales on than any other pub we visited. But I just don't like it. There are not enough staff and some of those who do work there are pretty surly. Beer quality was unspectacular too, although it wasn't their fault that the Guinness Red some of our party bought was crap! The braziers in the yards are recommended though.

    Next stop was Far From The Madding Crowd. This is a converted shop in an alleyway by Borders bookshop. The pub reminded me a little of an estate pub but with a classy beer range. A lot of people ate here but I did that before the pubs opened so I enjoyed a number of different beers, with the best being Hadrian & Border Tall Ships. The beer range and condition here was arguably the best of the pubs I managed to get to on the day.

    Next we visited Eagle & Child, a pub famous for being the hangout of Tolkein, Lewis and some of their contemporaries. The pub is bigger than expected, and the beer range poorer. Most of us ordered Cains Dragon Heart, although we didn't all get it, as it ran out after just a few halves being poured.

    Our next pub was just over the busy St Giles road. Lamb & Flag is a nice clean pub, appearing more modern inside than you would expect. Rare for this area are beers from Palmers and Skinners. Although unspectacular these beers were in reasonable form and the pub was spacious enough and quiet enough for most of us to sit together.

    Sadly though, this was to be my last pub as the last bus home was calling me. Some of the others were lucky enough to do another few pubs and make plans for a further meet up later in the year. Looking forward to that one already!

    I thoroughly enjoyed the day. It's always nice to meet up with old friends and make new ones. As I said a couple of times during the day: "beer people are nice people", and even though no beers were great that didn't seem to matter.

    Monday, 11 February 2008

    Stone Brewery Come To Kent, England

    JD Wetherspoons are shipping Mitch Steele from Stone and Toshi Ishii from Yo-Ho Brewing Company to Shepherd Neame, and Marstons respectively to brew a beer each for their festival in March and April.

    This is a pretty exciting venture. It will be good for those who have sampled these beers already brewed at source to see if they work as well with British water at British facilities, and with British kit. It will also be interesting to see how a cask conditioned IIPA goes down with Wetherspoon festival goers.

    I'm certainly looking forward to the event, which as can be seen here will have some decent British beers available as well.

    Wednesday, 6 February 2008

    Northants Pub Event Forced Outdoors

    A traditional event which has taken place in a Northamptonshire pub was forced outside yesterday after more than 100 years taking part inside by the warmth of the fireside. The Bull in Harpole holds an annual pipe smoking competition with the aim being to smoke one pipeload of tobacco in the longest time possible.

    Of course with the English smoking ban now in force, the event was forced outside under a temporarily erected gazebo. And with tradition stating the event occurs on Shrove Tuesday, the weather is not exactly friendly either.

    I must admit that the smell of a pipe is a damn site more pleasant than cigarettes, and if I remember I may try to get there next year to give a first hand account on these pages. I shan't be entering though.

    Monday, 4 February 2008

    Beer Of The Month - January 2008

    In January I drank 48 new beers and revisited a few old favourites as promised. However for the purposes of these Beer Of The Month posts I will only consider new beers. Of these 48 I have drank 33 in pubs, most of which were cask conditioned ales, but there's been some bottled or keg stuff mixed in.

    The cask ales this month have been just about average on the whole. I've had some decent stuff, but haven't seen enough strong Wintery ales to warm the cockles on these cold January days. The best three cask ales were: Castle Rock Black Gold, a very tasty mild with some interesting hop notes which was easily the best beer I had on my Nottingham Pub Crawl; Milton Sparta, a very hoppy beer with good grapefruit notes. Most Milton beers are well worth sampling. I have a good chance of trying both Mammon and Marcus Aurelius this month which is exciting; and Nobbys Winter Ale, a fascinating old ale, with a dandelion and burdock and licquorice thing going on. I admit a bit of Northamptonshire bias in giving Nobbys the cask beer of the month.

    From the bottle, I enjoyed Harpoon IPA which I has at The Criterion's American Bottlefest. This is not the best IPA in the World of course, but it was decent, and it's always nice to see a new US beer in this country. I also enjoyed Hobsons Postmans Knock, a strong mild from the CBOB winning Shropshire brewery. This is like a big brother to the Champion, and is an old fashioned mild with some good coffee notes. The best bottled beer of the month was a Czech Dunkel which was part of a pretty large box of beers my parents bought over from France. Primátor Tmavé Lezák from Pivovar Náchod is a sweet full flavoured dunkel with some smokiness and lots of dark fruits. I have never understood the passion around Czech pilsners, but really do enjoy a lot of the darker beers.

    Of the two winners Nobbys just shades it, and thus wins overall beer of the month.

    Sunday, 3 February 2008

    Fancy A Pint Of Cider For 26p?

    Well you are too late and will now have to pay the astronomical 34p a pint. Supermarket chain Sainsburys have been forced to withdraw their cheapest cider brand from the offer of buy three bottles and get a fourth one free. The cider has the most basic of packaging and presumably the most basic of flavours, but it will still get you drunk.

    To me 34p a pint is far too cheap anyway, but is not as bad as the 44 pence for a litre of lager I reported on in November.

    Selling alcohol this cheaply does promote drunkenness, or at least bring it closer to people's level of affordability, but more importantly it is another nail in the coffin of the pub trade which is losing establishments at a fast rate of knots.

    It's worrying that Sainsbury's feel the need to do this at a time when they are announcing their own beer awards. Clearly they have a schizophrenic outlook on alcohol sales.

    Friday, 1 February 2008

    Northampton - The Fourth Best Place To Drink Good Beer In The UK

    According to a Cask Marque Press Release, Huddersfield is the best town in Britain to get a decent pint of real ale.

    The criteria used to determine if a beer passed their quality standards was temperature, appearance, aroma and taste, although of course all of these are in the eye of the beholder and I have no evidence that the inspectors are any more skilled at beer tasting than you or me. Huddersfield 's beer scored higher on average than anywhere else.

    Sheffield and Derby are recognised as meccas for the real ale afficianado, but both fail to make the top ten. I can of course hear cries from the back saying that tickers who drink in these two places don't care what their beer tastes like so long as it's new, and that is an argument I have made before. I must say though that I have very rarely had a bad beer in a ticker's pub. Of course inspectors visited far more than just recognised real ale haunts anyway.

    What is pleasing is that the two places I do most of my drinking: Northampton and Leicester are both in the top ten so based on that fact there's a really good chance I'm drinking better beer than you!!