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    Monday, 31 March 2008

    Stella, Stella, Stella, Strike, Strike, Strike

    So I'm sat in a Wetherspoons today (drinking Stone California Double IPA (yee-ha)) and reading their newspaper. There's an article about Stella Artois. Apparently it's "the most widely available draught lager in UK pubs" and "the third biggest grocery brand in the UK after Coca-Cola and Walkers". Then I'm at home surfing the wicked (I mean wide) web and find this:

    "Soaring commodity costs and falling sales of its premium lager have forced Inbev, the Belgian brewing giant, to axe up to 250 jobs at two Stella Artois breweries in Lancashire and Wales. Up to 166 workers in Samlesbury, Lancashire, and 80 in Magor, south Wales, face redundancy after an operational review by Inbev. A consultation process with affected employees has started. Unions and workers' representatives have vowed to fight the move, which the GMB union described as "shocking".

    Too bloody right it's shocking. "An operational review" to me basically means the same output with fewer staff. Make the buggers work harder. Hopefully the GMB will take appropriate action, and show the bastards what's what .

    Saturday, 29 March 2008

    Wetherspoons - We All Blog Together

    An interesting thing about the Wetherspoons beer festival is that it's being covered by pretty much all of the British bloggers, even those who have a self-imposed boycott of Tim Martin's pubs.

    Normally when we blog about a festival or some beers we've sampled, however interesting it might be to us, our readers are not sharing the experience as they won't have been to the festival, and may not ever get to see the beers we write about.

    In this instance though, we are (nearly) all going to Spoons on a daily basis and taking in the festival. It's great that a Northern blogger is drinking the same beer on the same day as a Southern blogger, and they are both writing about it. It's good fun reading about people's search for the Stone IIPA (which I've still not had), and, in my case, drooling over the description of how much they've enjoyed it.

    So one thing the festival is doing is bringing us all together and making it feel like we are all drinking in the same boozer, and that's a really enjoyable experience.

    Friday, 28 March 2008

    A Wander Round Northampton

    It's not often I have a bit of a crawl around my home town of Northampton. Normally if I'm crawling, I'll go a little further afield, but yesterday, towards the end of a week off from work and to coincide with the start of the Wetherspoons festival, I decided to have a wander.

    I made The Moon On The Square my first port of call. This is in the lower echelons of Spoons pubs in my opinion, for a plethora of reasons, one of which is the normally disappointing beer range. It does of course participate in festivals so the range does improve. Today though the festival had barely trickled into action. Just Okells Doctor Okells Eastern Spice, and Titanic Last Porter Call available from the festival list. Two further pumps were decorated with the clips for Marstons Pedigree Six and Greene King Abbot Reserve but these were "coming soon"; a typical Wetherspoons tactic. Four beers were on from Langton brewery, which is often the case. Clearly there is some sort of deal going on with this Leicestershire brewery; why a Northants brewery cannot be chosen I really don't know. I tried Lock Keeper which was a new one for me. I have to say that all three beers were in excellent condition and very tasty. If only this were the case all the time.

    My next pub was The Wig and Pen which is one of my semi regular haunts. The pub is owned by Fenland, and four of their beers were available along with two from Great Oakley and one from Thwaites. There was one blank pump. As I was on a ticking mission I tried the draught cider Westons Traditional Draught Scrumpy which was ok. Obviously brewed by one of the big boys as it lacked a certain character.

    Onwards to The Malt Shovel now ran by one of the owners, and in my opinion already showing signs of improvement. I've been critical in the past of pumps being empty which would be acceptable in slow moving pubs, but almost everyone in the pub drinks real ale, and they can sustain a full spread. Since Mike and Roz have been front of house there have been thirteen ales on at all times, which is what we want to see. I sampled five new ones on this trip: Iceni Norfolk Winter Lightening, Tring Brock, DowBridge Fosse, Banks & Taylor Edwin Taylor's Extra Stout and Burton Bridge Top Spin. All were good but the stout was superb. A beautiful full bodied roasty dry stout.

    From here I wandered back into town heading for the second Spoons pub in town. However en route is The Fish Inn which sells four real ales and has the bonus for the ticker of the pumps being visible through the window from the street. Spotting a new beer Batemans Hooker, I bagged me a half. It was disappointing which I find in pretty much all of Batemans' occasional beers. It was also the dearest ale of the day. Typical!!

    Next and finally to Lloyds No 1, part of the Wetherspoons chain but supposedly concentrating more on the youth market than normal Spoons. The beer festival was in better swing here though than its sister pub. Three beers were on, all of which I'd not had before. So halves of Namyslow Plum Beer, Lees Brewers Dark and Batemans Spring Goddess were supped. The Batemans was as expected; the Lees was a mild mild and the Plum beer was as plummy as it's possible to be. I shall probably do a piece on that beer and the other two foreign ones I want from the festival when I have sampled them all, but suffice to say if you see this beer you should try it if only for the plummy novelty.

    I was surprised with how many new beers I found around town. There are a fair few other decent pubs I didn't get to which are a bit further from the town centre, but it's a crawl I shall certainly do again. I think we all too often neglect what's on our doorstep, but I will try to appreciate it more in the future.

    Wednesday, 26 March 2008

    Stone's (I Mean Shepherd Neame's) New Beer Going Down Nicely

    I've read three reports now from people who have sampled the beer brewed by Stone brewers at Shepherd Neame. They are all favourable and report that the beer is superbly hoppy.

    So this 7% beer which Wetherspoons describe as a double IPA, but Greg Koch himself calls an ordinary IPA is going down a treat, and it seems that being brewed at the Sheps plant which isn't used to seeing so many hops, especially American Centennial and Simcoe, isn't seeing a dumbing down of any flavours at all.

    As previously reported, the beer is here for the Wetherspoons festival which officially starts tomorrow and runs until April 14th. I will be going to a Wetherspoons every day until I find this beer. Let's hope it happens soon, or God help me.

    Monday, 24 March 2008

    Anyone For A Beer Of The Week Post?

    Regular readers will no doubt eagerly await my Beer Of The Month posts. I mean, what could be better than reading about all the good stuff that I've had in the last month, with perfect descriptions of all the attributes of said beers?

    Actually you're probably bored of them, you probably think my taste in beer is crap, and my descriptions of the beers rubbish, but it's a feature I'm going to keep going, if you don't mind!

    It could be worse I could be doing a Beer Of The Week feature like this chap. You've got to admire the willpower to keep it up, although his taste in beer isn't exactly the same as mine.

    By the way I hope you all had a good Easter; I'm drinking a Corsendonk Christmas Ale tonight. After all the weather hasn't exactly been seasonal.

    Saturday, 22 March 2008

    So Much For 4p A Pint

    I had a couple of sneaky halves this lunch time whilst shopping for squid, which by the way I couldn't find any of in three separate supermarkets begging the question if there's a World shortage or if it's a traditional Easter thing. Anyway back to the beer. My real ale appeared to be priced as it has been the last few months but a punter who ordered some dodgy lager or other noticed that what he paid £2.65 for last night cost him £2.90 today. He queried it, but it was confirmed to be correct and a result of the recent budget.

    So, so much for the 4p a pint, Mr Darling promised us. This drinking malarkey is beginning to become expensive.

    Friday, 21 March 2008

    Dobbies - A Taste Of Scottish Beer

    I am indebted to Hughie from RateBeer for a heads up about Dobbies Garden Centre on the outskirts of Milton Keynes.

    Garden Centres are not your normal haunt for decent beers although the one within a mile from my house has a small range including Cusqueña Malta from Peru, but Dobbies has a more than respectable choice of bottled beer.

    Being a Scottish company the beer is all from north of the border, with examples from Arran, Atlas, Belhaven, Black Isle, Bridge Of Allan, Broughton, Cairngorm, Caledonian, Fyne, Hebridean, Inveralmond, Islay, Isle Of Skye, Orkney, Traquair, Valhalla and Williams Bros. Sadly there is no BrewDog, but hopefully in time there may be. I have not seen such a vast range of Scottish beers under one roof before and added to the fact that the food hall has some great produce including local free range meat,a visit is well worth while.

    Although mostly in Scotland there are a fair few branches in England so hopefully you will be able to show support to a store new you.

    Less And Less Liefmans

    There's been plenty blogged about the financial difficulties affecting Liefmans, and the will-they-won't-they bankruptcy takeover saga. I wrote just before Christmas of finding Bacchus beers in my local Sainsbury's in their stead, and those two beers remain on the shelf today.

    I have though regularly spotted Liefmans beers around, both bottled and draught since then, but it appears supplies are definitely on a downward spiral.

    My local has sold both the Kriek and Frambozen on draught throughout these turbulent times, but now they have disappeared. The fruit beer drinkers now have a choice of Bacchus Kriek or Timmermans Strawberry, which coincidentally I can find no reference to anywhere on the web.

    Liefmans loss is definitely other breweries' gain, especially Van Honsebrouck and the risk is even if Liefmans beers come back on a larger scale than they are currently available (and in my opinion they are superior products to their replacements), that the contracts with wholesalers will not be resurrected and drinkers will have to settle for a lesser product.

    Time will tell obviously, but I really hope Leifmans beers come back as strong as ever.

    Tuesday, 18 March 2008

    When's The Best Time To Go To A Beer Festival?

    I was inspired to write this post by a comment left on my article about Leicester BF by the young CAMRA collectiv. It appears from their comments that the festival was very, very busy on Friday night and that entry to the venue was on a one out, one in basis. I cannot imagine how unbearable this is for the queuing punters, the seemingly crushed drinkers already inside, or the volunteer staff who must be run off their feet.

    Now I know not everybody is as dedicated as me and books time off work to visit beer festivals during the quieter times, but I really cannot see the enjoyment in drinking in these conditions. Beer festivals rarely have an excess of staff on, which is of course due to the fact that everybody is a volunteer, and people getting off their backsides and helping are few and far between, so obviously the wait for beer is going to be pretty long.

    I think an overly crowded festival must present a negative image to the customer who cannot enjoy the long wait for his beer. Will they come back next year for more queuing, or will they be turned off festivals forever? Alternatively of course maybe they will actually book a day off work next time and go in the quieter lunch or afternoon sessions.

    I don't know the answer to these questions, but I do wonder whether festivals are becoming a victim of their own success. Many festivals actually run out of beer before the advertized closing time. So I ask amidst all this waffling drivel I'm typing: Do you enjoy the busy evening sessions or are they a real turn off? Do you flatly refuse to go in the evenings? Are you like me a lunchtime customer? Or am I missing out on a better atmosphere and camaraderie amongst the more hip evening crowd?

    Monday, 17 March 2008

    Drinking Blind - An Interesting Experience

    Whilst at Leicester Beer Festival last week I had a few surprises. By that I meant that I asked Simon to buy beers and not tell me what they were until I'd drank them and made notes and impressions of them.

    It made for a really interesting experience. The six beers I tasted blind are listed below with some information on my findings:

    1. Caythorpe Dark Gem - We'd talked about this beer ealrier, so I had an idea it was this when I tasted that it was clearly a mild. It was OK, and a typical mild, but fell short of some of the really good milds out there at the moment such as those from Great Oakley and Potbelly. Simon enjoyed it more than I did.

    2. Church End Tekuté Zlato - This is supposedly a Slovakian styled lager. I marked it down as a light bitter with some fruity hops, more of the pineapple type flavour than citric fruits. It was pretty decent.

    3. Everards Hazy Daze - I guessed this straight away, as it truly was a hazy wheat beer, and actually very good. Pretty authentic fruity flavours and good spices make this a superior British take on a Belgian Wit and is as good a beer as I've had from Everards in years.

    4. Tunnel Munich Style Lager - another supposed lager style beer; this time German rather than Eastern European. I had this down as a golden ale with good citric flavours from the hops. Nothing like a Munich styled lager in my opinion. I did enjoy it though.

    5. Thornbridge Gildas - I guessed this as soon as I smelled it. Simon knew I wanted to try this, and its aroma was so very very good. You could tell this was a superior British hoppy beer and the 6.5% alcohol was noticeable in the nose, which I could have sniffed at for a long time, but there was drinking to be done. It drank just as well as it smelled. Wonderful full on flavours from both the hops and the malts. A lovely beer.

    6. Milestone Raspberry Wheat - Simon was being mischeivous now as he knows I'm not a huge fan of Milestone beers as a rule. I could tell this was a fruit beer from the aroma, although I got the wrong fruit. I liked it, I dare say more than I would if I'd known what I was drinking. The fruit was pretty decent rather than appearing to be just a little syrup added to a bland base beer.

    This was a worthwhile experiment, and one I would like to repeat again. I was pleased that I got two beers spot on pretty easily; raised doubts in the declared style of the two 'lagers', and enjoyed a Milestone beer more than I expected. Try drinking blind sometime yourself, you may be really surprised at the outcomes.

    Saturday, 15 March 2008

    Leicester Beer Festival 2008

    So I went to Leicester Beer Festival on Thursday as promised. A lift to town, a £5.80 single bus ticket and a short walk over the flyover and past the churchyard and there I was at the Charotar Patidar Samaj, the exotically named venue for what is always a great fesival. I walked in shortly before noon to an already busy hall full of all sorts of beer lovers from the most well known tickers, down to locals who probably only drink real ale once a year.

    The Reluctant Scooper and two of his pals from Derby were tactically positioned near the cob and pork pie counter so I joined them for jolly japes and one live rating on RateBeer. Naturally after all the postings here my first job was to seek out the two Cherwell Valley beers, which despite my pessimistic doubts, had turned up and were ready for consumption. They were both decent enough if unspectacular but at least now that I've drank them I probably won't bore you so much with news of this Brackley based brewery. After meeting that challenge I concentrated on new breweries and stuff from breweries I regard highly. As I was sharing halves with Simon I got through 20 beers. I would have had a few more but my lift home arrived unexpectedly early, but I was happy with my lot in any case.

    Stand out beer on the day was without a doubt Thornbridge Hall Gildas, a wonderfully hoppy robust American styled beer. I've come to expect great things from Thornbridge and this was high quality even for them. Close behind was Fugelestou Sledgehammer Stout an 8% very tasty Imperial Stout.

    Other beer highlights were an unexpectedly good wheat beer from Everards called Hazy Daze and Ribble Bitter; my first beer from Grindleton Brewery. I did have some poor beer but the good ones were in the majority.

    Other highlights were the fantastic local pork pies from Lanes Butchers; peeing in the dark during a power cut which lasted twenty or so minutes; and meeting one of the Young CAMRA collectiv who are readers of this blog.

    Leicester is a good beer city at any time, yet the organisers of this festival go out of their way to complement the city pubs with a superb beer list. In my opinion it's a must visit festival, and I'll be back next year without a doubt.

    I remembered to take my camera and didn't hesitate to bring you evidence of the fact that my search for a new Northants brewery came to an end.

    Wednesday, 12 March 2008

    Birthday Beers With Nobby

    It was my birthday yesterday. I don't believe in working on my birthday, not that I'm that keen on other days, but at least it's an excuse to formally have a day off.

    Calling on my wife's good nature in driving me to a decent pub, we went to The Ward Arms in Guilsborough which is owned by Nobby of Nobby's Brewery. This 17th Century pub is the only one remaining in the village and it is clear that it is the hub of the community even if on this Tuesday lunchtime we were the only customers from 2pm. It is a lovely looking building from the outside, and is homely and welcoming on the inside. There are essentially two drinking areas; sofas and seats around the bar; and a raised games area with pool, darts and a plasma television. There is also a dining area which is completely separate. A garden completes the available drinking locations.

    At weekends there are apparently eight real ales available, and sensibly in midweek there are less. On my visit there were four; three from Nobbys and one from Steamin Billy, brewed at Tower. I had two of the Nobbys beers which although unspectacular were nice enough session beers. I have given Nobby's beers Beer Of The Month awards before such is the quality of some of his stuff.

    Nobby's intention is to install a brewhouse on the premises and builders and structural engineers have been consulted so plans are moving forward, albeit not as fast as he would like. In the meantime beers are still being brewed at Kettering in the cellar of the award winning Alexandra Arms.

    I will be paying the pub return visits; hopefully it will be busier next time!

    Monday, 10 March 2008

    Warm Glasses - Schoolboy Error

    My grandparents ran a pub until they retired in the late 1970s. Although they lived quite far from us I was still lucky enough to go visit them a few times a year, and was allowed access to all areas which shouldn't really have been the case for one so young.

    One of the things I actually helped with was washing the glasses. Everything was done by hand back then, so in the corner of the bar area was a sink and draining board for that very function. Things have, of course, moved on from then, and time spent hand washing glasses is wasted time, so it's all done by machine now. Basically a glass washing machine works in a similar way to a domestic dishwasher, but unlike at home, when we would empty the dishwasher at our leisure, the urgent need for clean glasses often leads to the machine being emptied immediately upon the cleaning cycle being completed.

    And what does this lead to? Warm glasses! or in some cases, even pretty hot glasses. Beer should not be served in warm glasses; the heat can transfer to the beer at an unwanted rate. I was served a beer yesterday in a glass which had clearly not been allowed to cool properly. It put me off. I'm sure you've experienced this once or twice, and actually it's not good enough. Should I have rejected my beer and asked for a more temperate glass? What would you have done?

    Saturday, 8 March 2008

    Watching Old Sport Is Good For The Beer

    I was watching some old cricket on television yesterday. My wife is aghast at how I can enjoy sport from before she was born, but that's another story. The match I was watching was The Fourth Test of The Ashes of 1975 played at The Oval.

    I was drawn to one of the advertizing boards around the ground, which was for Tooth Lager. It would appear that this Australian beer has not been brewed for quite some time, which is a shame because it's a better name than Fosters or Castlemaine, and sounds much more manly!. I wonder if any of you have any experiences of drinking this beer, or can tell me why it was discontinued.

    I think I'll be watching more old sport just to look for defunct beer adverts. I know that's gonna go down a treat in this household!

    Thursday, 6 March 2008

    Leicester Beer Festival Next Week

    I'm going to the Leicester Beer Festival a week today. It's a great beer festival in a good venue with plenty of seating and decent food. It's made all the better by the fact that I can get there for less than a tenner by public transport. The beer list is here, and I'm promised two beers from Cherwell Valley which regular readers will know is my current obsession. I'm not holding my breath on that score though. Mind you the beer list is so good that there's plenty of other good stuff to drink. It's good to see some emphasis on local brewers as well as stuff from further afield.

    This will be my fourth straight year at the festival, and it is one which I have fond regard for, being the first beer festival my eldest daughter went to, at the grand old age of 17 days!

    If any readers are going, give me a shout.

    Wednesday, 5 March 2008

    Beer Of The Month - February 2008

    Another fairly quiet month saw me drink just 42 new beers in February. Even with the extra day that's well below average! The majority of these beers were on either The Oxford Pub Crawl, or at The Merton Beer Festival.

    I've already reported on the better beers I drank on these two ocassions, and to be honest, the rest of the beers I drank during the month were fairly disappointing. The one bottled beer of note was Sierra Nevada Anniversary Ale which has been for sale in Oddbins. This is a hoppy beer as you would expect but somehow it seems more British in taste than American. I put that down to the body being less chewy than a lot of American IPAs although its ABV is lower than is usual. There were no other candidates for Bottle Beer Of The Month.

    As far as cask conditioned goes I cannot look beyond the four outstanding beers I had at Merton. The complexity of the spicy chocolatey Milton Mammon; the roasty slightly sweet Imperial Stout Marcus Aurelius from the same brewery; the wonderfully hoppy yet superbly full bodied Oakham Oblivion, and the sensational Old Chimneys Good King Henry are all beers I would happily revisit time after time, and helped make Merton a fantastic beer festival not just for the comapny of good friends but also for the beer quality.

    Good King Henry is Beer Of The Month, and comes so close to matching the bottled and aged Reserve which was the third best beer I drank in 2006. It's a rare beast on cask and special props go to the Merton organisers for puliing it off. It's a worthy winner and if I taste a better cask beer all year I will be laughing.

    I can't find an image of the beer anywhere so you'll have to make do with a picture of Henry VIII, who probably wasn't a good king at all (and yes I know the beer isn't anything to do with any historical kings, but rather an extinct animal or something)

    Sunday, 2 March 2008

    Sunday Mirror Readers Taste Jacobsen Vintage 1

    For those of you not familiar with British newspapers, you should probably be made aware that The Sunday Mirror is one of our tackiest tabloids. Not quite in the same league as The Sun or News Of The World, but getting there. That they have gotten their hands on a bottle of Jacobsen Vintage1, and allowed morons to sample it is a kick in the teeth to true beer lovers and rare beer seekers throughout the country.

    Oh how I wished they'd invited me to the sampling of this £204 a bottle Danish 10.5% Barley Wine rather than people who state it "tastes just like Becks" or who claim that "even if it was only £2.50 I'd prefer John Smith's." Still that's the standard of beer reporting we've come to expect; it really would have been a more credible article to have spoken to people who appreciate such things.

    I'm aghast at the idea that even with the individual label of each bottle that this beer comes even close to its price tag, but I know a few beer lovers in Denmark who will pool their money to buy a bottle or two. You never know, I might go to a sampling where it is present one day. I'll be sure to report on it, but don't hold your breath.

    Saturday, 1 March 2008

    What Wales Is Best At

    Today is St David's Day, the national day of Wales. Being part of the British Isles it has a tradition of brewing real ales. In fact two breweries still exist which started production in the 1800's. Brains, and Felinfoel, both from the more industrial Southern half of the country.

    Brains flagship mild has won silver once and bronze twice in the Champion Beer Of Britain Competition while Felinfoel has its place in British beer folklore, being the first brewery from these isles to sell beer from a can; a dispense method which people were very sceptical would take on.

    Some decent microbreweries have started up in the last few years; notable ones being Jolly, Otley, Kingstone and the sadly short lived Bryn Cyf. However for me the best drink being produced in Wales at the minute is fruit based.

    Both cider and perry is enjoying a real revival in Wales. The Welsh Cider and Perry Society has its own website which is in the throws of being replaced, but on which at the moment a good deal of information about the many outstanding producers can be found. We are lucky in that Welsh cider and perry is quite common at our better beer festivals so you don't have to dig out your Welsh/English dictionary to find somewhere to drink it.

    Producers I would particularly recommend are Gwynt y Ddraig who do a large range of ciders most of which are bottled, but whose perry is without question the nicest perry I have ever tasted, Troggi another excellent perry producer, and Seidr Dai who have a prolific range of both ciders and perries.

    Don't forget to drink Welsh real ale, but do not overlook the ciders and perries; there's some great stuff out there.