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    Wednesday, 30 April 2008

    The Third Of A Pint - Is It Enough?

    The third of a pint measure seems to becoming ever more commonplace at festivals these days, whether they be CAMRA organised or pub festivals. They have been available at both the Coventry CAMRA and Merchants Inn festivals which I have been to recently.

    I guess they became popular again in 2006 when it was introduced at GBBF to such demand that they ran out of glasses pretty quickly. They didn't have the foresight then to have third pint measure lines on the larger glasses which we are now seeing at festivals, obviously giving the customer the choice which of the three measures they want. Increased customer choice is certainly the way forward.

    I ranted about Peterborough beer festival last year where I was refused a third and even told it's not a legal measure, yet now they are more readily available, I'm not sure it's what I really want.

    Real ale is a funny beast. Quality can vary so dramatically due to all sorts of influences. Of course some beers are plain bad, but others are effected by age, handling or whatever else. So you really can never guarantee what you are going to get. If you read Tandleman's, or Tyson's blog, you will see that very often they are disappointed with their beer, and for each disappointment money has been handed over. With beer averaging around £2.50 a pint around here, I'm not sure I'm willing to waste my money to that extent, and even £1.25 for a nasty half may be a step too far. So 80 odd pence for a third may not seem such a waste. BUT a really good third of a pint is over in no time. I am left wanting more. But do I really want to buy another third (or more) when there's so many other beers to try? I make no excuses that I have a ticker mentality, and although I have promised to tick less this year, that's proving harder than I thought.

    So should I revert to halves? Should I drink thirds and if it's a good beer be grateful and move on?

    I think the third pint measure seems to be popular; I do see lots of people having them. What is your take on the nip?

    Monday, 28 April 2008

    Welsh Beers At The Malt Shovel

    Wherever in the country you live I would hazard a guess that there is a beer festival within ten miles of your front door this bank holiday weekend. If there isn't then you have my sympathy for living in such a barren location. My suggestion would be to move!

    In Northampton we have a festival of Welsh beers at The Malt Shovel. This will be the first festival for some time due to the regular change of landlord over the last year, so unless anything's changed all the handpumps (13) will be handed over to festival beers. The festival runs from Friday evening until Monday night, with all day opening over the weekend which sadly only happens at festival time. Expect the pub to be very busy, but that does make for a special atmosphere. The beer list is below, of the thirty one beers I've only previously had ten, so plenty of new stuff for me to try!!

    Purple Moose

    Snowdonia 3.6%

    Madoc's 3.7%

    Glaslyn 4.2%

    North Wales

    Abergela Ale 5.0%

    Bodelwyddan 3.8%

    Farmers' Favourite 4.0%

    Welsh Stout 4.4%

    Moelfre Mild 3.6%


    Clwyd Gold 3.5%

    Flintshire Bitter 3.7%

    Northern County 3.8%

    Sunny Bitter 4.2%

    Splendid Ale 4.3%

    Dave's Hoppy Bitter 4.3%

    Landslide 4.9%


    Plassey Bitter 4.0%

    Fusilier 4.5%

    Cwrw Tudno 5.0%

    Dragon's Breath 6.0%

    Great Orme

    Orme's Best 4.2%

    Celtic Dragon 4.5%

    Three Feathers 5.0%

    Welsh Mountain IPA 3.8%

    Welsh Black 4.0%

    Jolly Brewer

    Taid's Garden 4.0%

    Suzanne's Stout 5.0%


    Castle Bitter 3.8%

    Welsh Pride 4.0%

    Celebration Ale 4.2%

    Honey Fayre 4.5%

    Mulberry Mild 3.8%

    Friday, 25 April 2008

    Television's Top Pubs

    The Guardian TV and Radio blog today has an article about TV's top 10 bars and pubs. It's a list which is bound to meet with plenty of dissent. For my part there should certainly be a place for The Jockey from Shameless and, my number one, The Grapes from Early Doors.

    Whilst considering this list it made me realise how unrealistic pubs are on television programmes. I mean everybody drinks in them, from your real heavy drinkers like Frank Gallagher down to your sherry supping posh old ladies like Emily Bishop. I'm not sure many ladies of her ilk really are regulars in back street corner boozers, yet she's in there every night the old minx.

    Of course television isn't really life as we know it, and television pubs even less so, but I do enjoy playing spot the pumpclip. I spied Westerham Grasshopper on The Apprentice this week. That's a beer I've never had, so does spotting it on TV count as a tick? I do hope so!

    Thursday, 24 April 2008

    Classical Music With Your Tinnies

    I realise this is supposed to be a blog about beer, but in my defence I have bought beer from the store so there is a tenuous link, but look what they are doing at my local supermarket.

    You couldn't make it up.

    The Merchants Inn Rugby Beer Festival

    In contrast to Coventry which I wrote about last week, Rugby has more going for it. Famous for its school and the birthplace of some sport whose name escapes me, it is worthy of a visit for historical reasons. However I tend to go to places just for the beer, and in The Merchants Inn they have one hell of a pub.

    For those who know The Malt Shovel in Northampton and are impressed by the breweriana on display, The Merchants actually puts it to shame. It's a veritable feast of old advertizing boards, posters, pump clips, mirrors and collectable old beer bottles (all of which I think are full). It's pretty much a museum of old beer memorabilia.

    On an average day the pub sells nine real ales on handpump together with a pretty decent range of Belgian bottles. However I was here for the Joy Of Six Beer Festival week long festival featuring 66 beers, all of which have a 6 somewhere in the ABV; a bizarre theme if ever there was one.

    Stillage space in the back bar is limited so of course not all 66 beers are available at once. There was actually a choice of 28 which should, though, be enough for anyone. I worked my way through eleven of them; and found them a mixed bunch in terms of quality. I was pleased to see Wickwar Station Porter, but was very disappointed in it, finding it to have an odd sweetness and no roasty flavours which Wickwar promise.I also tried Cauldron Snout, now brewed by Darwin, and a good beer, but not as nice as I remember it from its High Force days.

    The best beers I tried were No Bully Dozer from Oakham, brewed with reference to the campaign to save The Brewery Tap, typically hoppy well brewed beer, and Lancaster Black, a nice tasty roasty stout.

    Prices were reasonable for this part of the World at around £2.50 a pint, and the festival fish and chips looked bloody handsome. There will be another beer festival in the Autumn, and other pubs in Rugby have ones lined up for the Summer. Rugby CAMRA are having their festival in three weeks time, so right now it's a pretty good town for beer, and with it being less than a fiver on the train for me, life is sweet.

    Sunday, 20 April 2008

    World Awards For Roosters And BrewDog

    The World Beer Cup is a bit of a car crash of a competition with far too many categories, and beers being entered in categories which you would feel they don't belong in. There also seems to be an inordinately large amount of medals for the big boys.

    Naturally the amount of beer entered is a tiny fraction of what is actually being produced in the World, with entries from these shores even more so. Having said that, it's still nice for a beer to be recognised by winning. The brewers obviously want to win or they wouldn't enter. Having said that though, I guess even being there is useful for getting your products known.

    So it's hats off to Roosters of Knaresborough for winning category 51 English-Style Summer Ale, for YPA and to BrewDog of Fraserburgh, Scotland for winning category 16 Wood and Barrel Aged Strong Beer for Paradox Grain.

    These are two breweries I hold in high stead and have discussed on this blog before. Congratulations to them both.

    For those who can be bothered to look through the 91 categories, the full list is here.

    Friday, 18 April 2008

    How Many Beers Make A Festival?

    The King Billy in Northampton is advertizing a beer festival next week to celebrate St George's Day. It's a good thing that a pub chooses to do this and hopefully it will be a success and raise the profile of real ale both in this pub and the town as a whole. It's a fairly small affair with just ten beers, which is less than the Malt Shovel just hundred yards away has on on a permanent basis. Still it's a start, so good luck to them.

    I may pop in if I have time, but my priority next week is the Joy Of Six Beer Festival at The Merchants Inn in Rugby where sixty six beers are promised during the week.

    Do you think 10 beers constitutes a beer festival or is there a lower limit?

    Thursday, 17 April 2008

    Mordue To Be No More?

    As can be read here, Mordue Brewery of Tyne and Wear has gone into administration.

    It would be sad indeed if this micro went under. In 1997, only two years after they formed Workie Ticket their 4.5% bitter won Champion Beer Of Britain, and a very fine beer it is too. I enjoyed a fair few pints of it on my only beer drinking trip to Newcastle. They have still been winning Beer Of The Festival awards in the last few weeks.

    Time will tell of course if this is the end, but I do hope not.

    Wednesday, 16 April 2008

    Namyslow Plum - Beer Of The Festival

    As the Wetherspoons festival has now ended I am going to take the current results showing on their website as the final results. They make surprising reading for those who thought the Polish plum beer was less than pleasing. As can be seen from the list below the plummiest of all beers actually came out on top. I'm not sure what this says about Wetherspoon customers although it has to be said I did like the beer. Cains Bock which came in second was pretty poor in my opinion and certainly not what I would describe as a bock. And the most talked about beer in Britain came in third. The Stone was the best beer I tried although I didn't think it as wonderful as a lot of commentators. The list makes interesting reading, that's for sure.

    Rating: 4.1 30 CAINS BOCK BEER
    Rating: 3.9 43 YO-HO TOKYO BLACK
    Rating: 3.9 47 MAULDONS BLACK ADDER
    Rating: 3.8 45 JENNINGS SNECK LIFTER
    Rating: 3.7 29 BRAINS REVEREND JAMES
    Rating: 3.7 36 ORKNEY DARK ISLAND
    Rating: 3.6 14 SKINNER’S HELIGAN HONEY
    Rating: 3.6 23 SHARP’S EDEN PURE ALE
    Rating: 3.5 06 SPRINGHEAD LIBERTY
    Rating: 3.5 11 EVERARDS SUNCHASER
    Rating: 3.5 34 PHOENIX BLACK BEE
    Rating: 3.4 05 OAKHAM JHB
    Rating: 3.4 44 HOLDEN’S SPECIAL
    Rating: 3.3 19 HAMPSHIRE IRONSIDE
    Rating: 3.3 15 WADWORTH HORIZON
    Rating: 3.3 09 BEARTOWN GINGER BEAR
    Rating: 3.2 22 WYCHWOOD MAD HATTER
    Rating: 3.2 10 ELGOOD’S OLD WAGG
    Rating: 3.2 25 WELTONS OLD COCKY
    Rating: 3.2 16 NETHERGATE APRIL FOOL
    Rating: 3.2 07 ROBINSONS TOP TIPPLE
    Rating: 3.1 02 YOUNG’S BITTER
    Rating: 3.1 01 J. W. LEES BREWER’S DARK
    Rating: 3.1 21 RINGWOOD 78
    Rating: 2.9 12 HOOK NORTON 303 AD
    Rating: 2.9 20 HYDES TROJAN HORSE
    Rating: 1.8 37 ARCHERS GOLDEN

    Sunday, 13 April 2008

    Coventry Beer Festival

    Apart from the cathedral I cannot really think of a good reason to visit Coventry. The last time I went to a beer festival there was in the 1990s when it was held at the University, and although it was a good festival, the walk there and back from the station was not a pleasant experience.

    The festival is now located at the rugby union ground, which is nearer the station, but still a less than pleasant journey on foot is required. I travelled from Northampton station with my friend Dave and his prolific letter writing brother Pete, who knew a shortcut to the venue. If I'd have been on my own I would have walked around the ring road, no doubt taking my life in my hands, but the shortcut was safe from vehicular dangers. The rugby club is a comfortable enough venue, although the seating area does feel a bit cramped as is the standing room near the stillage area, but the quantity of toilets cannot be faulted. As for the beer, the choice ran to 80 odd at opening time on the Friday of which not too many had disappeared by opening time on Saturday. A few ciders, bottled beers and country wines made up the numbers. Although this wouldn't really be described as a ticking festival there was still a decent amount of rare beers, and certainly enough new stuff for me to choose from.

    Due to sharing halves, and a couple of smuggled bottled from the US and Denmark, I got through 19 beers. Although beer quality could have been better, and the temperature a little on the warm side (an all too common fault of indoor festivals, but that's for another day), I enjoyed almost everything I tried. The stand out beers were Dark Star Over The Moon, a very modern hoppy mild, and Fullers London Porter, which I've had before but not for many years. It truly lived up to the memory I had of it being a delicious full bodied roasty porter.

    The beer festival opens from 12-4 and 6-11 on just the Friday and Saturday. There's a lot of talk about why festivals need to close during the afternoon, and it's usually because of a lack of staff, who, remember, are all volunteers. Coventry though seemed to be very well staffed; waiting time for beers was very very short, so I'm not sure why there was a need for a two hour kick out. I'm sure though the pubs of Coventry appreciated the extra trade.

    All in all another good festival. One I shall certainly return to. As well as my travelling companions, there were also four RateBeerians: Glen, Simon, Mes and Phil, who all added to it being a great day. Phil, as ever took some superb photographs, which may be found here.

    Friday, 11 April 2008

    What I Detest About Nitrokeg

    Of course I prefer my beer to be dispensed by handpump (without sparkler) or straight from the barrel with the assistance of good old fashioned gravity. This is natural beer served naturally. Adding gas to a beer is unnatural and unnecessary. It does nothing for the taste and even less for the aroma if that matters to you. Carbon Dioxide is bad enough, nitrogen is much worse.

    The biggest bugbear for me though is how long it takes to pour a bloody pint. I haven't done a scientific time trial but I will guarantee it takes less than a quarter of the time to pull my foaming pint of real ale than it does for Mr Old Duffer's pint of Extra Creamy Smooth to arrive. Waiting for my pint is bad enough at the best of times but when the delay is being caused by waiting for some crappy flavourless nonsense to be poured, I'm even more agitated.

    Still, I'm off to Coventry Beer Festival tomorrow. No gas there (except plentiful flatulence).

    Thursday, 10 April 2008

    A Herculean Box Of Beer

    It's not every day the postman brings you something special. It's normally junk or, worse still, bills. However on Monday the doorbell rang and there was a very nice man with a delivery for me. It transpires that unsolicited I had been sent a great box of beer from

    Beermerchants call the selection The Hercules Case due to the strength of all the beers. The weakest of the eighteen different brands is a tear-inducing 8% with the strongest being the delicious Bush Ambrée. Also in there is my all time favourite Rochefort 10. There's also a rather snazzy glass, just perfect for most strong Belgian beers. The box was superbly and safely packaged with enough 'peanuts' to keep a monkey happy for a lifetime. To round off the package is an A4 sheet of tasting notes which include recommendations for food pairings. I've not seen this before from online suppliers, and I think it's a really nice touch especially for the beginner.

    For me of course the case was the best value possible, but. at £34.90 for normal customers, it still represents great value. There are other good deals to be had. Give the website a visit and see what you think.

    Tuesday, 8 April 2008

    Thanks Very Much Then, Goodbye.

    No, this is not me signing off from blogging, but hopefully a discussion on what is another element of a good pub. We all use the phrase "the pub was welcoming", but then it's pretty obvious that they are going to nice to you when you walk in their door. After all you're signalling to them that you are about to spend some of your hard earned money. It's hardly appropriate that you'd be given short shrift and a cold shoulder before you've even dipped your hand in your pocket. Hey, if the welcome's that good you may feel inclined to stay longer and spend some more.

    But what happens when you've had enough and it's time to move on? What would you say to friends when they leave your house? Something along the lines of "Thanks very much, goodbye" wouldn't go amiss. After all you've been a valuable customer and that adieu message may encourage you to return.

    Why then is it so rare to be thanked for your custom and wished nice things on your way. I swear goodbyes and thanks have become rarer over the last twenty years. I don't expect a goodbye from an understaffed drinking barn, but one wouldn't go amiss at a more civilized pub. Has anybody else noticed this phenomenon or is it just that I'm not a valued customer and it's only me??

    Sunday, 6 April 2008

    Beer Of The Month - March 2008

    It often feels like March is the beginning of the beer year as festival season starts in earnest and I always have a week's holiday in the month, which tends to result in a reasonable amount of drinking. I sampled 87 new beers in total during the month. Pleasingly the vast majority of these were either in pubs or at a festival; namely Leicester.

    Naturally for the reasons mentioned above, I had a fair few cask beers during the month. The first particularly good one was Woods Shropshire Lass from a brewery which is more miss than hit for me. This was a nice blonde beer with citrus notes and a mouthfeel I described as like fizz bombs. Thornbridge Gildas and Fuglestow Sledgehammer Stout were the stand out beers at Leicester Festival. One a delightfully hoppy full bodied IPA from one of England's finest, and the other a roasty smoky stout. The best beer I had on my Northampton Crawl was Banks & Taylor Edwin Taylor's Extra Stout. I have had this deliciously dry roasty stout before but not I've started rating beers. It's head and shoulders B&T's best beer. From the Wetherspoons festival I have had three beers worthy of a mention. First was Titanic Last Porter Call, a dodgy name for what is a good porter with coffee and chocolate notes. Second was Namyslow Plum, a true love it hate it beer if ever there was one. Yes it's very sweet and not particularly 'beer-like', but that plumminess is amazing. An underused fruit if you ask me. It's not a beer I could drink much of (my half was probably enough), but I really did enjoy it. Thirdly was 'the most talked about beer in Britain': Shepherd Neame Stone California Double IPA, as hoppy as expected and with a decent body. Certain people I know have raved about this, and nobody has said they didn't like it. For me it was very good, but not a beer I could session on. I lost a bit of interest three quarters of a pint through. While this would be a lot of people's cask beer of the month, mine went to Thornbridge Gildas.

    From the bottle just two beers have stood out. An American porter and a Danish stout with undoubted American influence. The porter was Left Hand Black Jack Porter. Left Hand describe this as a London Porter, and even though it uses English hops it uses them in American quantities. Chocolate, coffee and roasty malts complete the flavour. Finally, and the beer which actually outclasses the Thornbridge beer was Mikkeller Beer Geek Breakfast. Not only a topical name but a delicious beer. I got soy, fish, coffee, hops, fruit, oatmeal and goodness knows what else in this complex stout with a really long finish. This beer has its fans and its detractors, but to me it's a real treat. It's certainly beer of the month.

    Special mention must go to one of the worst five beers I've ever had which was the first bottled beer I had in the month Krombacher Cab. This is some sort of beer/cola concoction with dragon fruit. Avoid at all costs.

    Friday, 4 April 2008

    The Session #14 - Beer People

    This month's session is entitled beer people and thankfully gives us plenty of leeway for thought. I prefer a session to skimp on specifics and boundaries, which is why I don't play every month.

    There's a phrase I've been using a lot recently, whether out drinking with friends, on this blog, or in beer forums. It describes how best I feel about beer people. First though I need to consider what is a beer person. Most people drink beer, but most of those do it for a reason other than you and I. They do it because it's there. They drink beer because it's probably the most sociable drink to partake of and get happy, merry, drank, ratarsed or any other point on the inebriation scale. It's a fairly easy thing to drink as the majority of beer sold throughout the World is deliberately brewed not to taste of much. The best selling lagers are actually brewed to have minimum flavour and aftertaste. If, however, lager is not their thing, they will probably be drinking dreadful nitrogenated stouts, or smoothflow beers which to them have a bit more flavour, whereas in actual fact they don't.

    These people though are not beer people but people who drink beer.

    No. Beer people are people who drink beer for pleasure, for enjoyment, for taste. It's actually their drink of choice because they like to drink it, and can appreciate the effort that has gone into producing it. They like to try different beers too, and compare one against the other. I'm not necessarily talking tickers or raters. Just normal people who treat beer as an experience to savour rather than just part of the whole going-out thing.

    I've met a lot of these people over the years. Ordinary local CAMRA members, hardcore scoopers (tickers), RateBeerians, publicans, brewers, and beer journalists. These have all been great people to share a pint or more with. People who you can talk about beer to, but who are also interesting in other areas and who can hold down a conversation for an hour or two. These are people you are happy to call your friend.

    I feel the same way about bloggers. The only ones I've met are Ron and Simon, but the beerblogosphere feels like a community with like minded people enjoying the output of their peers. Sure we may disagree with others' opinions, and the odd skirmish may break out, but it's generally all good.

    So to get to that phrase and it's one that I could never overuse, and, remember you should probably count yourself as a beer person:


    Thursday, 3 April 2008

    Televisions In Pubs

    I don't mind music in pubs so long as it's at a reasonable volume in order that I can hear myself think or my companions speak. Indeed if I'm drinking alone it does provide some company of sorts as a familiar lyric enters my head.

    What I don't understand though is the purpose of televisions. I don't believe people go to the pub to watch EastEnders or such twaddle, nor do they really want to keep up to date with BBC News 24 or some such channel. Sports matches are a real draw but for my mind only serve to fuel a siege mentality, be it between supporters of opposing teams or in the case of a National team, a ridiculous (and fairly short-lived) alcohol fuelled patriotism. Added to this televisions don't lend themselves to being at a sufficient volume for those watching, to hear what's going on anyway.

    For my mind the best form of pub entertainment is a gentle game of cribbage or dominoes; true pub games for true pub goers, none of your modern technology nonsense. Mind you without live news channels and those wonderfully inaccurate live subtitles I would never have discovered yesterday that Bertie Aherne is actually the "Pam Ayres of Ireland". Conjours up a picture of two.

    Tuesday, 1 April 2008

    New Pub To Sell US Beers Only

    I've been contacted by reader Thomas Fool who has exciting news for Northamptonshire drinkers, and those from further afield. Tom is currently converting an old Kettering church which he will be opening as a pub in the next few months. However it's a pub with a difference. "I will only be selling American beers" he tells me. "Myself and my wife April have been to the last two GBBFs and I have loved all the US cask stuff. I also drink a lot of American beers in bottles, and I think they'll go down a storm. But what's really convinced me", he says "is how well the Stone beer has been going down in my local Spoons, and, it appears, nationwide."

    I mentioned to Tom that Kettering may be an odd choice for such a venture but he is convinced that drinkers in the market town are an adventurous bunch. "We have two exciting micro breweries and a great award winning free house in The Alexandra Arms, plus being in the Midlands will allow drinkers from all over the country to get to us easily"

    Sounds good to me, I'm awaiting my invite to launch night.