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    Wednesday, 28 May 2008

    Ramblings In Brighton - The Evening Star

    There can't be many pub or beer lovers in the country who haven't heard of The Evening Star near Brighton Railway Station. It is the only other pub I went to in Brighton. I wish I'd gone more often but it was a good walk from the hotel.

    Back in the 1990s it was one of the pioneering real ale pubs selling rare beers from the length and breadth of the isles. Drinkers flocked there from all over in search of their ticks and scoops.

    Then Dark Star Brewery and its offshoot Skinners went into production in the cellar, and guest beers were less prominent. Having said that though Dark Star and Skinners produced loads of different ales to keep the scooper satisfied. Skinners fell by the way side and Dark Star relocated, and their beer range diminshed but the pub still carried on as a beer lovers haven, still in the Dark Star estate.

    Nowadays there are six or seven real ales available (about half from Dark Star), a couple of real ciders, a couple of keg Dark Star beers, a few foreign draught beers and a selection of around 50 bottled beers from Germany, Belgium and the US. All the beers are carefully chosen with definitely no crap.

    To my mind as a foreign beer lover, the beer range now is better than it's ever been. Of those foreign draught beers two from USA were available when I visited last week: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot and Flying Dog Snake Dog IPA. I have never seen either of these beers available on draught in the UK before and suspect if they have been it has only been in The Rake.

    It's testament to the excellent beer range that the pub always seems busy. The clientele is reasonably diverse but one thing they all seem to have on common is the love of a good pub and good beer. If you're reading this in the UK, the chances are you've visited the pub before. If you haven't been then what are you waiting for?

    Northampton BF - Final Beer List

    All the beers are stillaged and ready to roll for Thursday's big kick off at the Northampton Beer Festival. I've updated the beer list which is now final. It can be found at the previous post.

    Tuesday, 27 May 2008

    Ramblings In Brighton - The Hand In Hand

    The Hand In Hand was my local whilst in Brighton, being just 200 yards or so from my hotel. For that reason it was the pub I visited the most and the pub I watched The Champions League Final in.

    There is no doubt that the pub has some interesting clientele. I first visited the pub in the 1990s and shared the window seat with two old toothless soaks who seemed like a regular fixture. I've not seen them since; they are probably in boozy heaven, but there is still the odd fascinating character to make people-watching fun.

    Before writing this, I had a read of Beer In The Evening to read their comments. A lot of those are negative, but I have always enjoyed myself and have only once had a dodgy pint. This week there was two of their own Kemptown Beers: Kemptown Bitter and Ye Olde Trout, together with two from Dark Star: Hophead and Festival, and Cains IPA, which was a long way from home compared to its companions on offer. There are a dozen or so foreign beers including draught Bacchus Kriek and Hacker-Pschorr beers from Germany.

    I stuck mostly to the sublime Hophead although I did have a couple of pints of Kemptown Bitter as well for old times sake. Between our group all five beers were tried, and there were no complaints

    You wouldn't know it if you'd never been before but the pub has actually been spruced up over the last few years, with the smoking ban making a vast difference. It used to be very dingy, now it's only pretty dingy! The picture at the top shows it being yellow; I'm not sure it still is, but not taking my camera doesn't help.

    This is a really good pub well worth the twenty minute walk from the railway station. Like a lot of Brighton pubs it is small (it claims to be the smallest in the city), and is all the better for its intimate size. The pub has been for sale and still may be, I am lead to believe, so changes may occur in the future. It would be a shame if the pub were to change very much.

    Monday, 26 May 2008

    Ramblings In Brighton - Night One

    I didn't get to nearly as many pubs as I'd planned during my five nights in Brighton. It's not easy when you're in a group who, in spite of being beer drinkers, are also reticent to walk very far for their imbibing. Fortunately we stayed within 200 yards of one of Brighton's better pubs so I was happy to spend a great deal of time in there.

    Arriving first on Sunday with one travelling companion my priority was to get a few pubs in before meeting up with the others when they arrived. We headed therefore for the North Laines for a wander.

    The first pub we nipped in was The Heart & Hand as pictured yesterday. This is obviously attractive from the outside, and quite interesting on the inside. One roomed and furnished with a rare vinyl jukebox, it's a little bit of a throwback to another era. The pint of Harveys Sussex Best was in great nick.

    From there it was to The Great Eastern, entering by one of the narrowest front doors I've ever been through, this pub was long and narrow and the chap next to me's roast lamb smelled nice. My pint of Pilgrim Porter was really good.

    Onwards to The Lord Nelson. This looks like a small pub from the outside but goes back pretty far. The real draw to this pub is excellent Harveys ales. I had a pint each of Knots Of May, a 3.0% light mild, and Olympia Golden Ale. Harveys brew some great stuff, and although these are not perhaps up to their highest standards, I still enjoyed these two.

    We then sadly had to leave the laines fo the town centre. Two more pubs were visited: The Bright Helm, one of the worse JDW's known to man. Eight pump clips welcomed the customer, but only one of them was on. "Our area manager tells us to keep the clips showing", I was told. My statement that Tim Martin says otherwise was met with a blank face. I was in no mood to change the look on his face but wish I had.

    We moved over to the very busy Fiddlers Elbow for more Harveys Sussex Best in the company of our now arrived colleagues. The beer again was in great form. Bed beckoned after this pub, but in night one I had visited five pubs. All the beers I had were lovely, and rarely found in my neck of the woods which is a nice treat.

    I was only to visit two more pubs all week. I'll write about them both tomorrow.

    Sunday, 25 May 2008

    Northampton Beer Festival 2008

    The Northampton Beer Festival runs from this Thursday at 5pm and is then open all day in Friday and Saturday. It is at Delapre Abbey and my report of last year's festival can be seen here. I'm working the day sessions so cannot sure how many of the list of beers below I shall get to try. The list is looking pretty good.

    Abbeydale Moonshine
    Abbeydale Absolution
    Alehouse Commercial Mild
    Alehouse Smokey Joe
    Alehouse Rauchbier
    Anglo Dutch At t'Ghoul & Ghost
    Atomic Fission
    Bartrams Suffolk N Strong
    Bartrams Premier
    Beowulf Beorma
    Beowulf Spring Tide
    Beowulf Dark Raven
    Beowulf Dragonsmoke stout
    Beowulf Finshalls Porter
    Beowulf Chiller
    Beowulf Mercian Shine
    Black Country Pig on the Wall
    Black Country Bradleys Finest Golden
    Blythe Chase Bitter
    Blythe Ridware Pale
    Blythe Staffie
    Blythe Palmers Poison
    Blythe Johnsons
    Brewsters Hophead
    Brewsters Marquis
    Brewsters Cheval Mort
    Brewsters Daffy's Elixir
    Brewsters Hop a Doodle Doo
    Brewsters Bathsheba
    Bridestones Pennine Best
    Bridestones Pennine Gold
    Bridestones Sandstone
    Bridestones S Special
    Buntingford 92 Squadron
    Buntingford Golden Plover
    Buntingford Pargeter Dark Mild
    Buntingford Oliver Cromwell
    Buntingford Knight Templar
    Crouch Vale Anchor Street Porter
    Crouch Vale First Gold
    Crouch Vale Brewers Gold
    Crouch Vale Essex Boys Bitter
    Digfield Fools Nook
    Digfield March Hare
    Digfield Barnwell Bitter
    Digfield Shacklebush
    Digfield Mad Monk
    Digfield Dumpy's Special
    Eastwood Stirling
    Eastwood Best Bitter
    Eastwood Gold Award
    Eastwood Black Prince
    Elgoods Double Swan
    Elgoods Cambridge Bitter
    Elgoods Black Dog Mild
    Elland Born to be mild
    Elland Eden
    Elland Nettlethrasher
    Elland 1872 Porter
    Empire Entente Cordial
    Empire Shrikes Back
    Empire Crusader
    Empire Drystone
    Fenland Rabbit Poacher
    Fenland Sparkling Wit
    Fenland Raspberry Stout
    Frog Island Best
    Frog Island Shoemaker
    Frog Island Natterjack
    Frog Island Fire Bellied Toad
    Frog Island Croak & Stagger
    Funfair Meteorite
    Great Oakley Welland Valley Mild
    Great Oakley Wot's Occurring
    Great Oakley Wagtail
    Great Oakley Harpers
    Great Oakley Gobble
    Great Oakley Delapre Dark
    Great Oakley Tailshaker
    Great Oakley Festival Special
    Hambleton Stud
    Hambleton Nightmare
    Hambleton Stallion
    Harwich Town Mayflower
    Headless Owd Reg
    Highwood Shepherd Delight
    Highwood Harvest
    Highwood Old Timber
    Hoggleys Phipps Triple X
    Hoggleys Northamptonshire Bitter
    Hoggleys Kislingbury Bitter
    Hoggleys Mill Lane Mild
    Hoggleys Resevoir Hogs
    Hoggleys Pump Fiction
    Hoggleys Solstice Stout
    Hoggleys Mick's
    Hoggleys What Knees
    Hopshackle Shacklers Best
    Hopshackle Shacklers Gold
    Hopshackle Momentum
    Iceni Crocus
    Iceni Woolly Mammoth
    Iceni Roison Dubh
    Iceni Ported Porter
    Iceni It's a Grand Day
    Idle Idle Landlord
    Idle Idle Chef
    Idle Idle Sod
    Idle Idle Dog
    Idle Idle Cricketer
    Idle Idle Boggin
    J.Church Parsons Nose
    Little Valley Sixpence
    Little Valley Mild
    Little Valley Tods Blonde
    Little Valley Hebdens Wheat
    Magpie Dark Secret Mild
    Magpie Full Flight
    Magpie Fledgling
    Magpie Thieving Rogue
    Maypole Maybee
    Maypole Gatehopper
    Milestone Rich Ruby
    Milestone Somers Wheat
    Milton Icarus
    Milton Jupiter
    Milton Sparta
    Milton Cyclops
    Naylors Pinnacle Mild
    Naylors Pinnacle Porter
    Naylors Old Ale
    Naylors Special Brown Ale
    Naylors Blonde
    Naylors Pale
    Nethergate Three Point Nine
    Nethergate Augustinian
    Nethergate Mary's Ruby Mild
    Newby Wyke Summer Session
    Newby Wyke Kingston Topaz
    Newby Wyke Slingshot
    Newby Wyke Puffin
    Newby Wyke Marie Celeste
    Nobbys Wet Spell
    Nobbys Claridges Crystal
    Nobbys Wild West Ale
    Nobbys Best
    Oakham JHB
    Oakham White Dwarf
    Oakham Bishops Farewell
    Oakham Inferno
    Oakham Haka
    Oakham Mompessons Gold
    Oldershaws Pearl
    Oldershaws Mowbrays Mash
    Oldershaws Old Boy
    Oldershaws Decadense
    Poachers Shy Talk
    Potbelly Best
    Potbelly Aisling
    Potbelly Ambrosia
    Potbelly Pigs do Fly
    Potbelly Beijing Black
    Potbelly Inner Daze
    Potbelly Crazy Daze
    RCH Steam Pole
    RCH Pitch Fork
    RCH East St.Cream
    RCH Double Header
    Red Squirrel Prohibition
    Red Squirrel Dark Ruby Mild
    Rockingham Forest Gold
    Rockingham Dark Forest
    Saltaire Cascade
    Saltaire Million Ale
    Saltaire Dark Mild
    Saltaire Blonde
    Shardlow Locking Down
    Spire Chesterfield best
    Spire Sovereign IPA
    Tring Side Pocket for a Toad
    Tring Jack O'Legs
    Tring Tea Kettle Stout
    Vale Black Swan Mild
    Vale Black Beauty Porter
    Vale Grumpling Old Ale
    Vale Gravitas
    Vale Special
    Vale Spring Gold
    Warwickshire Lady Godiva
    Warwickshire Falstaff
    Warwickshire Golden Bear
    Warwickshire Kingmaker
    Weatheroak Ale
    Weatheroak May Day, May Day
    Weatheroak Keystone Hops
    White Horse Bitter
    Wolf Prairy Gold
    Wolf Straw Dog
    Wolf Wolf Ale
    Wolf Wolf in Sheeps Clothing
    Wolf Granny Wouldn't like it
    Wolf Coyote
    York Yorkshire Terrier

    Defunct Livery In Brighton

    One of the things which sets me apart from pretty much all of the other British beer bloggers is my camera skills. Those skills can be broken down into two components:

    Skill number one - the ability to take my camera anywhere with me.

    Skill number two - the ability to take a decent picture even if I remember my camera.

    Whilst out and about in Brighton last week, I saw three great examples of defunct livery on the front of pubs. First was The Kemptown Brewery (not the one still in existace) outside The Bulldog on St James Street. A distinctly drabby looking pub which I didn't venture into.

    Second was the beautiful green tiled frontage of The Heart & Hand in North Road in the North Laines advertizing United Ales and Stouts which was actually The Portsmouth & Brighton United Breweries Ltd. I did go in to this quaint characterful pub and had a lovely pint of Harveys Sussex Best, which almost matched the tiles.

    Third was the old Tamplins pub, The Victory in Duke Street. I've been in here before - it's crap, so didn't venture in this time.

    There are plenty of other examples in Brighton, as can be seen here. They are all for another time. The photographs aren't mine, but borrowed from the aforementioned site.

    Thursday, 22 May 2008


    Watching United win The Champions League is sweet.

    Watching United win The Champions League with six pints of Dark Star Hophead is very sweet.

    Having fun in Brighton, but no time to blog properly. Normal service should resume at the weekend.

    Sunday, 18 May 2008

    Off To Brighton

    I'm off to Brighton in a couple of hours and won't be back until Friday evening. I may or may not post to the blog, apparently Brighton is the sixth most covered town in Europe for free wi-fi access.

    I'm looking forward to going to The Evening Star where I haven't been for a couple of years, and I intend a quick trip to Shoreham where there are a couple of GBG pubs that look worthy of a visit. I shall also have a pint of two of Harveys Armada, one of my favourite cask beers,

    See you all soon.

    Friday, 16 May 2008

    A Little Bit Of Bamberg In England

    One of my readers, Hughie, lives in Bedford, which is just over 20 miles from where I live, but, I must admit, is a place I rarely visit. As of yesterday, though, I'm quite jealous of Hughie because I found out that Bedford's twin town is Bamberg, possibly the finest beer town in the World.

    I don't think various rauchbiers are available in your average corner shop in town, but the spring festival certainly appears to be an occasion where the beer flows freely if the pictures in the article are anything to go by.

    I'm not sure why Bedford is the chosen twin town of our beer loving cousins from Germany. I would imagine Bamberg should be able to do much, much better than choose the home of Charles Wells. Burton-on-Trent would surely have been a better choice.

    Actually in a delicious twist of irony I read that one of Burton's twin towns is called Rochefort, but is no relation to the Belgian monastery. It's a funny Old World.

    Wednesday, 14 May 2008

    What Do They Drink In Bury St Edmunds?

    I had to laugh on Monday night, whilst watching The One Show. The reporter went to Bury St Edmunds, primarily to visit England's smallest pub The Nutshell, which I have blogged about before.

    First though they went to everybody's favourite brewery Greene King to show what modern Bury is famous for. Then we saw all the various pub signs in town with the Greene King name (note though, that these were not the new style GK signs with just the brewery logo), then we went to chat to The Nutshell's landlord and get out our tape measure to prove its diminuitiveness.

    Finally we chat to two regulars who proclaim their love for the pub and the various characters who pass through its doors in the name of tourism. A closer look though reveals that these regulars are not drinking the local ale, but Guinness!

    So after a few minutes of wonderful advertizing for GK, we are left with the two customers who won't touch the stuff. What does that say I wonder?

    Tuesday, 13 May 2008

    My First CAMRA Meeting

    I didn't get to write a post last night to celebrate my first birthday, because I went to my first ever CAMRA meeting!!

    The meeting was partly a planning meeting for the Northampton Beer Festival in a couple of weeks time, which I am not only working at, but helping to compile the tasting notes for the programme.

    I was lucky in that the meeting was held walking distance from my house, in my village, at the Wootton Working Men's Club. The club presented with the Branch Club of The Year award on the night. It is rare that a WMC has six real ales on, and the beer quality is certainly very good.

    I enjoyed the meeting a lot, and met some nice people who are very keen on their real ale.

    The meeting was chaired by the Great Oakley brewer whose Wagtail was in sensational form, so much so I had three pints of it, which hasn't happened with any beer for a very long time. It's a beer he should be very proud of.

    I'm looking forward to working at the festival for the first time, even though I'm promised it's going to be bloody hard work!

    I'll be putting updates on the plans for the festival here as I get them.

    My One Year Anniversary

    Yesterday was the one year anniversary of starting my blog. I was too busy to do a post in celebration (more on that later), but I'd like to now thank everyone for reading my little part of the internet.

    It's pretty amazing that I've stuck such a project out for a year already; normally my will power means I stick with something for a very short period before getting fed up and ceasing. I think it's testiment to you guys though and your interesting comments that allow me to enjoy doing this as much as I do.

    There's a fair few British beer blogs now, all of which I read and enjoy. I think we all write with diferent styles but there's definitely a place for that.

    Hopefully I'll still be around in twelve months time for my two year anniversary.

    Cheers to you all.

    Sunday, 11 May 2008

    Dog Beer In The UK

    Apparently if your dog watches you drinking beer (s)he will want to too. I know animals like to copy but I'm not sure they're particularly bothered what they are drinking as long as they've got something to wet their whistle.

    In spite of this, the Dutch introduced Kwispelbier last year, which is designed as a beer for dogs. Now though, that very same beer is available in Pets At Home stores in the UK. Imaginatively renamed (or should that be rebadged) as Dog Beer, this dealcoholized beer can be bought for £1.99 for a 330 ml bottle.

    I haven't got a dog, but if I did I'd give him real beer if he really wanted it rather than this effort. Actually, I'd be more inclined to try it myself; well it's another tick!

    Friday, 9 May 2008

    The Best Food Pubs In The UK

    Eat Out Magazine has compiled a list of the 100 best food pubs in the UK. Using evidence from its readers as well as the media they have come up with The Olive Branch in Rutland as its number one pub.

    It's nice to see that as well as good food, the pub takes a positive attitude where its beer is concerned, favouring local brewers.

    As the crow flies it's one of the nearest pubs on the list to my home, although I've never been. I'm not at all surprised that no Northamptonshire pubs appear on the list.

    Thursday, 8 May 2008

    Reading Beer Festival - Huge Queues

    I didn't get to the Reading Beer Festival this year. Actually I didn't go last year either, but I did go in 2006 and was very impressed with the vast range of beers, both British and foreign, and what is probably the largest range of ciders outside GBBF.

    I read today that 14700 visitors drank more than 55000 pints of beer and 10000 pints of cider. That's an impressive statistic, and it's obvious Reading festival really does draw in the crowds.

    I have heard from friend though that they queued for more than two hours, and in one case I've heard three and a half just to get in. That can't be much fun! Beer festivals really can be ridiculously popular, but I harp back to a previous article I wrote. I much prefer going to the day sessions. It's very rare you need to queue to get in during the day.

    Tuesday, 6 May 2008

    Beer Of The Month - April 2008

    Sixty six new beers for me in April. Around half of these were at two festivals whilst most of the others were in various pubs. I drank very little at home during the month for some reason.

    To be honest, quality wise it was a below average month. Only two beers from the bottle are worthy of particular mention. I had an unseasonal bottle of Corsendonk Christmas at the beginning of the month. This is one of those rare beers that actually deserves to have the word 'Christmas' in it, being nicely spiced. Good brown fruits also. This was bettered by the bottle of Mikkeller Santa's Little Helper which Phil smuggled into Coventry Beer Festival. Phil stated this was a couple of years old, and that bit of age and maturity could be tasted. This is a 10% beer from Denmark brewed in the Belgian style, and has some very rewarding malty and yeasty flavours. It is a deserving winner of bottle beer of the month.

    From the cask, I enjoyed Oakham Quint whilst on a stroll around Leicester. Oakham never fail to impress, and later in the month I enjoyed No Bully Dozer also. Both beers are hoppy as expected. Coventry BF provided the four other really nice cask beers of the month. Two porters in Fullers London Porter, and Bazens Knoll Street Porter; a hoppy Alehouse Sauvin So Good, and Dark Star Over The Moon Mild, all vie for top spot, but it's the Fullers which gets it.

    As stated it's the first time I've tried it in years, and it's almost as good as I remember. A complex fruity, roasty, smoky porter with some chocolate and caramel edges. It just goes to show that Fullers can brew some great stuff when they put their mind to it. This wins not only cask beer of the month, but the overall prize too.

    Friday, 2 May 2008

    The Session #15 - How It All Started

    November 1992, I get a phone call from my parents asking if I fancy a few days in the Lake District between Christmas and New Year. That sounds like a nice idea; let's go for it says I.

    I'd never really been bothered about beer before. Sure I drank it, and 'bitter' was my choice over lager, but I wasn't that concerned about the nuances of the drink. I knew I enjoyed Wells Bombardier, Marstons Pedigree (believe me, it was nice in the early 90's) and I'd had some lovely Boddingtons in a pub near Manchester once, but ask me to name a few other good beers and I honestly couldn't.

    So the trip to The Lake District ensued, and, for some reason I cannot remember, we visited The Masons Arms in Strawberry Bank. A remote pub, but famed the nation over. A quick look at the bar revealed a few real ales and books on the tables showed that the pub had a pretty good range of foreign bottled beers. I don't think we were aware before we got there, but the pub brewed its own beers back then, but one beer, or to be precise its name and pumpclip, just said 'drink me'.

    That year Mauldons Black Adder had won Champion Beer Of Britain; an award I'd not even heard of. The pumpclip proudly advertized this award, and added to the fact that Blackadder sounded like a pretty cool name (the television programme hadn't started yet), we had to order some. It was delicious. A roasty full bodied dark stout. It seemed very complex and so flavoursome. This was probably the best beer I'd ever had the joy of tasting.

    It was wonderful. But, it would have been rude not to try the home brewed stuff, so we then had some Amazon Bitter. To be honest after the Black Adder, this was really bland. From memory it was just an ordinary bitter with sessionable qualities, but it couldn't stand up to the stout we'd just had.

    So a third beer was called for, and especially for the season, the pub had their homebrewed Damson Beer on. Now this sounded both wierd and exciting. I didn't know about fruit in beers, and I don't even think I'd ever eaten a damson in my life. The beer itself was a potent 9%, and quite strange to my tastebuds, it was pretty sour, and I'm not sure I liked it.

    But I'd tried three beers, all very different. I'd been shown in one lunchtime session what a versatile and exciting drink beer is, and I wanted more.

    We had a few more beers that holiday, mostly from Northern breweries, and although nothing matched the beauty of that Black Adder, I enjoyed each and every one. A hobby was born, and thousands of different beers later, I'm still discovering new things.

    That's how it started for me. Mum and Dad - it's all your fault!!!

    Thursday, 1 May 2008

    Mild In May

    Today marks the start of CAMRA's annual mild month. During this month pubs make an extra effort to put more milds through their pumps, and events are held to celebrate this much underrated drink.

    I'm a big fan of mild and am lucky to have two of the very best brewed on my doorstep: Potbelly Beijing Black, and Great Oakley Welland Valley Mild. There will, no doubt, be an abundance of these two beers in my local decent freehouses. I would prefer it however if a changing mild was a permanent sign at better pubs. The volumes drank during May suggest that it's an admired style, and the (usually) low alcohol content makes it an ideal beer for a session.

    I'm not sure who is to blame for the relative scarcity of mild during the other eleven months of the year. Is it the consumer who would rather drink other types of ale; the publican who is nervous whether it's salable; or the brewer who doesn't produce enough of it.

    I think that the current fashion of calling mild by another name as Lees have done with their Brewers Dark, and Everards have done with their latest beer is probably going to see an upturn in sales.

    It's a real shame though that brewers feel that they have to do this. I prefer to call a spade a spade.

    I've not been to a pub today but I'll try to keep an eye out for milds during the month, and let you know the best I sample in early June.