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    Monday, 30 June 2008

    £3.75 A Pint

    I did a sponsored walk on Sunday. It was organised by the local Hilton Hotel, and was in aid of a charity set up by my wife's cousin. It's not often I do anything that worthy, and the feeling of doing something good, and being out in the fresh air really was pleasurable.

    A lovely buffet and as much tea/coffee/squash you could drink was laid on afterwards. Squash was the perfect drink for me, but my brother-in-law had a pint of Stella. It was the unbelievable price of £3.75 a pint.

    It's a crap drink anyway, and to pay that price is beyond belief. However, to make it worse, he had a second. Some people!!

    The Victoria Inn Rugby Beer Festival

    It's a shame I went to The Victoria Inn Beer Festival two days before Pan-C, it would have been fun to share a few jars. Thursday however was my day of choice, and I had a good but solitary time.

    Before the Victoria I nipped in The Merchants Inn whose Beer Festival I've previously written about. I have to say that sadly the choice of beers at the bar was somewhat boring, with offerings from Thwaites and Theakstons amongst the eight real ales on offer. I had a quick half of Warwickshire Best Bitter, which was below average and left. I feel it is good sense for a pub this good to have a good range of beers on when a pub in the same town is having a festival, but obviously others think different.

    I nipped into The Rupert Brooke next, to test my confidence in walking out without ordering, but I didn't need to, as cask conditioned Anker Bruin from Belgium was on offer, and very good it was too.

    From there I walked to The Vic. Pan-C writes very eloquently about the pub, and I have to say what a great boozer it is. The type of back street local we would all like, and so proud of its beer range with the handpumps standing like brave soldiers plumping out their chests. The back yard is perfect for a small stillage like we had for the festival. I had four beers from out back and three from inside. I was a bit disappointed with Taunton Castle, my first beer from this Somerset brewery but enjoyed all the other beers I tried including the hot, hot, hot Chilli Haze from Atomic. This is no Cave Creek Chili Beer. Instead it's really warming, and inviting, and almost has aphrodisiac qualities. Certainly the best chilli beer I've had.

    The Victoria is a top pub which I shall return to. The festival was well organised, and the beers carefully chosen. It was quiet on my visit, but hopefully busy at other times; it certainly deserved to be. I'm sure they will have another festival before the end of the year, but why wait that long before going back?

    Friday, 27 June 2008

    Another Reason For Dodgy Pubcos To Moan

    The water crisis in Northants, as it's now being called, is still with us and may be so for another three weeks. And of course it's yet another thing publicans can blame for falling profits.

    So to good weather, bad weather, Alistair Darling, hop shortages, England not qualifying for Euro 2008, the smoking ban etc. we can now add Anglian Water Authority to the list of why pubs are supposedly failing.

    When however you look at the reasons given by this lady, you lose all sympathy.

    We are told that:

    Customers cannot have ice in their drinks. Well poor them! I can't really see many people will stay at home because they can't have ice in their G and T, and can't they buy in their ice anyway?.

    Chefs are boiling enormous pots of water just to do the washing up. Well so are we at home. It's a sacrifice - live with it! Again it's not likely to keep the punters away.

    Pubs are buying in bottled cola and lemonade. Because the normal stuff are "boxes of syrup which are mixed with the water and then carbonated". Bloody hell, I never knew that! Well I shall avoid soft drinks in the pub in future. Oh wait; I do that already!

    Actually I've got no sympathy at all. I wouldn't be suprised if drinkng in town has actually gone up these last couple of days, because the beer and other drinks are so safe. It should be noted that the establishments in The Richardson Group portfolio, and not regular haunts of mine. It's always companies like this that do the complaining. Decent pubs just get on with it, and keep providing an excellent service.

    Wednesday, 25 June 2008

    Best Drink More Beer Then!

    There's a water scare in Northamptonshire at the moment. Unhealthy levels of cryptosporidium have been found in a local reservoir, and this bug can lead to pretty serious diarrhoea. Both my village and workplace are in affected areas, and we are told we need to boil all our water before drinking it, cleaning our teeth, or even washing our dishes.

    In my opinion, that sounds like a whole lot of work. I've got a garage full of beer, and there's plenty of good pubs around, so bugger the water; I'll have another beer.

    Tuesday, 24 June 2008

    What Is The Difference Between A Pub And A Shop?

    Well obviously you can't buy a new suit in a pub or a pint of beer in the tailors, but essentially a pub surely is a shop.

    I don't know about you, but I don't buy something in every shop I go in. I've been known to browse casually and then walk out with no purchases as there's just nothing I want to buy.

    Why then do I feel awkward about walking in a pub and walking out again without buying a drink? I've browsed the pumpclips, and seen nothing I fancy (or even like in some circumstances), so left to seek out a hostelry with better options. There really shouldn't be a compulsion to stay and spend, but it is the norm so to do.

    I wonder if you are a common pub-browser, or, perhaps more interestingly, if you work in a pub and see someone walk in, look at the beers, and walk out again, what do you make of them?

    Monday, 23 June 2008

    Good Beer At Glastonbury Shock

    I always thought Glastonbury was all mud and plastic glasses full of dodgy lager. I was surprised therefore to read that Woodfordes is supplying 50000 gallons of the good stuff to the music festival.

    I like Woodfordes beers, but sadly see them all too rarely in my locality in spite of beers from East Anglia being fairly common around here. The three chosen beers from their regular range are all nice hoppy flavoursome ales, and I'm sure the festival special Mud In Yer Eye will be pretty good also.

    It's sensible, though, that they've avoided supplying Headcracker which is an excellent barley wine, but might just be a step too far for the vast majority of the revellers.

    Sunday, 22 June 2008

    That Beer Doesn't Travel Well.

    It's a common comment I hear from my occasional beer drinking friends. It's also one which carries no water with me. I've had cask ale from the Scottish islands down here in Northampton and they've been absolutely fine. And of course we get cask beers from Japan and USA at GBBF, and they are more than acceptable.

    The truth is that the beers I'm hearing about not travelling are your pretty dodgy national or regional brewers' beers, which are mass produced with basic ingredients and sent to pubs whose landlords aren't really bothered about the quality of their ale.

    The fact is that all ale needs a period of rest after their journey to the pub, whether it be from the pub's own backyard microbrewery; a trip of a few metres, or a long journey by wholesaler's lorry down the motorway. It then needs careful handling and conditioning, and should be tasted by the staff before serving, to check it's ready. The 'travel' part of a beer's life really should be irrelevant.

    The next time someone tells me beer X doesn't travel well, I shall tell them firmly not to drink crap beer in crap pubs.

    Wednesday, 18 June 2008

    Your Beer Is Too Cold

    I was in a Wetherspoons on Monday night. The digital display showing how cold the draught lagers were was at 0.8degrees C. That's really not much warmer than ice. Surely lager shouldn't be served that cold?

    Monday, 16 June 2008

    The Greatest Pub Game In The World

    Over the years I've enjoyed the following pub games:

    Bar Billiards
    Northamptonshire Skittles
    Quiz Machines
    Arcade Games
    Fruit Machines
    Shove Ha'penny

    And possibly some others when I've had a pint or two too many. However none of these can match The Greatest Pub Game Of All.

    And that is:- balancing beer mats on the pub cat's head! See how many you can do next time you have a feline drinking companion, before it either shakes them off, or alternatively lunges at you with its claws at full extension.

    Don't say you've not been warned, but it is great fun.

    Sunday, 15 June 2008

    Fathers Day At The Working Mens Club

    Apart from an orgasmic joint of organic beef, my Father's Day treat was a trip to our local Working Men's Club. WMC's are perhaps not the usual haunt of glamourous beer bloggers such as myself, but when your village club is local CAMRA club of the year, and it serves at least five ever changing real ales, it is perhaps different from your run of the mill pigeon and whippet racing drinking establishment.

    Added to all this is the fact that the club is extremely family friendly, and what better way of celebrating Father's Day than a couple of pints with your daughters? It's not possible at your best boozers to do that.

    It seems to me that clubs could do a lot better with their beer range though, and be far more adventurous like mine is. I'd be interested to know what your local clubs are like; that's if you dare go in them.

    Saturday, 14 June 2008

    Otley O8 - Champion Beer Of Wales

    O8 from Otley Brewery has won the Champion Beer Of Wales.It is the second time in three years it has won the award, obviously really appealing to the chosen judges.

    I've lamented recently that I've been a bit disappointed with a number of Welsh beers recently. I've found them (especially the pale ones) to be a bit bland and uninteresting, and it is interesting that this beer, at a cool 8% is winning awards.

    I've only had the beer bottled, and found it to be a fairly sweet fruity barley wine, but lacking in depth of flavour, and body. I should be interested to try it on cask, and shall seek it out at festivals this summer.

    The other beer from Otley that I've had bottle conditioned is the interestingly named O-Garden, a pretty authentic play on the Belgian wit style of beer which it is amusingly named in reference to. I reckon Otley could well be a brewery to keep your eye on.

    Thursday, 12 June 2008

    Hats Off To Hertfordshire

    One of the joys of being a beer and stats geek and a premium member of RateBeer is that the package of pretty useless statistics is growing. I say useless because to most people it's just a collection of meaningless numbers only of use to the anoraks. But I'll come out and say that lists and numbes have always fascinated me. I can look at cricket scorecards and averages all day long, and if figures like that are available for beers then whoppee doo!

    One of the things we've recently done at RateBeer is broken down all the breweries into their counties, so that your stats package now includes how many beers you've rated from each county. And of course from that you can see which county has the highest average beer rating.

    My top county is Hertfordshire with 48 beers rated at an average of 3.42. That's a high score and it's almost totally due to the quality output from both Alehouse, and Buntingford. These are both breweries with a fairly prolific output but who know how to brew great stuff, especially hoppy beers.

    Bottom of the pile comes Berkshire, so the less said about them the better, so well done Hertfordshire - there will always be a place in my heart for Herts!

    Tuesday, 10 June 2008

    Phipps Beers Recreated

    I was very excited to read this article in my local paper today. Phipps Beers really are synonymous with Northampton but ceased being produced long before I had my first taste of beer. So the thought of their ales being recreated is really exciting.

    There are a few examples of defunct Phipps Brewery livery around town, I really must get around to photographing them and publishing them at some point, but how good would it be to see the logo resurrected and being seen around our pubs again?

    Archers Beers Are All Unique!

    Archers Brewery of Swindon were one of those breweries who brought out new beers almost on a weekly basis. I remember having quite a concerted debate about the legitimacy of each of these beers actually being different from all the others, at a RateBeer meeting some time ago.

    I was amused therefore to pick up the pictured beermat in a pub yesterday lunchtime. I'm not sure if this is a new beermat as they have decreased their range fairly considerably over the last year or so, but they have obviously got wind of people doubting their recipes, and feel the need to make the statement.

    Are they protesting too much?

    Friday, 6 June 2008

    My Mild May Experiences

    So, what were your experiences of mild month? I overheard a publican stating that he sold less mild in May than he does in a normal month. Is that his customers being deliberately awkward, and not drinking mild 'because CAMRA want them to'?

    For my part I did make a point of drinking it whenever I saw it, including drinking quite a few at the Northamptonshire BF. The breweries whose milds I tried are:

    Great Orme
    Dark Star

    It's not a massive list and I really should have done better but there was a good variety of milds in there from the light mild of Harveys to the warmed chocolate added to the cask by the Alehouse brewer at the last minute when he visited our festival.

    Mild sold well during the festival and was being bought by all sorts if customer. I tried to push it to people who merely asked for a dark beer and it seemed to be appreciated. I don't think mild will die out as a beer style and that's one thing I reckon we've got CAMRA to thank for.

    Thursday, 5 June 2008

    Beer Of The Month - May 2008

    I had 59 new beers during May. Most of these were cask ales drank either at The Malt Shovel's Welsh Beer Festival, my trip to Brighton, or the Northamptonshire BF.

    The average quality of beers drank during he month was good, but there were few beers which will live long in the memory. I was disappointed with the standard of the Welsh beer. This was no fault of the pub. I found most of the beers to be ordinary or in some cases, a bit wierd. The two stand out beers, though, were Conwy Mulberry Mild, and Jolly Suzanne's Stout.

    In Brighton, I mostly drank beers I'd had before including plenty of Dark Star Hophead. The best new beer I had was the excellent Pilgrim Porter, a particularly flavoursome smoky, bready porter. I also enjoyed Rectory IPA a pretty authentic IPA.

    I had 21 beers at the Northants Festival between pulling hundreds of pints for other people. Most were good and some very good. I had a few goes at the Festival Special from Great Oakley, which was an excellent fruity beer. Other good beers at the festival were Tring Tea Kettle Stout; Golden Plover and 92 Squadron, both excellent hoppy beers from the superb Buntingford Brewery, and my beer of the festival, Naylors Old Ale. The cask beer of the month by a whisker though was Pilgrim Porter.

    I didn't have many bottled beers at all, but of the few I did have, the stand out beer of the month shone like a beacon. Great Divide Hercules Double IPA has been on sale at Utobeer in London and happily for me Angelo from RateBeer picked me up a bottle. I wish I had access to more of this deliciously big and hoppy 9.1% beer from Colorado. I make no excuses for liking big beers. Some say that overhopping masks brewing flaws, but I don't care. I love the big mouthfeel of these extreme beers. This is a worthy winner of overall Beer Of The Month, and would actually win most months.

    Monday, 2 June 2008

    NorthamptonSHIRE Beer Festival - The Aftermath

    I should probably state at the outset that the festival's nomenclature is the full county, not just the town as I've been referring to it all along. Anyway, as a first time beer festival worker, I have to say I really enjoyed myself.

    I started on the Tuesday, helping set up the beers on the stillage. This involved putting gauze socks on each barrel and then taking them to the appropriate area of the stillage for placing. This was dirty work, and for a weakling as I am, quite knackering. I returned home after three hours or so knowing I'd worked bloody hard. I was filthy and thirsty, and knew I'd used what muscles I have.

    Arriving early afternoon on Wednesday, all the casks were in place, and had their taps and pegs in place. There wasn't really a lot of work to do, but I went round the majority of the 206 beers pouring a small sample to identify which of the colour coded cask end labels: yellow for light beers; pink for mid coloured, and blue for dark beers, we would need. The beers were not yet ready to drink, a lot of them looking really hazy, but they were getting there as the aroma of some of them told me.

    We opened at 5pm on Thursday, and I arrived about 1:30. Most things were in place, although the cask end labels had not yet arrived. Four of us erected a large banner between a tree and the lorry which acted as a stage. This was a tough task and one of our group fell unceremoniously from the tree. Fortunately no bones were broken. At 3 ish, the cask end labels arrived, but alas they needed laminating. What a long winded labourious task this was. Three laminating machines were on overdrive for around two hours (except for the fifteen minutes when the one I was using had to be repaired!!!). As all the other staff arrived we set them to sticking the labels on the cask, a task we completed at about 5:01. We almost made it!!

    In total the festival was open 28 hours and I worked serving beer for around half of them. It was great fun. All of the guys and gals who worked were fun to work with and we had a laugh. There was loads of staff at all times. I really cannot imagine any punters have any complaints on that score, as every one seemed to be served within seconds of choosing their beer.

    The ciders and fruit wines ran out on the Saturday early evening, but at closing time there were still around 80 beers on by my reckoning. There was no trouble (there rarely is at festivals), and of all of the customers I served just three got on my nerves. I had the expected comments and heard some funny remarks from punters which I'll save for another post, but all in all the festival went swimmingly.

    It's great testiment to the festival organiser Phil Greenway of Great Oakley Brewery and Paul Barton of The Queen Adelaide who worked like troopers arranging staff and organising the event, just how successfully everything went.

    I won't hesitate to volunteer again next year, and to any of you considering volunteering at a CAMRA beer festival - just do it!!