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    Thursday, 31 July 2008

    A Shop With No Beer

    If there's one business venture I've read about this year which deserves to succeed, it's the shop Stephen Thompson is opening next month in Leyland, Lancashire.

    Stephen is described as a reformed alcoholic and his love of booze saw him at Death's door. Now however he is opening a shop which sells non alcoholic drinks only. But Stephen isn't selling soft drinks, teas and coffees. Instead he's sourced what appears to be a large amount of non-alcoholic beers, wines, spirits and licquors.

    These are not my types of tipple, but you've got to admire him, and hope that the risk he is taking by ploughing his life savings into the venture pays dividends. Good luck mate!

    Wednesday, 30 July 2008

    Oz And James' Big Beer Adventure

    Not since the late Michael Jackson's The Beer Hunter, have we had a decent television series in the UK about beer. Dom Joly tried to feature beer in his Happy Hour series but only ended up with a piece of car crash television as he got drunk and unintentionally insulted Daisy in 't Brugs Beertje.

    Now though, something decent might be afoot, as James May and Oz Clarke are currently filming around Britain, visiting pubs and seeking out the perfect pint. At the weekend they visited the famous Stalybridge Buffet Bar, and it looked like a fantastic time was had by all.

    Oz is a serious drinks journalist, and James will be trying his damnedest to show him that beer is every bit as good as wine. I think though having read and heard Oz's opinions on the matter, that he is a big beer fan anyway, so the series should be a relatively serious study of our favourite beverage.

    The series is due to air in October, and I for one, am looking forward to it.

    Tuesday, 29 July 2008

    Greene King Penny Pinching

    Talking of Greene King, I see that the Loch Fyne fish restaurants which they own are failing to pay its staff the legitimate national minimum wage. GK obviously feel that the tips its overworked and underpaid waiting staff receive elevate their incomes to respectable levels.

    Clearly the multi million pound brewery closing company are struggling if they are counting the pennies to such an extent.

    Summer Breeze - A Deception

    I picked up a bottle of Summer Breeze at the weekend. To the uninitiated you would think this beer is brewed by a certain George Gale & Co Ltd; that being the company name emblazoned on both the front and back labels.

    There is no mention of the actual brewing company Fullers anywhere although the postcode of the West London site can be spotted. A further deception exists on both the beer cap and the small neck label. Both have the old Gales horsehead emblem and the words "Established since 1847" No mention then of "Acquired in 2005".

    So why should I care? Well, I'll try not to let it get my blood pressure too high, but obviously Fullers care enough to have made the decision not to print their own name anywhere. I have no real objection to their using the Gales name, especially if the beer existed before the takeover, although I'm not so sure it did. However a brief mention of the actual brewing company should be somewhere on the bottle.

    After all even Greene King do that on their fake brewery beers such as Ruddles Rhubarb et al.

    Friday, 25 July 2008

    The First Decent Victim Of The Smoking Ban?

    It's been six years or so since I've drank in Manchester. When I did, I was a pretty desperate ticker so spent most of my time in The Smithfield, The Beer House or The Marble Arch. However on my walks to and fro the pubs from my city centre hotel, I would usually pass The Castle on Oldham Street.

    I was aware of it being a drinkers pub with a good range of Robinsons' beers, and a pretty much perennial entrant in the GBG, but as scooping a Robbos beer was not high on my agenda I never went in. That's a real shame, because for one thing it has an interestingly attractive exterior, and, no doubt, is pretty eclectic inside, and for a second thing I'll not get the chance again. The Castle appears to be the first regular Good Beer Guide entry to close and blame it on the smoking ban. Most of us have opined that decent pubs are coping, if not flourishing in the wake of the ban, but here we have something different.

    I can see that the lack of a rear smoking area is a real issue for a city centre pub which only has a narrow pavement onto the road at the front. There's obviously nothing the brewery or publican can do about location, and unfortunately The Castle may therefore be the first of a few to meet the same predicament.

    The article linked to suggests that today is the final day of its life. If anyone's in Manchester tonight do go in and raise a glass at its passing.

    Thursday, 24 July 2008

    How Important Is Apperance?

    I used to think food was all about the taste, and if it looked like a pile of crap on the plate it really didn't matter as it's the experience in the mouth which is all important. I still believe that flavour is more important than the visual aspect of a meal, but I have come round to the idea that an atractive plate of food does help the overall experience.

    So what of beer? All the ratings sites out there ask you to score on appearance as well as the more familiar aroma, taste and palate. So how important are looks and how does one decide which beer looks better than another?

    I have to admit I'm a sucker for dark beers and if it's got a lovely brown, tan or beige head then my mouth is salivating already. I'm likely to give those beers maximum score. An anaemic pale lager or a disgustingly (and unexpectedly) hazy beer is likely to score minimum marks. However, what about a hefeweizen or a Belgian Wit which is supposed to be cloudy? I have to say it's not as attractive as a stout, and the haziness immediately results in the beer losing marks for me. Similarly lambics are not as pretty as stouts. And as for the vast majority of British cask ales, they are just average looking and get a middle of the road score.

    The problem with scoring appearance is that, for me, the best tasting beer in the World cannot score top marks if it's not dark with a good head. I know that food critics would take marks off if a plate of food is not wholly acceptable on the eye, but is it fair that beer raters like myself cannot give the vast majority of beers full marks?

    I realise that fundamentally this is a debate for elsewhere, but how important are looks for you?

    Monday, 21 July 2008

    Merton Summer BF - Top Job

    Merton Summer Beer Festival was as good as expected. When the following things are on offer:

    Good beer
    Good ciders and perries
    Good company
    Good staff
    Teenagers covering Motorhead's The Ace Of Spades
    And better weather than expected

    then you know you are onto a winner.

    I printed the beer list last week, and worked my way through a fair few of them. My favourites were Custom Special Mild, Marble JP Best and best of all Dark Star Hylder Blonde. The Beer Of The Festival as voted for by the customers was the Marble beer, which is a worthy choice and is testament to the good stuff being brewed by Marble at the moment.

    Fellow RateBeerians Mes and Angelo brought along a bottle of Marble Decadence and BrewDog Tokyo to share. These were pretty rich and extravagent Imperial Stouts and went down a treat. Big thanks go to them for that.

    There really is something to be said for these small intimate festivals as opposed to the massive CAMRA run ones which seem to be growing year on year. As long as the beer list is carefully chosen and the beer condition good then that's enough for me. That's certainly the case at Merton. I'll be back early next year for the 2009 Winter Fest!

    Sunday, 20 July 2008

    GBBF 2008 - The American Beers

    Sometimes you get some news which is almost too good to share. I've been keeping my eyes on the list of foreign beers that will be at this year's Great British Beer Festival for a few weeks, and although the list has slowly grown and with that growth become slightly better, nothing has prepared me for the final list which has appeared today.

    The cask list has been there a week or so, and is very impressive. I am particularly looking forward to the highly rated The Angel's Share. However, just check out the list of American bottled beers we are promised. There's a couple of breweries there I've not heard of, although I'll be researching them before going to Earls Court. OK, so there are limited quantities of about twenty odd of them, but these are beers which we may never see in this country again, and are not to be missed.

    For those of us who are going to be there for the first couple of days, we are really spoilt for choice. Thank you BSF beer purchaser!!

    Wednesday, 16 July 2008

    The Independent - A Larger Newspaper

    Today's Independent has a pretty decent article on beer, in parts heavily quoting Adrian Tierney-Jones and also Alex Bell, head brewer of O'Hanlons

    It's certainly better than most articles on beer in the British press, including the quality papers. It's such a shame than that the writer was allowed some freedom to make up their own stuff and not rely totally on those better qualified to write such pieces.

    If you can't be bothered to read the whole article, just scan to the bottom paragraph, and read these fascinating words:

    "What determines whether a beer is an ale, a bitter or a larger is down to the amount and type of hops as well as the malted barley, but is primarily due to the strain of yeast." And yes, I've reproduced the wonderous spelling mistake. I'll say no more.

    Tuesday, 15 July 2008

    Duvel Triple Hop - Was It Worth It?

    Before Christmas I wrote about the expensive Duvel Triple Hop which was available in Sainsbury's stores for a month or two. I stated at the time that the expense had to be risked as experiencing the beer was something which had to be done, and not to buy would be to regret.

    Well, last month I tried it, and to be perfectly honest, it wasn't particularly special. To look at, it was very similar to Duvel in that it was golden with that huge rocky white head, but its aroma and taste were different, and not an improvement on its stablemate. To my palate it didn't taste any hoppier; I think the extra alcohol came through but the hops were perhaps unbalanced in their complexity. I didn't get any Amarillo at all, instead feeling the beer was dominated by the European hops. I felt a little ripped off to be honest, not so much by the price, but by the idea of the beer and the hype around its supposed extra hops. I felt the same when I sampled Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel last year.

    Given a choice over Triple Hop and regular Duvel even at the same price I'd choose the regular. Allowing for the fact I can buy 4 750s for the price of one Triple Hop though, it's a complete no brainer.

    Monday, 14 July 2008

    Merton Summer BF - Beer List

    Back in February I wrote about the excellent Merton Winter Beer Festival. Well this weekend is the Summer version, which has a slightly larger beer range which is produced below.

    This is a really friendly festival in the village hall, staffed by enthusiastic helpful staff. The opening times are 6 pm until 11 on Friday and noon until 11 on Saturday. Myself and a number of fellow RateBeerians will be there on Saturday. It promises to be a good day.

    Beer List

    Bank Top Dark Mild - 4%
    Black Hole No Escape - 5.2%
    Bowman Maximus - 3.5%
    Breconshire Ysbrid y Ddraig - 5.5% (Bowmore Cask aged)
    Castle Rock Bumble Bee - 4.5%
    Celt Experience Bronze - 4.5%
    Custom Special Mild 4.8%
    Dark Star Hylder Bonde - 4.2%
    Hadrian&Border Newcastle Pioneer - 4.3%
    Harwich Town Lighthouse Bitter - 4.8%
    Harwich Town Parkeston Porter - 4.5%
    Hornbeam Top Hop 4.2%
    High House Farm Maften Magic - 4.8%
    Leeds Midnight Bell - 4.8%
    Leeds Samba - 3.7%
    Marble JP Best - 4.3%
    Mighty Oak Good Shed Buffer Ale - 4.2%
    Newby Wyke White Sea - 5.2%
    Oakham Atilla - 7.5%
    Old Bear Black Mari’a - 4.2%
    Pictish Admiral - 4.2%
    Rooster Outlaw Wild Mule- 3.9%
    Saltaire Blackberry Cascade - 4.8%
    Stonehenge Eye Opener - 4.5%
    York Centurions Ghost - 5.4%
    York Centennial - 4%
    Wylam Angel - 4.3%
    White Park First Flight - 3.7%

    There will also be what is promised to be an excellent bottled homebrewed American style IPA from RateBeer user Casey (aka Doppelganger), which will probably put all the above beers to shame!!

    Saturday, 12 July 2008

    Bells Brewery's New Shop

    Back in September I wrote about visiting the Bells brewery off licence at Ullesthorpe Garden Centre. Well now it's moved, and I'm not really sure why.

    They've moved just a few miles away to the sprawling village of Broughton Astley which is still quite near to Junction 20 but not as close as Ullesthorpe. Whereas the previous shop doubled up as a farm shop and mini delicatessen, this one sells booze and homebrew stuff only.

    The previous shop would have attracted tons of drop in trade from people visiting the garden centre and had ample parking. This shop is in the middle of a narrow main street with little parking. It really seems to be a strange choice of location. I seriously worry about the viability but hope my worries are unfounded.

    As for the beer, I bought a few bottles including Parish Baz's Bonce Blower which should be fun. By the way, the shop is now called Quench which is very modern!!

    Wednesday, 9 July 2008

    Northants Brewers At GBBF - Just 2 From 8

    CAMRA have announced the British breweries who will be represented at this year's GBBF. It's a pretty long list and includes all the big players.

    For some reason though, there's only two breweries from Northants: Great Oakley, and Potbelly. This is a low amount and just represents 25% of our real ale producers. I wonder what the issue is here?

    Tuesday, 8 July 2008

    Mikkeller Beers In The UK

    Blog sponsors have today announced what is a major coup for a British importer. They have imported a fine selection of beers from Denmark's Mikkeller Brewery. I've eulogised about Mikkeller beers a few times on this blog and awarded one of their beers Beer Of The Month in March.

    The case features nine different beers from the brewery awarded sixth in the World in the latest RateBeer Best awards. All of these beers are highly rated and only two (Jackie Brown and Beer Geek Breakfast) have been sold in the UK before. There are hoppy American styled ales, a couple of Belgian styled beers and a 17.5% Imperial Stout included in the box. So a varied selection of styles as well.

    Hopefully this isn't a once in a lifetime opportunity to get hold of these beers but I do recommend people get in quickly as advance orders are being taken from today. Oh, and you get one of the splendid Beermerchants glasses too. What a bargain!!

    Beer Of The Month - June 2008

    June was a pretty quiet month with just 51 new beers rated. Of these, only eight were bottled beers, as drinking at home in the evenings was effected by my youngest daughter screaming long into most nights instead of going to bed early as good girls should (I'll show her this when she's older and blame her for reducing my drinking!).

    Two of those bottled beers were rather good, and they were both from Scotland. Inveralmond Lia Fail is not bottle conditioned, yet nor is it pasteurized. It is a nice fruity beer with hints of chocolate and some nice cascade hops in the nose. Better though, and bottled beer of the month was Williams Midnight Sun. This porter was a Tescos Beer Challenge winner, and well worth that award it is too. It has good coffee and oatmeal notes, and then a lovely kick of root ginger. It all moulds together really well. Williams Bros make very good bottled beers, and this is certainly no exception.

    My cask drinking this month has mostly been around Northampton, except for a session around Rugby. I enjoyed my first tasting of Harviestoun Bitter And Twisted for many a year. This is one of the beers which I believe started the trend of hoppy goldens in Britain, and has stood the test of time against some of the newcomers. Fernandes Solstice at The Victoria's festival was another light hoppy beer with good grapefruit notes throughout. Beartown Black Bear is a stunningly complex mild with a great mix of roasty flavours and orange citrus notes, making for a really interesting mouthfeel. Better than those three though was Elland Midsummer Nights Porter. Great roasted malts, rich coffee and a long finish are just part of the story of this great beer. It's almost a match for the stronger 1872 Porter from the same brewery. A really great beer, and worthy beer of the month.

    Wednesday, 2 July 2008

    Carlsberg Goes Dry

    Northampton has a long tradition of beer making and beer drinking. Sadly the location for what was once one of the top ten ale producers in the country, has since been built upon with the massive Carlsberg factory, or megakeggery as I like to describe it. We also have the traditional Frog Island Brewery.

    Now of course there are many reasons why I would rather work for Frog Island than Carlsberg; the take home perks must be far better for one thing. Additionally the one rule which Frog Island I'm sure do not share with their huge neighbours is their dry policy. Yes, dear reader, Carlsberg have recently banned all their staff from drinking alcohol during the working day. It's a new initiative, and not having an inside source, I'm not sure of the thinking, but it sure seems folly to disallow their staff from sensible drinking with their lunch. It's certainly affected trade over the road at The Malt Shovel at lunchtime, although they'll survive no doubt.

    It always amazes me when an employer brings in new rules which can only lessen the morale of their staff. They'll probably blame it on Health & Safety - that's always a good cop out.

    So not only has the volume of good beer being brewed diminished, but now thanks to the bosses, the amount of good beer being drank has reduced. Fools.

    Tuesday, 1 July 2008

    The Smoking Ban - One Year On

    Today is the one year anniversary of the smoking ban in England and Wales. The ban was the catalyst for my starting this blog, and I wrote a fair bit about it back in the early days. That I am not mentioning it often now is a sign that it has worked, and that the silly little rebels and their silly little campaigns have gone away. I went back to The Malt Shovel today, a year on, and as I supped thought about the ban and what it has meant for me personally.

    Pubs are nicer places to be. It is so much more pleasurable being in a pub and knowing that the people who are going to grab that empty table next to you, won't be blowing their smoke in your direction; in your eyes; or over your food.

    You can smell things. I like to smell my beer. Although aroma isn't the be all and end all, I do like to have a big sniff. Cigarette smoke used to get in the way.

    Your clothes don't stink at the end of the night. Wearing a pair of jeans the next day after going to the pub is a newly found luxury. My wife's happier that her ironing pile is smaller these days.

    Your hair doesn't smell. There's few things nastier than going to bed with smelly hair, or worse still with a partner with smelly hair.

    There are of course downsides. Outside drinking area are now the smoking zone, so sitting outside with the family isn't as nice as it once was, and those pubs where the smoking zone is right outside the main entrance are a bloody nuisance. I've also heard it said that others smells are now more noticeable such as customers' body odour, but I've not picked up on that (or perhaps it's me who smells?).

    All told then it's been a good thing. Pubs have shut, but good pubs have not shut. Inivative landlords who originally struggled have thought about and introduced things to make the customer come back. So many more countries have come on board, of course many preceded us. The Netherlands ban started today. Smoking really is on the wain ,and the ridiculous budget increase on beer should have gone towards a bigger hike in tobacco duty. Maybe next time.