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    Thursday, 30 October 2008

    Wetherspoons Fest - Day One

    Today is the first day of the latest Wetherspoons International Real Ale festival, and as is typical Northampton's Spoons has started with a whimper rather than a bang. Just the three festival beers amongst the usual bog standard regular beers were to be found here..Old Baily, Jolly Ploughman and Yona Yona were present.

    Thankfully the Lloyds No 1 fared better as all four pumps had festival beers: Firestone Walker California Pale Ale; Thwaites Nutty Black; Brains Top Notch and Shepherd Neame Fuggles. It's a shame that whereas friends of mine have been drinking the festival beers elsewhere in the country since the weekend and their bars are stocked full of the stuff today that Northampton has made such a slow start. Still, it hopefully means there are lots of goodies to come.

    For the record I was completely underwhelmed by the Firestone Walker. Not a sign of the chinnok, centennial or cascade in my glass; just the merest hint of lemon. Maybe I'll try it again.

    Tuesday, 28 October 2008

    Silverstone - Our New County Brewery Confirmed

    So Silverstone is in Northants. More information can be found here. I would write more, including providing a little about the history of brewing in Syresham, but I'm off to the pub in ten minutes, so that'll have to wait for another day.

    At least I can confirm a new county brewery though.

    Monday, 27 October 2008

    Silverstone Brewing Co - Ready For The Off

    The Milton Keynes Beer Festival this week sees what appears to be the launch of the Silverstone Brewing Company. This may, or may not be a brand new Northamptonshire brewery as, at this stage the actual brewing address appears to be a mystery.

    I have found this article which mentions Cold Higham which is in the county, but according to comments on the yahoo group Scoopgen, the brewery may be in Bucks.

    I will be disappointed if it is situated outside the county and is playing on the popularity of the name "Silverstone".

    I shall be going to the festival, all being well, on Saturday. I should have more information then, if not before, although I doubt I'll get to try the beer, as it's sure to sell out pretty quickly.

    Thursday, 23 October 2008

    I Don't Love Islay

    I rated my 4000th beer on RateBeer recently. I happened to be in the pub knowing that the third new beer I drank that day would be the one that brought that milestone up. Fortunately, I was in The Criterion in Leicester so chances were I could choose something a little out of the ordinary.

    I espied BrewDog Storm in the fridges and decided that would be the beer of choice. My brain ain't what it used to be, so although I recalled it was a strong beer (8%), I didn't remember what was different about it. However I was reminded of its special feature when the request for the beer was met with the comment from the barman: "Have you had it before? It's horrible". It was then that I remembered: Islay!!! I really like BrewDog beers normally. Their Speyside Paradox Imperial Stout is top drawer as are number of their regular beers, especially the Punk IPA. However the Islay Cask Paradox was totally wrong according to my palate. I knew this was going to be a struggle.

    And it was! I'm sure this is a very well brewed beer, and the whisky flavours are certainly distinctive, and very noticeable. But Islay just isn't for me, and I really could not taste anything else at all. Beer experiments are sometimes a good thing. I love the way BrewDog push the boat out. Tokyo is another example of an extremely good extreme BrewDog beer.

    But please - in future - don't put beer in an Islay cask. Send it back to the distillery where it belongs.

    Tuesday, 21 October 2008

    Too Much Beer Or Not Enough?

    The life of a beer festival organiser cannot be a happy one at times. Sure it's very rewarding seeing the crowds of drinkers having a great time sampling all those wonderful beers, but something that would haunt me for weeks beforehand is getting the beer order right.

    Which is worse? Running out of beer a few hours before closing time, or throwing away gallons at the end of the night? Is it possible to get it spot on so that there's just enough left for the staff to have a quick knees up after the doors close?

    It's very rare that I visit a festival on the last day, but I hear reports from a fair few and I know that there are festivals who find themselves at both ends of the spectrum, and may swing from one to the other from one year to the next. At Oxford on Saturday the beer was running out fast and apparently did end a few hours before closing. At Northampton this year we had quite a lot left, whereas the year before it did run out.

    I think given the choice I would throw I away. It's certainly not ideal, and wastage of any type doesn't sit well with me, but as long as a profit is made, then I think it can be justified rather than be in a situation where a large number of punters are cheesed off with the beer running out.

    It's a tricky decision but someone's got to make it. Nobody ever said being in charge is a bed of roses.

    Monday, 20 October 2008

    Marking Up The Third Pint Price

    I'm all for offering third pints measures at pubs and beer festivals as I've mentioned on more than one occasion. I don't always choose to drink nips, but it's nice to have the option.

    What I do expect though, is that the price of a third is roughly 33.3% of that of a pint. I accept rounding, so a pint at £2.60 translates to a third at 90 pence.

    I was at the Oxford Beer Festival on Saturday, and was struck by the mark up in prices of thirds. A £2.60 pint was being sold not at 90p but £1. That's 40 pence more for three thirds than for a pint. A half pint was the expected £1.30, so why the discrepancy?

    There's surely no additional overheads in pouring three thirds that warrants this extra charge. A publican may argue with me that's there's three times the washing up, but that's not the case at a festival.

    I'm not sure if festivals are autonomous of CAMRA, but I can't imagine this is national policy. And if it is I'd really like to know how it is justified.

    Thursday, 16 October 2008

    Nottingham Beer Festival - It's A Big 'Un

    In terms of the number of real ales available, Nottingham comes second only to GBBF. In terms of beer rarity and new brewery availability, most would say it's the best in the UK. It certainly is the number one festival to play scoop the scooper.

    I only managed a short session there this year on the opening afternoon; and with a near two hour bus journey required to get me home, my drinking capabilities were reduced on account of bladder control.

    The festival moved location this year, taking place in the grounds of the castle moving from its previous leisure centre home, complete with perilous covered swimming pool. As with all venue changes it came with teething problems. My two friends and I walked unchallenged through the castle walls where apparently we should have paid an entrance fee, and been presented with a blue wristband. We realised something was amiss when glasses and beer tokens were refused on account of being wristband-less. Fortunately common sense prevailed and we were allowed to pay at the membership counter, thus taking away any requirement to walk back down and then up again the small hill. The canvass seemed to be sweating also, as frequent drips of something undesirable fell with regularity on our personages.

    That's it for complaints though. The beer selection was excellent and the quality was more than acceptable. I only had nine halves, but of these I have to mention Bollington White Nancy, a really nice hoppy golden beer from this new Cheshire micro, named after that odd looking thing on the right.

    Sometimes a festival is too big for its own good. Some might say this about Nottingham as its vast range of beers is more than enough for anyone and you feel unbelievably spoilt for choice, but if you take it at face value and just drink what you can manage and what you fancy then there's no excuse for going home unhappy.

    I got home happy, bladder intact (just). Next year all being well I'll have a longer stint there. Maybe I'll sit outside and take in the views with the wind blowing in my hair - hey Simon ;-)

    Tuesday, 14 October 2008

    SIBA Beer Of The Midlands

    I was at Nottingham Beer Festival last Thursday - more on which at a later date - where the SIBA Beer Of The Midlands award was being judged. The results can be found here.

    I'm a bit skeptical why a monthly special such as Screech Owl is allowed to enter such a competition. I didn't drink the beer so cannot comment on its quality, but to enter such a competition, I feel the beer should be produced for more than one month and then discontinued, which would have been the case with this beer brewed under the Natural Selection banner.

    Castle Rock may decide on the back of this victory to produce the beer more regularly, but I don't suspect that was the intention, and if the beer had not have placed, we would not have seen it again.

    Northamptonshire breweries only carried off two bronzes, with Frog Island Croak and Stagger, and Potbelly Crazy Daze. Congratulations to them, but I'm suprised Beijing Black didn't feature or any of the Great Oakley beers. Oh well, there's always next year!

    Sunday, 12 October 2008

    Another Friday - Another Northants Beer Festival

    The George at Tiffield was the scene of the second succesive Northamptonshire Beers Festival weekend following three pubs event.

    I went on the Friday night, meeting up there with a crowd from Northants CAMRA. There were fourteen beers from Frog Island, Great Oakley, Hoggleys, Nobbys, and Potbelly. I didn't try them all, not suprisingly, but do have to report that Potbelly Beijing Black again took pride of place, although Great Oakley Gobble wasn't far behind.

    It's great that local pubs can put in festivals of this nature in their pursuit of LocAle status. It's not many years ago that there weren't enough breweries in the county to do this. I'm pretty sure all our breweries are doing well, and long may it continue.

    Wednesday, 8 October 2008

    Church Pews

    What's with all the church pews in pubs? The Good Beer Guide seems to make a big deal of mentioning whether this form of seating is available in pubs.

    Let's make one thing clear: I don't have a big arse, yet the bloody things are far too small and uncomfortable for me to sit on. Is this a deliberate ploy to ban fatties from the premises? I think a phone call to the equality and human rights commission may be in order next time you can't find a seat wide enough to park your bum.

    Tuesday, 7 October 2008

    Beer Of The Month - September 2008

    September was a pretty quiet month for new beers. I had 43 new beers in total; most of these were during my North Yorkshire holiday although I did of course go to St Albans Beer Festival. The vast majority of those beers were bottled.

    Only one cask beer actually stood out, which was the 8% Cropton Old Goat which I had in the brewpub. I enjoyed the fruity and vinuous qualities of this English Barley Wine.

    A few bottles were worthy of a mention. Left Hand Smoked Goosinator Doppelbock was pretty authentic tasting although there was less smoke in the aroma. For an American beer, even a take on a German one, it had no excessive hoppiness. Back in May 2007, I awarded Samuel Smiths Organic Cherry Fruit Beer my bottled beer of the month. This month I had, and thoroughly enjoyed the raspberry version. I suspect many would be horrified at quite how fruity this is, and accuse it of being too syrupy sweet, but I found it fun and very moreish. It would certainly stand up to the more commercial fruit beers from Belgium. It's pipped at the post though for best bottled beer of the month by Mikkeller It's Alight!. I loved the funky hoppy bretty sourness of this beer, and at just 4.5% it was seriously impressive.

    Being a sucker for strong beers though, it's the Old Goat which gets overall BOTM. It's a beer I've never seen in the free trade or at a festival, but it's worth seeking out of you can.

    Monday, 6 October 2008

    A Triangular/Circular Beer Festival

    Take three pubs in three relatively close together villages; put on six extra casks of Northamptonshire beers and you've got yourself a beer festival. One which we christened "The Triangle Beer Festival", although on arrival at the first pub we ascertained that the logo for the fest had the pubs' three names around a circle - so an immediate fail on the shape of events.

    The festival was monumental in that it became the event which heralded my first CAMRA branch trip. Oh yes, I have overcome the shyness that some would say doesn't really exist, and gone on a minibus pub crawl with people who were mostly strangers at the start of the evening, and thoroughly enjoyed myself, and will hopefully lead me to participating in many more crawls. After all being driven to beer festivals is pretty heavenly.

    The three pubs involved, in the order we visited them, were The Griffin's Head, in Mears Ashby; The Royal Oak, in Walgrave; and The White Swan in Holcot. All of these village locals were busy - probably busier than usual - and much ale was being consumed. The breweries represented were Digfield, Great Oakley, Hoggleys, Nobbys and Potbelly. Frog Island beers would have been there too, but a temporary period of hospitalisation of the brewer put a scupper on that.

    Having sampled all the beers on offer before I was able to try some old favourites rather than just having new beers for the sake of it. The two beers which stood out for me, as expected were Beijing Black from Potbelly, and Great Oakley's Welland Valley Mild. These two excellent beers are testament to how good milds can be, and proof that some great beer is brewed in this county.

    On the non-beer front, the landlord of The Griffin's Head presented us with a free huge bowl of steamingly hot chips to show his appreciation of our visit. This was a nice touch which sadly wasn't replicated at the other two pubs but beggars can't be choosers. The festival, which hasn't happened before appeared to be a great success and should certainly be repeated in the future. Such shared festivals are getting more common around these parts and in times of pub closures are perhaps a good way of getting more custom at what might otherwise be quiet times.

    Thursday, 2 October 2008

    Going Foreign In St Albans

    This year was the fourth time I've been to St Albans Beer Festival. In terms of beer selection it's pretty good with a nice balance of common stuff, rarer stuff from new breweries and lots of local beers. Being in CAMRA's hometown there's a bit of beer journo spotting to be done earlier in the week too.

    One thing I've been disappointed with over the years though has been the beer quality. I could conjecture as to the cause of the beer not tasting as fresh as it could be, but I'm sure my opinions would have their critics. I do think though that indoor festivals during the warmer months do have their difficulties.

    But UK beer festivals are often much more than cask beer these days, and St Albans has a great foreign selection. This year was no exception so I took my Belgian beer glass along and worked my way through a number of new (to me) foreign beers. It's a more expensive way of enjoying a beer festival but at least condition isn't an issue. It's something I could find myself doing more and more.

    For the record I drank:

    Mikkeller It's Alight!
    Het Levenswater Dikke Deur Blont
    Riedenburger Michaeli Dunkel Hefeweissbier
    Agullons Pura Pale Extra Bitter
    Alvinne Lex'ke
    Klein Duimpje Juniper Ale
    Flying Dog Road Dog Scottish Porter
    Scheldebrouwerij 't Schoenlappertje

    The last beer and the Juniper ale were the worst of the bunch, whilst the clear winner was the hoppy and bretty Mikkeller; another triumph for his superb Danish brewery.

    I can get cask ales any day I want in my good local freehouses, but these unusual foreign beers are much more uncommon, and a treat to behold.

    Northampton 9am

    Picture the scene, a Midlands town market square; people going to work, shops just opening up. Market traders putting the finishing touches to their stalls, and outside the Wetherspoons a small queue is forming.

    I would like to think that they are eagerly anticipating opening time so they can have a mug of coffee with their vegetarian breakfast, but somehow I doubt it. I'm all for extending opening hours so pubs don't have to shut at 11pm, but who really needs a pint at 9am?