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    Friday, 27 February 2009

    Castle Rock Screech Owl - Available Now

    I wrote back in October about Castle Rock Screech Owl winning SIBA Beer Of The Midlands in spite of its apparently being a one off beer.

    My learned friend Mr Reluctant Scooper commented that it would become a permenant beer in the New Year. Well it appears he was right (not that I ever doubted it). I went to three Castle Rock pubs yesterday, and it was available in all three. And very good it is too. Nice and hoppy with a lovely long, almost warming body. I'm glad that it has turned out to be a beer I would recommend and that, indeed, it may be coming to a pub near you soon.

    Wednesday, 25 February 2009

    Wicksteed Park Beer Festival

    Wicksteed Park is Northamptonshire's premier amusement park. You could say it's our county's answer to Alton Towers, but that would be lying.

    Unlike Alton Towers though Wickies as us locals know it hosted a beer festival last weekend. This was the second such event and follows a successful fest in the Summer. I went on the Friday night together with a group of others from the local CAMRA branch, and had a great time.

    The beer list which numbered 35 was well chosen with a reasonable selection of local beers and some from further afield. The beer ordering was done in part by Nip from Kettering's premier free house The Alexandra Arms. Beers I had were from the following breweries; Thornbridge, Silverstone, Atomic, Abbeydale, Downton, Twickenham, Julian Church, Elland and Blue Bear. All were in good condition but particular good ones were Thornbridge Ashford and Abbeydale Vespers.

    The next festival is planned for 30 July to 2 August, and I did hear discussions that there may be 52 beers for that one. I'm looking forward to it.

    Tuesday, 17 February 2009

    Greene KIng And Spoons Kill Off Micros

    The news that Ruddles Best has replaced Greene King IPA as the 99p per pint beer of choice in Wetherspoons pubs is a dreadful thing for lovers of microbreweries and an unreal coup for Greene King.

    The brewers are said to have been worried that "given our obsessive attention to quality and the consistently high level of investment we have made in building IPA’s brand equity, we are understandably concerned about anything that might undermine this", yet they are apparently not worried that a beer which "is a well known cask brand full of flavour and character but with a relatively low abv. It is a great value, quality beer with a fine heritage and wide appeal.” might suffer the same negativity.

    No, the truth is that Greene King IPA will be joined in the top two best selling cask ales in the country by its stablemate. Greene King are on an absolute winner here and will increase their share of the market even more.

    This may initially be to the detriment of other larger breweries, but they will think of ways to fight back and the micros will lose out.

    I'm beginning to wonder if a spoons is just for festival times and best avoided otherwise.

    Monday, 16 February 2009

    An Epic Beer At Wetherspoons

    This year's first Wetherspoon International Beer Festival runs from April 15 to May 4 and is planned to be the biggest and best yet.

    There will be six 'foreign' beers available (i.e. foreign recipes brewed at British breweries by their original brewer). The first of these that has been announced is Pale Ale from New Zealand brewer Epic.

    What is interesting is that this beer which is said to have fifteen different hops (Thanks to Mr Reluctant for spotting my mistake here [see comments] although it seems it's a common misconception) is to be brewed at Everards in Leicester, rather than one of the Marstons stables of breweries. Clearly more breweries are becoming interested in aiding the brewing of interesting and tasty beers

    It is the first time this beer has been served from the cask. It should make for good drinking as, hopefully, will all the other festival exclusives.

    Sunday, 15 February 2009

    It's Not All About The Lovely Bottle

    For the umpteenth time yesterday I overheard someone in the supermarket stating how lovely a St Peters bottle was as it went into their trolley.

    It's an interesting method of choosing your beer of choice, but I guess St Peters are to congratulated as the bottles are both a talking point and obviously a selling point.

    Beer purists would state that the green glass isn't conducive to the best maintenance of the drink therein with the light able to see its way in, and the green brigade would comment how heavy the bottles are. Compare them to the new Adnams bottles which are positively lightweight by comparison.

    For me though, it's all about the beer and I'm not really too convinced with much of the range. I've just opened a bottle of Amarillo, and although it's palateable enough it's a pretty poor example of a beer which uses this wonderful hop. So bearing in mind that the art of marketing seems to be something they have mastered, better efforts in brewing would now be welcome.

    Sunday, 8 February 2009

    Rather A BrewDog Than A Watchdog

    The ongoing saga between BrewDog and The Portman Group is set to move on apace with the "bad boys of British brewing" (their words) threatening to sue the namby pamby self proclaimed watchdogs of alcohol morality.

    It's a shame things are dragging on like this and that my earlier advice appears to have been ignored.

    I'll watch proceedings with great interest and hope that common sense eventually prevails.

    Thursday, 5 February 2009

    Beer Of The Month - January 2009

    I'm not going to distinguish from now on between beers I've had before and those I haven't, when I choose my beers of the month. The only beers which are excluded are past winners. I'm not as bothered about seeking out new beers as I once was, and am far happier revisiting stuff I know is good.

    January was a quiet month on the beer front as it usually is. I didn't get out much and the beers in the garage are so cold I just couldn't be bothered bringing them in and getting them to a desirable temperature.

    As far as cask beers went I enjoyed Ascot On The Rails a dark bitter from a brewery I've consistently enjoyed. Castle Rock Black Gold in the brewery tap: The Vat & Fiddle in Nottingham; was as good as ever; a roasty yet citric mild, very much a modern beer. But the best cask ale was Thornbridge Jaipur IPA in The Kean's Head, also in Nottingham. This is the first time I've had this beer through a handpump and I think that extra pressure really brought out the fantastic hop flavours. I'm hoping to get to The Coach & Horses in Dronfield in May; that'll be a lot of fun.

    As far as bottles go I had real high hopes for Struise Mikkeller. When two fantastic brewers get together and produce a 9% hop monster IIPA, then I've got to be excited. Except I didn't get a hop bomb. What I did get was a strong Belgian ale with that Struise sweetness. I did enjoy it but it fell short of my expectations and desires.

    Far better was the first beer I had this year: Fullers Vintage Ale 2006 was as complexly fruity, bready, malty, hoppy and vinuous as I've come to expect from these annual offerings. A great beer which just shades the Jaipur as overall Beer Of The Month.

    Tuesday, 3 February 2009

    Good Beer Guide - Play Your Part

    There are over 1000 members of our CAMRA branch. Sadly there are probably less than 30 who are what would be described as 'active'. That is they attend branch meetings and take part in surveying and campaigning.

    A huge factor in this is that geographically we are a bit area, being most of the county of Northamptonshire. Meetings are spread out as much as feasible over the county, but that brings the added compliaction of driving which doesn't mix well with the consumption of ale.

    It is probably impossible for the small number of active members to visit every pub in the county to ascertain their worthiness for the Good Beer Guide; it's probable that between us we know of all the good pubs but it's not certain that we would know if pub A in tiny village B has become the real ale haven we'd all love to have on our doorstep.

    For that reason I am actively trying to promote the CAMRA National Beer Scoring Scheme, which can be found here. Scores are awarded for each pub visit with those scores ranging from nought to five with half marks allowed. Nought means the beer is undrinkable whilst five means the beer was perfect. Sure it's not a perfect system. Better beers are likely to acheive better scores than boring mass marketed beers even if they are served in the same condition because the beer experience is better, but at least it gives branches an idea of how pubs are doing throughout the year if the site is used regularly.

    In my opinion CAMRA don't promote this website enough or explain how useful it can be at Good Beer Guide selection time.

    Please consider logging a score each time you are down the pub. It really only takes seconds. And please try especially hard if you are in Northants, we'd really appreciate it.

    Sunday, 1 February 2009

    GBG Survey Woes

    Like Tandleman, our CAMRA branch is currently considering its entries for the 2010 Good Beer Guide. With that in mind I took the bus into town on Saturday to do a bit of surveying.

    My plan was to visit seven pubs; five of which are in the current GBG and two are possibles. It wasn't a successful day. I'm not going to name the pubs to save their embarrassment, but as you will see I won't be promoting the inclusion of some of these pubs based on this visit.

    Pub one on my itinery was the town's flagship real ale pub. It's a nail on certainty for each and every GBG until it has a major change of business plan. My half of Red Lion White Lion was ok. It was in decent enough condition so any flaw in the beer wouldn't have been the pub's fault. It wasn't worth staying for a second; it'll be getting my vote based on the regular trips I make in there throughout the year.

    Pub two was a very short walk away. A pub I've visited probably three times in the last five years. Beer quality in the past has been below average with the sole decent beer in memory some J.W.Lees Plum Pudding a few Christmasses ago. I ordered a half of Wentworth Bee Smoked. I was warned this was an acquired taste. Well if you like heavily vinegared beers behind a sweet smokiness then yes you've acquired yourself a strange taste. It was almost undrinkable. That's that pub off my recommendation list then.

    From here I decided to go to the furthest outpost on the itinery, and work my way back to the bus station and thus home. I've heard good things about the next pub which is in the current guide, but due to the fact it doesn't open during the day on week days, I've not been in since it's been this good. But it opens all day at the weekend doesn't it? Actually no. I walked all that bloody way to discover it's a four o'clock job at the weekend too. Bugger, bugger, bugger. I don't appreciate a long walk for no sustenance. I'll have to go back soon, but it's a bit of a nuisance to say the least.

    Pub four, or three as it happens, is a nice corner local which serves four ales all in good condition usually. I had two halves to make up for my earlier disappointment. The Newby Wyke Bear Island was good, but the Sharps Doom Bar was a bit disappointing. I'm not a big fan of Sharps beers normally, but it worth noting that by the time I'd finished my half the barrel had gone.

    My next stop is a GBG entry, but I get the feeling it got in last year by the skin of its teeth. It's a pub I do go in occasionally and it's ok but no Earth stopper. My beer if choice was Abstinence Ale from Greene King. My impression of this beer which again suffered from an undesired acidity was that this is very probably a rebadge of XX Mild. It was not in the best form and this pub will also struggle to get my vote on this performance.

    My final two stops were the two Spoons. However both were absolutely heaving and getting near the bar to order a drink proved too much effort for someone who'd had such a rubbish day's drinking.

    The reason for this overcrowding appeared to be football related. Northampton were playing Leicester; pretty much a derby game. The streets were riddled with police. Time for an early bus home which at least meant I felt like the bottle of Spanish red we opened in the evening. Alas that too was disappointing. It just wasn't my day.