Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Queen Honours Real Ale


Michael Hardman, who has been made an MBE in the New Year’s Honours, popularised the term real ale and has been at the forefront of a long and successful campaign to save traditional British beer and to promote the breweries that produce it.

He was one of the four founders of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, at a time in the early 1970s when the big brewers were pushing traditional beer to the edge of extinction by concentrating on marketing bland, processed keg products.

As CAMRA’s first national chairman, he developed the phrase real ale — now in everyday usage and recognised by dictionaries — to describe Britain’s unique, living beers. He created both the Good Beer Guide, an annual bestseller, and the national monthly newspaper What’s Brewing.

CAMRA was once described by Lord Young of Dartington, chairman of the National Consumer Council, as the most successful consumer campaign in Europe.

After leaving CAMRA, Hardman combined his work as a national newspaper and radio journalist with public relations in the brewing industry.

He worked with Young’s Brewery in London and its charismatic chairman, John Young, for 27 years, handling royal visits by the Queen, the Queen Mother, Prince Charles, Diana Princess of Wales, Princess Anne and Prince Edward.

They once famously stage-managed an event at a pub in the East End of London when the Queen Mother pulled a pint of bitter and drank it enthusiastically. The moment was captured by press photographers, whose pictures were printed in newspapers and magazines around the world.

Hardman trained as a journalist with local papers. He later moved to Fleet Street and also worked for BBC radio, mainly in Parliament.

He helped to found the British Guild of Beer Writers, has been Britain’s Beer Writer of the Year for his work with the Daily Mirror, is a judge at national and regional beer competitions, and is the author of the book Beer Naturally. He is the current holder of the John Young Award, presented by the London branches of CAMRA for services to real ale.

Hardman, whose MBE is for services to the Campaign for Real Ale and the brewing industry, runs a communications and publications consultancy in Reigate, Surrey.

Monday, 29 December 2008

100 Belgian Beers



And another, for completeness ....




CAMRA books seem to be coming thick and fast this year. The latest one published is 100 Belgian Beers to Try Before You Die! which showcases 100 of the best Belgian beers as chosen by internationally-known beer writers Tim Webb and Joris Pattyn.

Lavishly illustrated throughout with images of the beers, the breweries, Belgian beer bars and some of the characters involved in Belgian brewing, the book encourages both connoisseurs and newcomers to Belgian beers to sample them for themselves, both in Belgium and at home.

The first comment I heard on publication was "well they're not the 100 I would have chosen !". Well that is obviously an entitled opinion but this is a pretty good effort at choosing the 100 most iconic and drinkable beers from Belgium, from Abbaye des Rocs to Westvleteren covering all of our favourites together with some less well known in between.

The best thing is that each beer is given a full page to elaborate on its merits for inclusion and it is packed with colour photographs. There is even a small section towards the back entitled "Beyond Belgian" which covers the growing popularity of Belgian style beers brewed by American micro breweries.

Available directly from the CAMRA website at www.camra.org.uk priced £10.99 for CAMRA members and £12.99 for non members.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

The Beer Book



In classic BBC Christmas style, here is another repeat, a book review that I wrote for the current issue of London Drinker and worthy of a second airing. It was also reviewed recently by my good friend Arfur, who writes Brew Wales blog here.

Another book on our favourite subject has been published recently by Dorling Kindersley.

The Beer Book is another world tour of beer, a world where the beer scene is constantly changing allowing books in this style to be published fairly regularly. It covers 800 breweries and has detailed tasting notes and photographs of over 2,000 beers. It is an up to date guide to every good beer in the world.

I have seen the book described elsewhere as "beer porn" such is the strength of the colour photography making one want to travel far and wide to find the best beer.

The press release that accompanied my copy suggested that it would be useful to take on a stag weekend as it also covers in detail some of the world's best beer drinking cities. Well, given the cost of excess baggage with our low-cost airlines, the book must stay at home being too heavy as a guidebook. That said, it is a detailed volume that covers both the traditional and the young and vibrant faces of today's beer industry.

The book is edited by Tim Hampson, chairman of the British Guild of Beer Writers who gathered the international research from a team of renowned local specialists.

It is available from www.dk.com for £16.99.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Christmas Day

Christmas dinner was a failure on the beer front as most of the beers I had been so looking forward to failed to deliver. Much of the beer (bottled by UK microbreweries) seemed to be lacking in condition, oxidised and just not drinkable.

I turned to wine for the first time in ages and enjoyed a NZ pinot noir and a drop of Barolo. However, the day was saved by a bottle of Otley O8 with my Christmas pudding. Although again lacking in condition, the gravity of 8% was beefy enough to provide the fruit character to accompany a rich pudding. Lychees, mango and apricots all came through and it was an excellent match.

Not much to comment on the present front. However there was a present with the beer I bought from BeerMerchants.co.uk which was a bar of beer soap - a message there methinks. The soap made from beer has a lovely malty mash fragrance and, as my new after shave balm seems to be fragrance free, means that I smell of fresh beer coming out of the shower rather than stale beer sometime later.

Today I am going to give up on the micro bottled beers and have some Wells and Youngs and something from my Lost Abbey selection box.

Merry Christmas everyone !

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Lost Abbey


Six months ago, I had never heard of Lost Abbey Brewery let alone tried any of their beers. Then, at GBBF, I had the good fortune to be on the panel of judges for US beers and the beer, The Angel's Share, was the stand out winner. Brewed in San Marcos, California, it is a 10% strong ale aged in bourbon barrels for at least 6 months - this is a complex beer and was my Lost Abbey initiation.

The name Lost Abbey is a nod to the fact that many of the best American microbreweries are now brewing beer in a Belgian style but with a typical US in-yer-face, over-the-top character. Such is their success that many are gaining a cult following and are particularly scarce - even outside their state, let alone in the UK.

In October, at the Great American Beer Festival I shared a judging table with Tomme Arthur, the brewmeister at Lost Abbey. Like most brewers he came across as very passionate about his beers. He was adamant that if you are to barrel age beer, it must impart something spectacular on the beer and you must be able to charge enough for the product to justify up to 2 years before the beer can be sold. He achieves both and makes no apologies for the price of some of his greatest beers. At the festival itself I queued up with everyone else to try an inch or two of some of his beers. All excellent.

Their corporate goal is to brew "Inspired beers for Sinners and Saints alike"

They are some of the most sought after beers in the USA and now, for the first time, they are available in the UK. The good people at Beer Merchants have secured a small parcel of Lost Abbey beers for the British beer lover.

These are not necessarily the most famous aged beers and they don't come particularly cheap, £90 for 12 75cl champagne corked and wired bottles, but they do come highly recommended.

A Christmas present to myself arrived from Beer Merchants less than 48 hours from the time of order. The customer service was excellent, I hope the beers match up.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Egham United Services Club

Last weekend saw the first beer festival at Egham United Services Club. A short ride for me, changing at Richmond, I thought it would be rude not to go. The event had been well publicised among CAMRA circles and the beer list had evolved into a tickers feast. As sometimes happens, I took insufficient directions and got a little lost between the station and the club but I got there eventually.

One of the downsides of having a winter beer festival where the stillage is outside is that it is freezing. The beer is freezing, the bar staff and the customers - all frozen.

That said, the heaters did their best to warm us up and the inside bar and seating area was very warm and most comfortable. The beer outside, although very cold, was well conditioned and all of the ones that I tried were in excellent form. There was a sprinkling of new breweries and some special one-off festival beers all a £2.40 a pint. A large blackboard explained which beers were on, which were coming and which had finished. I stuck to the tried and tested from Downton, Waylands and Dark Star although the beers from the new Andwell Brewery were also excellent.

The inside bar had the stronger beers on handpump - all about 6% and priced a reasonable £2.60 a pint.

A barbeque rounded off a great event and was very popular.

The event was so successful that they are doing it all again this weekend, Saturday and Sunday. If you did not make it first time round, have a try this time.

Although the weather and the beer are cold, the welcome is warm. This club is in the last four of the current CAMRA Club of the Year competition with very good reason.

If you miss it this time, I believe the next festival is being planned for Easter. I would say the weather might be warmer but you cannot be sure.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Sambrook's Brewery




Last Wednesday, I took a visit to the new Sambrook's Brewery in Battersea.









Given the lack of micro breweries in London in recent years, this is a significant development for London's real ale scene. The 20 barrel plant is brand spanking new and looks immaculate as only two brews have gone through it thus far.



400 new casks await their first beer.


There is one beer brewed at the moment, Wandle Ale, a 3.8% quaffing bitter. The beer was clean and very tasty. It has been well received both by CAMRA visitors to the brewery and also its first beer festival outing at Egham United Services Club - where it was a "tick" for most of the visitors and stood up well against many other good beers, some also from new breweries.

The brewery is still open for visitors before Christmas. The details are here.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

CAMRA Tasting Panels

On the Saturday session of Pig's Ear, I attended the CAMRA taste training course. This was a three hour session hosted by Christine Cryne, the chair of the London Tasting Panel.

CAMRA's tasting panels annually check and write the beer descriptions in the back of the Good Beer Guide and historically have nominated beers for the Champion Beer of Britain competition.

The first half of the course was to help trainees identify different beer faults. A standard beer had been watered down and doctored with chemicals to replicate the tastes such as phenol, diacityl, dms, cheesy, skunky etc etc that are sometimes found in beer.

The second half was a beer tasting session of about 6 beers and a tutorial on how to fill in the beer tasting cards.

I have enough trouble completing the National Beer Scoring System cards to score beers and pubs. The tasting cards are a different kettle of fish.

Each beer has to be completed as follows :

Date, Surveyor, Panel, Brewer, Beer, Pub, OG, ABV

Style :
Mild/Bitter/Best Bitter/Special Bitter/Speciality/Old/Porter,Stout/Barley Wine/Golden

Dispense : Handpump/Gravity/Electric/Air Pressure - Sparkler/Swanneck

Temperature : <12C/Cellar/>12C

Colour :
Black/Dark Brown/Red/Brown/Tawny/Copper/Pale Brown/Amber/Gold/Yellow/Straw

Clarity : Bright/Clear/Hazy/Cloudy

Head : Tight/Loose/Clingy - big/Medium/Small/None

Carbonation : High/Medium/Low/Flat

Mouthfeel : Smooth/Creamy/Grainy/Watery/Other

Then the scores each marked 0-4

Aroma : scores for Malt/Roast/Caramel/Hops/Fruit/Sulphur/Yeast

Taste : scores for Malt/Roast/Caramel/Hops/Fruit/Sweet/Bitter/Sulphur/Yeast

Aftertaste : scores for Malt/Roast/Caramel/Hops/Fruit/Sweet/Bitter/Sulphur/Yeast

Body : 0-5, thin to thick

Finally, if you are still with me, an overall score for style 0-10 and any other comments.

Bloody hell, that is an effort. I have yet to complete a form for a beer in the pub but if you do spot me sniffing, holding up to the light, gargling and writing, just humour me. It is an important job !

Monday, 15 December 2008

British Guild of Beer Writers

Last week I went to the BGBW annual dinner and awards.

The dinner has already been well covered in blog world here, here and here.

CAMRA was well represented with Mike Benner, John and Christine Cryne and Roger Warhurst all present. Awards for CAMRA books were also well sprinkled with Jeff Evans getting an award for A Beer a Day and Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham for the US West Coast Guide.

Beer writer of the year was Zak Avery who also writes the Beerboy blog here. Check out his video blogs here.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Lincoln

Last Friday I took my wife and my parents on a Steam Dreams puffer train trip to Lincoln Christmas Market.

An early start to get the 9.18 puffer from Kings Cross, sustained with on-board champagne and full English, arriving at Lincoln at about 1pm, returning at 5pm for dinner and a chuff back to London. An excellent way to spend the day.

The market itself - Europes largest - was full of the usual tat that people feel obliged to buy at this time of year but it was interesting to see a good range of real ale for sale among the traditional mulled wine and cider.

Local (ish) breweries, Milestone and Cropton had stalls showcasing their hand pulled ales together with a range of Christmas labelled bottle conditioned beers.

However, the one stall that caught my eye was one from Direct Beers.

Sourcing bottle conditioned beers from a Derbyshire brewer, the owner then uses his marketing skills in re-labelling the beers with names such as Yellow Piss, Bullshit and Knobgoblin.

This is what we want as was clearly demonstrated by the fact that this was easily the busiest beer stand at the event but also the most expnsive at £3 per bottle.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Beer Ticking

Rather busy at work this week, so here is a link to a nice story on beer ticking to keep you going.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Global Warming

I read today that there is a US Federal proposal to start charging farmers for their flatulent livestock at a rate of $175 for each head of cattle and $20 for each pig.

Perhaps CAMRA should have a flatulence levy on our beer festivals.

Pig's Ear on Thursday would have been a particularly lucrative event. I think the combination of Winter and Christmas beers together with the tendency of some folk to casually let rip made for a particularly explosive and smelly evening.

You know who you are......not nice !

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Sambrook's Brewery Tastings

London's newest brewery will be open to the public, for a tour and tasting event on the following dates:

Wednesday 10th December from 7pm until 10pm
Thursday 11th December from 7pm until 10 pm
Friday 12th December from 4pm until 8pm
Saturday 13th December from 1pm until 6pm
Wednesday 17th December from 7pm until 10pm
Thursday 18th December from 7pm until 10pm
Friday 19th December from 4pm until 8pm
Saturday 20th December from 1pm until 6pm

There will be a small entry fee of £5, which entitles you to a tour, a branded glass and two pints of Wandle. (There is a 50% discount upon presentation of your CAMRA membership card.)

The address is 2-18 Yelverton Road, Battersea, SW11 3QG. It is a ten minute walk from Clapham Junction train station, a short bus ride from Victoria on the 170 or a twenty minute walk from Wandsworth Town train station:

Please contact Duncan Sambrook directly to confirm your place so that he can plan numbers : duncan.sambrook@sambrooksbrewery.co.uk

Fullers Brewery

I must be still ill as my trip to Fullers on Tuesday was not followed by the customary hangover. This was nothing to do with lack of hospitality - the beer flowed freely. I just took a little for medicinal purposes. Mainly London Porter, a little ESB, some Chiswick, a dram of HSB and a snifter of Brewer's Reserve.

A few pieces of gossip picked up :

The New Year will see the launch of a bottle conditioned IPA, not quite a "historic" version but about 5.5% and 50 bitterness units - so a good effort. I had a surreptitious taster and confirm that this will be a winner. Hopefully we will also see the odd cask at a CAMRA beer festival.

Hopefully we will also see a bottle conditioned version of London Porter sometime next year. This beer is already great in a bottle, a bottle conditioned version will be absolutely fantastic.

The message at Fuller's was clear - if you want to see London Porter available in cask throughout the year, you must drink loads of it but also you must write to the brewery marketing team who think it works best as a seasonal. I suggest you start with emails to pr@fullers.co.uk

One final thing worthy of comment was that on one of the brewery notice boards was a weekly review of the pubs written by Simon Emeny, the pubs director. On it, he had lifted this review from my blog. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I would have hoped he would have at least said where he had pinched it from !

(I know it is not really him who researches this sort of stuff but Michelle, if you are reading this, feel free to take anything from here that you can ever use.)

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Pig's Ear

I'm just about recovered enough to take a visit to Fullers Brewery today with the CAMRA Members Investment Club. In the meantime, a reminder that Pig's Ear Beer Festival starts today.

There should be well over 100 beers already racked and ready at Ocean, 270 Mare Street, Hackney, E8 1HE.

Pig's Ear has always prided itself on having a number of Winter, Christmas and one-off beers and this year is no exception. The beer list is here.

More information, directions, prices etc are here.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Wot he said ..

I have been laid up with flu for the last week or so which means another week of good drinking passed me by - together with various CAMRA meetings.

At a time early in the week, I was sweating and hallucinating and I thought I heard the chancellor say that duty on beer would go up to compensate for the reduction in VAT and that it would be a permanent increase on top of the already draconian increases already scheduled.

There are plenty of beer blogs around and many cover the sort of stories that catch my eye. Most are written by enthusiastic amateurs - like me - but some are written by professional writers. These are the guys who can write most eloquently and succinctly and sometimes it is not worth re-writing but just directing people to the oracle.

On this occasion, Pete Brown, has put it perfectly.

I refer you his blog here

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Ambitious Brew


Before travelling to Denver last month for the Great American Beer Festival, I thought I better mug up on the history of beer and brewing from a US perspective.

A google search found me a very cheap copy of Ambitious Brew by Maureen Ogle. This book is an entertaining history of American beer from the German immigrants of the 1840's to the microbrewers of 1980's.

I read most of it on the flights but have only just finished the book.

While Maureen Ogle is no Bill Bryson, she does keep the book flowing with a similar engaging style. The book covers in sufficient detail the growth of the famous family brewers such as Anheuser Busch and Miller, although it is rather a love-in for their industrial beers. There is also a very good description of the causes and context of the years leading up to Prohibition and the years subsequent (but little detail of those middle years when brewing was illegal).

The early days of the US craft brewing scene are covered well but given the book was published in 2006, I had hoped for a more up to date analysis of the current boom in micro breweries.

Altogether an excellent book and one I would definitely recommend for anyone interested in the history of beer and brewing over the pond.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Sambrook's

The new Sambrook's brewery opening in Battersea in the coming weeks is an exciting breakthrough for brewing in SW London. Since Young's moved their brewing to Bedford and Battersea Brewery downsized and moved away from cask ale, South West London has had no brewery until you reach those fine ales at Twickenham.

Sambrook's is being launched by Duncan Sambrook previously an accountant at Deloitte's and David Welsh previously a brewer at Ringwood - well actually he was the managing director/owner who pocketed the lion's share of £19 million when the deep pockets of Marston's came knocking last year. David together with Peter Austin were pioneers in the early days of micro brewing and spent over 30 years building up Ringwood into the company it is today. He is a longtime CAMRA friend.

Duncan had been mulling over a small 5 barrel plant as a hobby when he was introduced to David. Between them they now have slightly more ambitious plans and have installed a 20 barrel brew plant in 2 factory units in Yelverton Road, Battersea.

The plant is up and running after various teething troubles and they are hoping to get the first beer in the pot on Thursday.

Recipes will have to be tweaked and refined over the coming weeks before releasing the beer to the market but you should see some of the first brew - Wandle Ale - in the pubs before Christmas.

More to follow.

Morrisey Fox

I first heard about the Morrisey Fox adventure at Beer Exposed earlier in the year. Then the 3-part TV show followed which showed them starting their own brewery - which I sky plussed (is that a verb) but couldn't be arsed to watch.

Importantly, I then found the beer, Morrisey Fox Blonde, at the Willoughby Arms Hallowe'en beer festival last month. Although I have read reports that the beer is brewed in at least four different places - Cropton, Marstons, ANOther, and their brew pub at the back of Ye Olde Punch Bowl Inn, in Marton-Cum-Grafton, North Yorkshire - I thought it was excellent. A golden coloured beer but well hopped with a full bitterness. I had thought the beer might be dumbed down for the masses but this was absolutely not the case.

Now they are about to roll out several new beers to the freetrade from next month.

Mulled Ale will be the first to be rolled out, from December 1. Described as “liquid mince pie” by Morrissey, it is a strong, spiced seasonal beer. It has a 6.8 per cent ABV in the Punch Bowl, but this will be lowered to 4.6 per cent for the freetrade - another pointer to me that the brewing for the free trade is out-sourced

Morrisey added that expanding their range of beers was “important if we’re going to be taken seriously as a brewer. If we just sat on one product, it would be purely a marketing exercise and that’s not what this is.”

Now is becoming a golden age for beer and real ale as can be seen by celebrities such as Morrisey and Fox and Oz and James jumping aboard the band wagon.

While remaining slightly sceptical about their content, this is definitely a way to reach the man (or woman) on the Clapham omnibus in a way that CAMRA has been unable to embrace.

I raise a glass to them.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Thousands of beer lovers can't be wrong

The 1,000th unique visitor to this blog will arrive today. Welcome.

I started this as a bit of fun in August and I am thrilled that so many beer lovers have dropped by to see what I have got to say. They can't all be friends and family - although I know many are.

Many people only come once suggesting that the content is not universally appreciated but there are a significant number of you who return regularly. I thank you all for your interest.

This blog is by no means of the same quality of Stonch's Beer Blog but the numbers of you visiting really does make the effort worthwhile and gives strength to continue.

Cheers all !

Sambrook's

This news is so hot it is burning ......

Sambrook's Brewery will be opening imminently in Battersea.

More to follow.

Unacustomed as I am ...

On Saturday I added another weapon to my armoury as a "beer ambassador" when I undertook my first engagement as an after dinner speaker.

I had been asked to speak at the annual dinner of The Old Cryptians Club, London branch. The Old Cryptians are a school old boys club from The Crypt School, Gloucester, one of the country's leading grammar schools. The request was for a talk on the historic pubs of London and I was delighted to be asked to do it.

I was able to start the talk with some general campaigning about CAMRA, its history and about pub heritage and protection.

As the dinner was held at The George in Southwark, that was a good starting point on a hypothetical crawl around some of London's historic pubs. In the next 20 minutes I then took the room to The Princess Louise, The Red Lion, St James and The Black Friar briefly discussing each pub's history and describing its notable features.

I kept within my time slot - unlike the headmaster who followed with tales of Ofsted inspections - and I think most of the room heard enough to want to visit one or two of the pubs mentioned.

I was able to give a plug to the two CAMRA books on the subject, Bob Steel's, London Pub Walks and Geoff Brandwood/Jane Jephcote's London Heritage Pubs and also handed out copies of London Drinker magazine together with a handout of the pubs' addresses etc.

Altogether a thoroughly enjoyable evening, in good company with good food and beer.

Monday, 17 November 2008

The Red Lion

On Friday, my wife was delighted to be told that I was taking her out to dinner that evening. She was slightly less delighted to be told it was to the pub.

The Red Lion in Barnes were hosting The Great British Dinner and Auction in support of the local hospital.

Although you would not call the Red Lion a "gastropub", as it still retains all the qualities of a pub, the food here is always of excellent, consistent quality.

We were promised a great British dinner and we were not disappointed. Cornish crab cakes to start, followed by steak and kidney pudding - a portion to destroy even the biggest appetite and spotted dick to finish. ("I love it when you say spotted dick" said the Canadian waitress). A price of £22 was excellent value.

The meal was followed by a charity auction and I was glad not to be tempted by a photo of David Beckham, a Spurs signed pennant or a fulham shirt.

Washed down with pints of London Porter and ESB, this was a brilliant evening. I think even Mrs W enjoyed it.

The Red Lion is still a great pub. The people of Barnes are traditionally hard to please but Angus and Clare, the hosts, are working tirelessly to accommodate all sorts of customer.

The Fullers beers are always excellent and I spotted on this visit that they have started to stock Boon Kriek and Frambose - a great choice for speciality beers.

Their next event is a Thanksgiving dinner next week. The first turkey of the year followed by pumpkin pie.

The Meeting Place

New research sponsored by one of the main coffee chains suggests coffee shops are now the preferred meeting place. In a survey of 1,000 customers 72% of respondents indicated that they prefer to chat in coffee shops rather than pubs.

What is the point of this research apart from another cheap snipe at the pub ?

I am sure at least 72% of pub goers would say the pub is the favourite meeting place.

The same would be true for those who visit the old people's centre on a Friday for lunch and a chat.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Realale.com

I don't buy beer by mail order very often but this week had reason to send a gift to Manchester.

An email and a quick telephone call to realale.com at about noon on Wednesday resulted in a delivery of 12 bottles in Manchester by close of business the following day.

Admittedly the charge for delivery is about £7 but I could not let this excellent service pass without comment.

If anyone needs to send beer around Christmas time, I can recommend that you try :

Realale.com

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Do you want a bag on your head ?

The credit crunch is reaching south west London.

I dropped into one of my local pubs in Barnes last night for a quick pint. My order of a pint of "ordinary" was met with "Do you want to order crisps or nuts with your pint ...?"

Now I am all for giving the customer what he wants (or what you think he wants) but I actually wanted a pint of Winter Warmer but there was no sign of it, only Wells Bombardier or St Austell Tribute.

Resisting the opportunity to be arsy, I declined the crisps and sat down with my newspaper for quiet reflection.

The pint of ordinary ? Absolutely fantastic....could not have been improved.....even by a packet of dry roasted.....

Cheers !

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Back in service

No sooner have the clocks gone back than I am struck down with winter blues and lethargy sets in. I am not sure whether the sluggishness was caused by lack of beer or whether the lack of beer caused such a mood. In any case, I have not had a proper beer since the Winter Warmer breakfast and have missed out on some good drinking in the last week. I am now champing at the bit to get going again.

I reached the turning point last night as I watched my team put on an acceptable performance at the Theatre of Dreams and shared a half of Budweiser in their plush bar. The journey home was very much enjoyed by roadworks on the M6 and a final destination reached at 5.15 this morning.

Yes, I am ready for a pint again !

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Winter Warmer


I have just spent the morning trying the new Young's Winter Warmer. The traditional breakfast at The White Cross in Richmond to coincide with the clocks going back is now hosted by the pub rather than the brewery but it brings that rare breakfast combo of 2 pints of Winter Warmer together with a traditional breakfast. The pub sold the tickets for a tenner.

Although the kidney, black pudding and haggis added to the usual sausage, egg and bacon etc made for a great breakfast, it was the beer we had assembled for. A standard version of Winter Warmer, the malty, sweet 5% brew was in great form. For my memory, slightly less bitter than last year with more residual sweetness although the best thing from a brewer's perspective about a seasonal ale is that no-one has tried it for 9 months so it is hard to remember the exact taste profile.

Some issues over turnover led to some quality issues last year so the 2008/09 vintage may be curtailed slightly. However, it will be available to at least the end of January. Make the most of it while it is there. It is what winter was made for.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Beer Drinker of the Year

Are you the Beer Drinker of the Year ?

If so, send your resume to beerdrinker@wynkoop.com detailing the key aspects of your beer expertise, including your accomplishments involving brewpubs, beer festivals and beer adventures.

A good beer resume demonstrates the range and depth of the candidates beeriness.

As it is a national search and Wynkoop Brewery is in Colorado, USA, I guess that we Brits are precluded but it is a nice idea to promote their brand.

The prize ? Free beer for life at the Wynkoop Brewing Company. Not bad !

I was told that my London accent would go down a storm in USA. However, in reality all I got was "you sound like the Geiko Gecko". Check him out.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Hogs Back


I have in the past defended CAMRA against accusations of being parochial. This is why we are led by 200 or so local branches. It works and gives excellent local campaigning, the life blood of CAMRA and one of the reasons we reach so many beer drinkers around the country.

However, have the latest comments from Cornwall CAMRA crossed a line ?

Hogs Back Brewery from Surrey have just won Supreme Champion Beer at Falmouth Beer Festival for their Hop Garden Gold. CAMRA Cornwall's spokesman, Phil Roberts, said "... This year's top spot went to a foreigner....."

I have met Phil many times and know that this is meant in jest but it is easy to see how people might sometimes catch on to throw away lines and make more of it than was originally the intention.

Hogs Back Brewery later quoted "Its strange being called a Foreigner by the Cornish but its a sheer delight bringing back the cherished trophy to Surrey, its like winning the Ashes from the Aussies."

I say, if we dig a trench along the Cornish border, we could just kick them off into the Ocean. Oops there's another throw away line.

Willoughby Arms

While I do not intend to make this blog a listings site - there are plenty better places than this to help seek out good beer - I will list those events that I think are worthy of wider coverage and support.

The Willoughby Arms is a community pub situated in housing about a 10 minute walk from Kingston station. I have seen the pub described on beer in the evening . com as "I wish it was my local". I absolutely concur. The choice and quality of the beer is consistently good and the atmosphere and welcome always very friendly.

A small beer festival is hosted around St Georges Day and Halloween and I shall be visiting at least twice this week. The ale trail cards which bring cheaper beer and a free T shirt enforce drinking 11 pints for around £30. A stretch for me in one session even with a take-away. Two sessions is much more sensible and enjoyable.

Alas it will mean missing the Shepherd Neame AGM on Friday which is always another good jolly but sometimes sacrifices must be made !

There is no beer list yet on their web-site but I expect that the selection will be as good as ever with many local breweries represented (via the SIBA DDS scheme) and a couple of "specials".

The Downton, Chocolate Orange Delight last year was memorable, I hope it makes another appearance.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Good Beer Guide

As the 2009 Good Beer Guide has just been published, CAMRA branches will turn their attention to selecting the pubs to be included in the 2010 guide over the coming months.

Many will have used the National Beer Scoring Scheme to monitor their pubs throughout the year. This allows any CAMRA member to rate any pubs they visit and give a score 0 - 5 for beer quality. It is a simple system that takes a minute to complete and relies on as many responses as possible to make the data useful.

A month or so ago, someone asked me why a particular pub was not in the guide for 2009. The pub was not in London so I sent carrier pigeon to the frozen north to see if there was a sensible answer.

This is the response from the local branch :

Great pity with the pub was the variability in beer quality throughout 2007. It received nearly 300 tastings through the branch and NBSS of which there were some scores of 4, many 2's and a significant number of scores of 1 (across the board of local members and NBSS). Even geographically we couldn't say it was the best for beer in that village (coming well behind two others). With 19 pubs to allocate to the guide this pub came about 30th in tastings.

Pleasing to note however, are the tastings I have received seem to have improved in 2008 but then so have the other two plus another pub in the village is now receiving good scores as well so entry for GBG2010 should be interesting.


A most satisfactory response and one that demonstrates that the great benefit of NBSS is that it does give a flavour of a pub throughout the year. Of course there are negatives to any such system but branches are advised to use NBSS as a guide when making their selections.

That reminds me, I must get better at including my own pub visits.

Significantly my first score of 5 this year for a pint of Hop Back GFB in The Sultan in Wimbledon.

Petition

Leading trade magazine The Publican is calling for a minimum price on alcohol to bring an end to irresponsible bargain booze deals. Legislation is the only way to bring an end to these, often loss-leading, offers which are damaging to both society and the great British pub.

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to Back The Publican's Make it the Minimum campaign and introduce a minimum price of 50p for every unit of alcohol sold. This will end cheap booze promotions in supermarkets and bring off-trade prices closer to the cost of alcohol in the pub - the home of responsible drinking.

Sign here.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Cider

Although I have been known to describe cider as "The Devil's Urine" and have been seen running for a sit down after a pint of perry, it is now an opportune time to remind everyone that London's cider pub of the year is The Harp, Chandos Place, London WC2.

The evening of Wednesday 29th will see the presentation of the award.

It is also CAMRA West London branch pub of the year for 2008/09 and that certificate will also be presented on the evening.

It should make for an enjoyable evening.

October is CAMRA's cider month.

I found this from Canada which may demonstrate that I was right all along !

Dog and Bell

The SPBW have announced that their pub of the year for 2008 is the Dog and Bell in Deptford.

In a close vote, it just pipped the The Sultan, The Bricklayers, The Royal Oak, The Bree Louise and The Pembury.

When checking the website, I found another SPBW here.

The Society for the Protection of British Woodlands whose mission is the promotion of outdoor activities within British woodlands whilst protecting and preserving them from misuses and abuse.

Friday, 24 October 2008

A staff half ?

I was just asked to make a radio comment on the story that two thirds of a pint had been suggested as a pub measure. Luckily I am busy at Twickenham Beer Festival.

London's radio listeners have been saved from offensive language.

The full story is here.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Brewer's Reserve


From the latest Fullers press release .......

Fuller, Smith & Turner P.L.C., London’s only remaining traditional family brewer, is delighted to announce the release of its new bottled ale, Brewer’s Reserve.

Brewer’s Reserve is the culmination of more than four year’s work by Fuller’s head brewer, John Keeling, which began following a joint tasting session with some colleagues in the whisky trade. With his appreciation of the qualities of both beer and whisky, John decided that he wanted to create a new strong beer, incorporating some of the characteristics of a single malt.

The result is a remarkable, 7.7% ABV, limited edition ale, matured in 30 year old whisky casks for over 500 days which has taken on some characteristics of the whisky absorbed in the wood.

This Brewer’s Reserve is number one in a special series and with Fuller’s reputation for excellence I’m sure it will quickly become collectible. Each of the 25,000 bottles is individually numbered and comes in a fantastic looking presentation box, which highlights the beer’s quality and sophistication.

As at 31 October the beer is not yet on general release and will be available only in the brewery shop to start with. More to follow....

More on this to follow once I have found some and tried it.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Batemans

Bateman's Brewery are on their way back in London. After a few years focusing on their own pubs and traditional areas of support around the brewery, they are now having a concerted effort at new trade in the London area.

They are hosting meet the brewer style tasting evenings at the following Nicholson pubs on the following dates :

5th November - Ye Olde Watling - 6pm - 8pm - Watling Street EC4

26th November - 5pm - 7pm Wellington on the Strand

27th November - 6pm - 8pm White Lion in Covent Garden

No tickets required, just turn up.

Regional family breweries have been successful in the London area in the last year or two, notably Timothy Taylor and St Austell.

Bateman's beers are generally good and deserve wider availability.

I hope to make it to one of the above events to reacqauint myself with their range.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Nils Oscar


Those good people at Nils Oscar were recently kind enough to send me a couple of bottles of beer for review. Well, really it was their PR company, C Coms PR, who sent it but I was grateful all the same.

The Nils Oscar, God Lager is being given a real push in this country and has a recent listing in Waitrose at £1.49 for a 33ml bottle and the plan is to get a wider spread in bars and restaurants. It is unpasteurised and is 5.3% abv.

Described in the attached blurb as a dark lager I was expecting a dunkels rather than a helles. However this is a pilsner style lager, darker in colour than a helles but more akin to a Budvar, a rich golden colour.

The beer is craft brewed on a farm just outside Stockholm where the grain is grown and malted. The 4 hop varieties are imported as Sweden is too far north to cultivate them.

The beer pours well with a light head which faded quickly, a clear appearance and good carbonation.

The aroma is clean with malt rather than hop on the nose. Some citrus and peppery notes came through as it warmed.

I chilled it almost to death as I thought that was best for the style and the flavour lost out somewhat until it warmed slightly. It gives a good malty sweetness with a very dry finish. The light body was good for a Euro style lager and compares well to Czech and German versions. Much better than anything else I have tasted from Sweden and probably very refreshing on a hot day.

This would never be my first choice of beer to drink at home but I am grateful to have been given the chance to try it. It is a worthy addition to a growing number of good foreign brewed beers that are now available and I enjoyed it very much.

However as a wise old man of the brewing industry once said to me "the best beer is always a free beer".

Nils Oscar brews a range of 10 beers (and distills vodka and aquavit). I will certainly try any others I see.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Twickenham Beer Festival

Twickenham Beer Festival takes place this week. Opening times are 5.30 on Thursday to 10.30 on Saturday.

Full details together with beer list etc are here.

This is my local branch beer festival and although I have nothing to do with its organisation throughout the year, I give it my full support for the whole week. It is the one week a year when I hump scaffolding, full and empty casks, put up posters, clean tables, meet and greet all of the customers and generally support the vital grass roots of our Campaign in a tangible way.

I have just been told that I am "head of security" for the week so no bad behaviour please.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Leyton Orient

Friday saw the CAMRA presentation to Leyton Orient Supporters Club as CAMRA National Club of the Year for 2008.

This quote was attributed to me on CAMRA's press release ...

Steve Williams, CAMRA Regional Director for Greater London, praised the Club for its services to real ale. He said: ‘To find real ale at a football club, regardless of its condition, is truly rare. Therefore for the Leyton Orient Supporters Club to show this degree of devotion to our national drink is totally unique. When you consider the vast numbers of football fans being converted to real ale it is a true testament to this club's efforts. A worthy winner and an unlikely source of quality real ale.'

I couldn't have put it better myself. Apart from occasional beer festivals the club has five handpumps primed for a usual matchday offering Orient fans over 700 pints of craft brewed beers at £2.30 a pint to drown their usual sorrows.

My favourite quote which has been worked to death is that if only their football team was as good as their bar, Leyton Orient would be Premier League !

This presentation coincided with a mini beer festival which although there were only about 20 beers they were all what you might call "rare". A tickers delight.

An enjoyable end to a busy week.

Royal Oak

On Thursday I visited the Royal Oak in Friday Street near Rusper, West Sussex. A drive of about an hour, and fairly inaccessible by train, so I persuaded my wife to drive on the promise of lunch. She and I were not disappointed.

The main bar is narrow with stools at the bar and separate rooms at either end. The room we sat in has a real fire that was much welcome on a cool October day. We were welcomed not only by very friendly staff but also by a bank of 8 handpumps - displaying a range of beers from local micros - Surrey Hills, Dark Star and Twickenham beers were all very enjoyable. There is a mild available permanently, Surrey Hills Hammer Mild, and a bank of 5 further handpumps for ciders and perries.

This was the only pub of the four in the regional semi-final that had a significant food offering. A basic menu of omelette's, ham and chips etc complemented by 3 daily specials - fish pie, partridge and chilli all at a reasonable £7.50.

I enjoyed the partridge (notably not including lead shot) and my wife had a very large fish pie both of which were excellent, although none of CAMRA judging criteria include the scoring of food.

All together this is a real gem of a pub and deserves to do well. I have not cast my scores for all four pubs yet but I guess this will be my winner by a point or two with the Butchers Arms a very close second.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Butchers Arms

On Wednesday I visited the third out of four regional pubs of the year, The Butchers Arms in Herne, Kent.

Jet lagged, I overslept and was chasing the lunchtime session so forgot camera and alas no photos. The pub is only open from 12 to 1.30 (and 5 to 9) so I was in trouble if I missed it. Train from Waterloo, change at Sturry for a 10 minute bus ride to Herne.

This pub is a real curiosity. It may not tick all the boxes that you need for a community pub but it is an absolute "must-visit". (There are three other pubs in this village of which two are also listed in the current Good Beer Guide.)

Described as a micro pub, it was converted from a florists in 2005 and was previously a butchers shop. It has one room at the front, which seats about 12 people. It can only hold 18 people comfortably, though the record is 33. It is decorated with much brewery paraphanalia but also has various decor according to its past life as a butcher; 2 of the tables are old butchers blocks.

It is beer only though if you really want something else there is white wine or lemonade. The beer is served straight from the cask from a cooled room at the back. The toilet is reached via the "cellar".

Dark Star Hop Head, Harveys Sussex, Fullers HSB and ESB are all served in top form from £2.25 to £2.99 a pint. It is the custom that you pay on leaving. The "NFL" etched in the front window stands for No Lager.

In a way it would be shame for this pub to go further in the competition as there is not really room for too many more visitors that more publicity would bring. It is a local secret and would probably benefit from staying that way. That said, I absolutely would recommend anyone visit this pub. It has a unique place in England's pub culture.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Great American Beer Festival

Rumours of my demise are greatly exaggerated, I have not been hiding under a stone for the last 10 days but have been in Denver helping with the judging of the Great American Beer Festival.

I intend to cover the week in more depth in the coming days but start with a quick snapshot.

The competition takes place over five sessions of three hours each in the three days before the festival opens. There are 75 categories to be judged - yes 75 ! 472 US brewers entered 2,902 beers which were judged by 127 judges from 11 countries.

The UK judges based judges were myself, Glenn Payne, Mark Dorber and Don Burgess of Freeminer Brewery.

The 75 categories and the 2008 winners can be found here

The festival itself runs for four sessions of four hours over three days. The entry price is about $50 and beer is poured in free, one ounce servings - giving the greatest opportunity to try as many of the 2,052 beers available as possible. 46,000 people visit the festival which relies on 2,600 volunteer staff to pour the beer.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Back tomorrow

Normal service will be resumed "au matin" or should that be "au gratin" ?

See you tomorrow !

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Trafalgar


The Trafalgar was heaving last night for the presentation of the Pub of the Year award. For such a tiny pub, you would never believe that so many people could be crammed in at once. Mainly people from the local community but good representation from SW London CAMRA and a sprinkling of other members.

We were graced with the presence of a full set of dignitaries : Martin Whelton,the mayor of Merton; Robert Evans, the MEP for West London; and Stephen Hammond, the MP for Wimbledon.

There is clearly a pecking order with politicians. They arrived in that order, they spoke in that order and they left in that order.

The mayor tried to show his strength by holding out (and upsetting his driver) but the other two would not budge. Once he had given in and been driven away, the MEP decided he knew his place and drove home. The MP, knowing he was all-powerful, then left shortly afterwards. (Well he might be all-powerful if he was not in opposition).

The beer was good - but still not a patch on the couple of pints of GFB I had in the Sultan beforehand. The Sultan beer festival is on this weekend.

It was the best of times ?

If you think things are bad right now with pubs closing, the smoking ban, price inflation, duty increases, blah blah .....then maybe reflect on the quote below.

It is taken from The Brewer of April 1973 and is attributed to the quality Control Manager of Bass Marketing :

"Having consigned the manual beer engine and 'from the wood' to history, we are left with three basic dispensing systems. These are top pressure, electric and metered dispense."

"I think the most important item will be the universal facility for serving beer cool whatever the weather. It just is not true that as a nation we like warm beer, and in a few years time it will have disappeared altogether."

Thanks to the Brewery History Society latest newsletter for that.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Pub of the Year

Tonight (Thursday) I will be making the presentation of the Greater London Pub of the Year award to The Trafalgar in South Wimbledon at 8pm.

Everyone is welcome.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Intelligent Choice

The 2008/09 Cask Ale Report was launched on Monday and I was lucky enough to attend the launch. I wasn't really deemed important enough to get an invite but I blagged one from the author who I met again at Beer Exposed.

Various media folk together with the great and the good from the brewing community arrived early Monday evening at The Counting House (Fullers) on Cornhill.

The top table was Pete Brown (author), Nigel McNally (Wells and Youngs), John Robert (Fullers), Paul Nunny (Cask Marque), Mike Benner (CAMRA) and Julian Grocock (SIBA).

The report now has its own web-site so you can read the headlines and the detail here.

Described as the definitive guide to the cask ale market, the report brings bullish news on the state of the real ale market and is aimed at the pub trade - to encourage pubs to stock real ale and the media - to encourage awareness.

The evening was a great opportunity to network with the most influential people of the industry. After a couple of pints at The Counting House the boys from Greene King and Youngs wanted to get in on the act and we were taken to the New Moon (GK) and the Lamb (Youngs) on Leadenhall Market.

The best pint of the evening ?

The IPA in the New Moon !

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

London

A year ago, while in court, I heard a sorry story about a man who had been physically and sexually abused by the Christian Brothers in Ireland while attending an Industrial School.

I had not heard of this scandal before and have since read a few books on the subject from a genre that I believe is now called "tragic life stories".

The latest read, Founded on Fear by Peter Tyrrell tells the story of his days at Letterfrack Industrial School and a similar story of such abuse.

However what caught my eye, for this blog at least, was this passage about his arrival in London (via Liverpool) as a very naive, damaged, young man in 1935.

My feet were getting sore so I strolled into a busy pub. I didn't know what kind of drinks the customers were having so thought I would listen to hear a few giving their orders and ask for the same.

It would be a terrible thing to ask for something not on sale in case they thought I was stupid or silly or in any way different to themselves. My ambition was to get along without being noticed. The barman served me a pint of beer without anyone even glancing my way.

I was now sitting on a small stool by the door and it was lovely and cool. The beer tasted wonderful and it was cheap at 5d a pint. The stout or porter at home was more expensive and I could never drink it. It was the colour that put me off. It reminded me of Cascara, a medicine my mother gave me.

I was much happier and contented now. Fancy being able to walk into a pub and buy a pint of beer without people staring at you. If I bought a pint at home, everyone would be wondering who I was, where I had come from and where the money had come from. London seemed a good place and I was getting to like the people
.

Although this passage comes form a bygone age, some 70+ years ago, these points are still valid today in a London pub.

Ireland has the "craic" but give me a London pub any day.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Beer Exposed

One of the best things for me about Beer Exposed was the number of learned folk there. I kept my ear to the ground for the whole three days and this is what I discovered :

Batemans Brewery are making a bigger effort in London. Their beers are in Nicholson's pubs already and they are keen to be better represented in the Capital and will also be hosting "meet the brewer" style evenings. Watch this space for details.

The Bree Louise in Euston are having a new stillage installed increasing the number of beer available from 10 to 15. Beer is still 50p off each pint for CAMRA members and 50% of their real ale sales are to CAMRA members and they have signed up over 70 of their regulars to CAMRA membership. A hardy effort. They will also be installing a micro brewery in the cellar in the new year. Watch this space for details.

Our good friend, Eric Mills, late of the Wellington and Bedford Arms in Bedford, is now gainfully employed by M&B and awaiting his first assignment. Watch this space for details.

Vinopolis are hosting a Fullers tasting of 12 beers, together with guest speakers, a meal and band. Unfortunately £37.50 a head. Watch this space for details.

The Oakham pub in Kennington which has been "opening shortly" for 18 months is wrapped up in development planning red tape but is still going to open at some point. Watch this space for details.

Otley beers are on their way to London. The prize winning brewery from South Wales is hoping to make a monthly delivery to London, returning the month following for empties. We have provided a list of pubs that might take their beers. We also introduced the Otley boys to the delights of the Wenlock.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Beer Exposed

I have just spent three days manning the CAMRA stand at the Beer Exposed exhibition. Many CAMRA members that I spoke to in recent weeks were sceptical about this event, about the price (up to £20 or so), the tiny tasters and the abundance of non real ale and as a result there were very few of the same old faces present.

Well, those sceptics missed a cracking event. Beer talks by enthusiastic speakers such as Garrett Oliver and walks around the event hosted by leading beer writers were accompanied by about 50 exhibitors showcasing their best beers from around the world.

Everybody I spoke to said what a good event it had turned out to be and it is certain that the organisers will put on the same again next year.

The companies such as Fullers, Jaipur, Otley, Brew Dog and Shepherd Neame had knowledgeable representatives from their respective companies presenting their beers. Those who relied on agency staff such as Tsingtao also had to rely on gimmicks such as half dressed girls to get people to try their beer. Horses for courses, I suppose.

This was an ideal chance for even the most hardened CAMRA activist to break free of the real ale shackles and try other beers. Admittedly the best ones (IMHO) were real ale or bottle conditioned but there were also great "aggressive" beers from Scotland, extreme beers from American micros, a very rare Polish porter and even beer from Ethiopia (where it is sold for about 15p a bottle).

All in all a great week. CAMRA got to spread the gospel to an audience that we don't engage very often and we managed to sign-up well over 30 new members to the cause and sold a few books too.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Inn Sign Society

Continuing the theme of pub signs, I noticed that there is an The Inn Sign Society

Unfortunately, their 20 year history has only gained them about 400 members so they could probably use some more members.

The object of the Society is to bring together those who hold a common interest in the inn sign generally and to provide them with a platform for the interchange of information and also help with their research.

The Society is also building up an archive of written and photographic material (prints and slides) thus storing all the information for future generations.

A full colour quarterly Newsletter appropriately called 'At The Sign Of' is distributed to all members. This records all new signs, name changes, and provides for the interchange of information and the answers to any queries that may have been raised.

There is an annual subscription of £15.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

London Drinker

The lastest issue of London Drinker magazine has been published and will be delivered to the pubs over the coming days.

For those who cannot wait, or who do not visit a pub that stocks the magazine, the online version is identical and is now easy and quick to view and download, either as a complete magazine or is smaller chunks.

The electronic version is available here. Click on publications, the latest issue is 2008, volume 30, issue 5.

London Drinker circulation is now 46,000 copies every two months. 30,000 are distributed by JD Wetherspoons throughout their pubs in the London area. The rest are distributed to London's pubs and beer festivals by CAMRA volunteers.

Circulation is only constrained by the number of volunteers. We print as many copies as we can logistically distribute quickly. Copies are collected by volunteers from the Royal Oak, SE1 and taken to their local pubs.

Activation

CAMRA branches are making an effort this year to engage more members to take part in social and campaigning activities. Something that is working for North London branch is a new email list for for general discussion of local pubs and social events.

The North London branch covers the London Boroughs of Camden, Islington, Brent, Haringey and parts of Hackney. As well as organising the well known London Drinker beer festival every March it also holds weekly social meetings in pubs and at beer festivals in the branch. Details of all events will be publicised on this email list.

This email list is open to everyone, not just those that live within the branch area. It is also open to non-CAMRA members.

The weekly "what's on" message is gathering momentum and includes a variety of useful information.

Details on how to get the weekly message are hopefully here

Or send an email to subscribe to
camranorthlondon-subscribe@yahoogroups.com

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Pub Signs

The Observer at the weekend carried a half page article entitled "Dismay at vanishing art of the pub sign"

Well, readers of this blog know otherwise. Pub sign art is alive and well in South West London - albeit a less traditional version.

Perhaps we should not be too harsh on Young's and others for their modern take on the traditional pub sign. After all, they are still ordering bespoke signs and supporting a dying trade.

Surely we would not want all pub signs to look like this one in Wimbledon :

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Martyn Cornell

Martyn Cornell is a serious beer writer. By that I mean he writes serious stuff about beer rather than this flippant rubbish.

His book Beer - The Story of the Pint is a detailed, well-researched chronicle of our favourite drink. Roger Protz described it as "a magnificent contribution to the history of beer and should be on every aficionado's bookshelf."

The book was published in 2003 and stands up well among other similar definitive text books.

A couple of things have just caught my eye. Martyn is the author of the zythophile blog. As you might expect this is a more serious read than most of the other beer blogs.

Firstly there is a recent post on a short history of yeast. There are books written on most subjects relating to beer but there is very little recently on yeast, that vital ingredient without which we would be lost. This article is a serious but readable piece.

Secondly, Martyn has just published an e-book called Amber, Gold & Black, the most comprehensive history of British beer styles of all kinds ever written.

Astonishingly, this is the first book devoted solely to looking at the unique history of the different styles of beer produced in Britain. Some 16 chapters and 223 pages cover in detail the true stories behind Porter, Bitter, Mild, Stout, IPA, Brown Ale, Burton Ale, Old Ale, Barley Wine, and all the other beers produced in Britain.

Available through his blog the book is available for download for only £5.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Beer Exposed

Beer exposed is a new event that is happening later this week. It is described as follows :

...a fantastic new beer show which runs from September 25-27. At this unique beer experience you'll find over 20 styles of beer and hundreds of different samples on offer.

Visitors to the show can taste free samples of premium beers from around the world, take part in interactive beer tutorials such as Beer and Chocolate, Around the World in Beer and Gourmet Beer and Food Matching. The show also features a team of beer experts who'll be showcasing a hand picked selection of premium beers.

CAMRA are taking a stand and I will be leading CAMRA's effort at this event which looks like something a little different to the usual beer festival circuit.

An offer on tickets courtesy of Metro is here.

Pub of the Year


Thursday last week saw my judging visit to The Trafalgar in South Wimbledon, London's winning pub for 2008.

Although I have been to the pub on occasions before and had a good time, this visit was a big disappointment.

Arriving at about 1.45, the pub was deserted. As I was the only customer for over an hour, it was impossible to score properly for atmosphere, style and decor and also clientele mix. I had expected the beer quality to be excellent based on previous visits but, with no customers, it was no better than good despite the barman pulling off a half pint before each pint that I ordered.

I will visit again for the presentation on the evening of 2nd October when I expect all of the boxes to be ticked. However, even averaging the scores of two visits will unfortunately not give a high score.

This was a clear winner for London based upon 10 sets of judges all visiting a different days and times. I have faith in the judging process and will also have faith in the Trafalgar as it is a fabulous pub. Alas, on this occasion, it did not score well.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Fine Ale Club


Arriving over the weekend was the latest issue of First Draft, the quarterly magazine of Fullers Fine Ale Club.

This is an 8 page, A4, glossy newsletter bringing news from Fullers about their beers mixed with some short articles about brewery tours, Irish whiskey, Protz on lack of information on bottle labels, the Ryder Cup, a couple of beer recipes, some competitions and some money off vouchers.

It is a fine way for Fullers to keep their customers informed and another example of the company going a little extra to keep ahead of their competitors.

Membership of Fine Ale Club is free. Email your name and address to finealeclub@fullers.co.uk.

Membership

The latest mailout from CAMRA HQ includes the latest analysis on membership numbers.

Membership currently stands at a beefy 94,585.

On current growth the 100,000th member will join sometime over the next 6 months and will be rightly trumpeted as a fantastic achievement.

There will be a photocall of that new member and care will undoubtedly be taken to make sure that our 100,000th member does not fit the usual CAMRA stereotype that is oft-time trotted out by the media.

In London we are approaching our 10,000th member over the same period.

Perhaps it is time for the landmark to be marked with a photocall of a middle aged man, with a beard, a large belly and sandals. Someone with a notebook, a trolley and some panda pop bottles. A brewery T-shirt, a fleece jacket and a baseball cap. Maybe someone who lets his membership lapse each year so that he can rejoin at a beer festival to take advantage of the usual joining offers.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

The Green Man

Here is another from Young's new portfolio of modern pub signs. This one appeared after a recent refurbishment at The Green Man on Putney Heath, a pub dating from 1700 and owned by Young's since 1831.

The history and traditions of the name The Green Man are well documented but I can find no reference to its relationship with a gingerbread man.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Pub of the Year

One of the categories for scoring in the pub of the year competition is "Sympathy with CAMRA aims" - a bit of a catch all category on general CAMRA values.

Judging a pub can never be an exact science but by way of illustration, the following is an extract from the judging guidance notes.

Relevant CAMRA policies on pubs are summarised below and a POTY candidate would be expected to conform with those policies. On a more general note, does the pub espouse and promote our values? Is cask beer given a positive push here? Is information offered about the ales sold? Does the pub try to stimulate interest in the sorts of issues we’re concerned about?

RELEVANT CAMRA POLICIES

3.1 For a comprehensive schedule of CAMRA policies, refer to the
regularly-issued Internal and External Policy Documents. If a POTY
candidate offends national policy to the extent that it would not be
eligible for inclusion in the Good Beer Guide, then it must
automatically be excluded from the competition. Positive support of
CAMRA policy will clearly count in its favour.

3.2 Pubs should be considered as important centres of community life
and places for informal social drinking.

3.3 We oppose entry restrictions on grounds of dress, shape, size,
gender, sexuality, colour, ethnic origin or religion.

3.4 Where practicable access should be possible for people with
disabilities, who should be treated with care and consideration.

3.5 We are concerned at the damaging effect of unnecessarily noisy
electronic amusement machines.

3.6 Price lists should be prominently displayed, as should opening
hours.

3.7 We support the introduction of full-pint legislation (and would
therefore expect POTY candidates to give full measure).

3.8 Beers should not be served through a tight sparkler if not brewed to
be dispensed in that way.

3.9 We deplore pubs advertising beers as “house brands” when they
aren’t produced by or exclusively for that pub.

3.10 We oppose the selling of non-traditional beer or cider using
handpumps (real or fake).

3.11 We will expose pubs guilty of over-pricing.

3.12 We will promote both mild and real draught cider and perry.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Pub of the Year


My first visit (1/4) to judge four of the last sixteen of pub of the year was to Chequers at Little Gransden, Bedfordshire, the East Anglian winning pub.

First and foremost, the beer quality here was first class. The pub is home to Son of Sid Brewery and three of its beers were available. Muck Cart Mild, Spud and Gransden Weiss. I had been impressed with two of their beers I tried at Chappel beer festival last week but all three here were even better.

The pub itself is a classic, three bar, rural community pub. On a quiet Friday lunchtime the atmosphere though was somewhat lacking and the style and decor could be described also as rural.

The service and welcome was excellent with friendly customers and bar staff.

Clientele mix was good albeit slightly difficult to judge at a quiet time. Mainly custom from the local farming community but we were also joined by a small group of young-uns playing pool (but drinking cherry cola).

CAMRA aims were well publicised. The usual posters, newsletters and certificates all ticked the box but in addition, locally brewed beer, a permanent mild and a discussion about the St Ives beer festival meant this category scored particularly highly.

Altogether good value, beer at £2.60 - £2,75. An enjoyable visit to a classic pub.

One disappointment was that the saloon bar was in darkness and we sat in the "rough and ready" public bar area. We would never have guessed the brewery was next door; apparently it can be viewed from the saloon bar. As visits are anonymous, I chose not to ask to have a look but I can't help thinking that scores for service and welcome in particular would have improved had they at least turned the saloon bar lights on.

This was close to a perfect pub for me - great beer in basic but friendly surroundings - that's pretty much all I ask for. However, my wife was less than impressed with the lack of comfort and the door left open by smokers.

This has set my benchmark for the remaining three pubs at a fairly high level.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Pub Signs


Not one from Young's this time but I spotted another more modern version of the traditional pub sign on my way to The Bricklayer's Arms Cumbria beer festival in Putney.

Around London in 80 Beers


Around London in 80 Beers

A copy of this new book was thrust into my hand at Earls Court this year in the hope that I may find something nice to say about it in London Drinker.

Anyone who has seen Chris (aka Podge) Pollard and Siobhan McGinn's previous book, Around Bruges in 80 Beers, will be familiar with the style. That book was so successful that it is now out of print with an update due later in the year.

This book is a collection of 80 beers available in London matched with 80 different places to try them. From the quaint old ale houses that we all know and love to more quirky establishments such as a cinema, a bowling alley and even a bookshop.

The beer choices are just as eclectic, from the darkest porter to the lightest pilsner, from our favourites such as Fullers Chiswick to rarities such as Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier traditionally hard to find in the capital.

As CAMRA members it is easy to be blinkered and take little notice of beers and bars that are not real ale. This volume includes many beers and bars that are missed by the usual CAMRA guides which by definition cover real ale only. There are German, Belgian, Czech and American beers and bars - even Scottish, Irish and Cornish ! There is plenty here to keep one refreshed and I look forward to taking a stroll around town to seek out some of the more unusual places and their delicious beers.

It really is an excellent book, thoroughly researched and well presented in glossy style packed with photos.

It is published by Cogan & Mater and available at www.booksaboutbeer.com for £7.99 and is also likely to feature at London CAMRA beer festivals throughout the coming year.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Pub of the Year

The Good Beer Guide launch brings with it the next phase of the 2008 CAMRA Pub of the Year competition. In the spring each branch put forward their favourite pub for judging at their regional level and the regional winners are now declared and set out below.

It is now my pleasurable duty to judge the next level - the super region. The CAMRA regional directors visit their 4 nearest pubs before 31 October and the winner of each of the 4 super regions goes through to the final.

My first visit will be to the East Anglian entry, The Chequers in Little Gransden.

Regional Winners:

Central Southern -
Royal Oak Inn, Newbury Street, Wantage, Oxfordshire, OX12 8DF

East Anglia -
Chequers, 71 Main Road, Little Gransden, Cambridgeshire, SG19 3DW

East Midlands -
Arkwright Arms, Chesterfield Road, Sutton Cum Duckmanton, Derbyshire, S44 5JG

Greater London -
Trafalgar, 23 High Path, Greater London, SW19 2JY

Greater Manchester -
Crown, 154 Heaton Lane, Stockport, Greater Manchester, SK4 1AR

Kent -
Butcher's Arms, 29A Herne Street, Herne, Kent, CT6 7HL

Merseyside, Cheshire & North Wales -
Blue Bell, Rhosemor Road, Halkyn, North-East Wales, CH8 8DL

North East -
King's Arms, Beach Street, Deptford, Sunderland, Tyne and Wear, SR4 6BU

Scotland & Northern Ireland -
Marine Hotel, 9-10 Shorehead, Stonehaven, Grampian, AB39 2JY

South & Mid Wales -
Tafarn John y Gwas, Drefach-Felindre, West Wales, SA44 5XG

South West -
Tom Cobley Tavern, Spreyton, Devon, EX17 5AL

Surrey & Sussex -
Royal Oak, Friday Street, Rusper West Sussex, RH12 4QA

Wessex -
Red Lion Inn, Kilmington, Wiltshire, BA12 6RP

West Midlands -
Beacon Hotel, 129 Bilston Street, Sedgley, West Midlands, DY3 1JE

West Pennines -
Manor Arms, Princes Street, Broughton-in-Furness, Cumbria, LA20 6HQ

Yorkshire -
Kelham Island Tavern, 62 Russell Street, Sheffield, Yorkshire, S3 8RW

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Good Beer Guide


Today sees the official launch of the 2009 Good Beer Guide, CAMRA's flagship annual. No jolly this year for the journos, just Roger Protz encamped at HQ fielding up to 20 radio stations for interview. The press coverage on the back of press releases issued yesterday seems strong with even The Sun city pages (sic) covering the guide together with our new sat-nav and text services.

The guide is available here for £10 + postage for CAMRA Members against the usual cover price of £14.99.

However, I have already been alerted to this by a prudent fellow hop head.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Chappel Beer Festival




A visit today to Chappel & Wakes Colne beer festival hosted by Essex branches of CAMRA. This festival is held at the East Anglian Railway Museum and as you can see the beer is stillaged among vintage railway carriages and other stock.

The best facility is a victorian, cast iron, 2 bay, open air, urinal. While taking a visit, I was somewhat disconcerted to be sharing my wee with a slightly well-to-do lady of mature years. "Oooh, I just came around to have a look", she declared. "No comment" said I !

Monday, 8 September 2008

London Drinker

I don't get much correspondence for the attention of the London Drinker editor but this one arrived in my inbox recently.

Dear Mr. Geoff editor Sir,

I wish to take this opportunity to ask you as to how the very name for you're publication came about and if you think it portrays a positive image to the pub going public at large? I have to say that for me at least as well as others to whom I have spoken, the name conjures up rather unfortunate images of old homeless on the proverbial park bench of life as well as young loutish tearaways on buses abusing their use of liberty as well as other transport users. I guess that this is merely an oversight of some sort on the part of the organising committee and for all I am aware the magazine itself may have been in existence for many years (I've now been reading it with pleasure for five point five of those) but in light of the current political climate concerning the issues of 'drink', I wonder if a change of 'branding' would not be slightly more apropos of caution? as I for one would hate the very thought that some may (mis?)construe the name as portraying a negative image of the ale drinking populace as a whole.

As it is many of the ale drinking faces that I see and rub shoulders with do not to my own mind at least seem to be portraying a particularly what I would describe as positive image of the community that are likely to read and probably contribute to the London Drinker as a whole due very much of the unclean or unwashed appearance that so many of them seem to want to live up to. This I have to say is particularly prevalent in the older generation (s?) of beer drinkers whereas those of a much younger age group that I see at some of the beer festivals (fashionable facial stubble aside, rather than mandatory facial OVERgrowth)seem to laugh quite audibly at their elder counterparts because of this. I am one who sits back with my pint and observes the world passing by with interest and sometimes concern at those things in which I have a vested interest.

So on that note of corporate if that be the correct turn of phrase image I wonder what the thinking is or was behind the naming of such a platform? Maybe a competition could be featured in the LD to guess this as in "win a case of....." or such. Or perhaps one to rename the future of it. Hoping and trusting that I have not and am not causing any offence in any way or means by making these light hearted suggestions and enquiry.

Yours with indifference.

Cnt. Arthur Strong esq
Reader

London Drinker magazine receives various rants over the course of a year and it is often hard to spot the spoofs from the real nutters. However, a quick google unearths the following :

"Count Arthur Strong is a fictional comedy character created by English comedian Steve Delaney. He is an elderly pompous out-of-work deluded thespian from the North of England who is challenged by attention deficit disorder and memory loss. He is apt to use malapropisms in his attempts to sound educated"

Hang on, that sounds just like ..... nope probably best not to go there !

Friday, 5 September 2008

Good Beer Guide

The 2009 Good Beer Guide has landed and is the usual beefy tome at 900 pages.

However, the first deletion arrived in my inbox earlier this week. The Wheatsheaf on Putney Bridge Road in Wandsworth, SW18 is to be closed by Youngs.

Described in the Guide as ...a fantastic unspoilt pub ....a little gem ... welcoming.....worth seeking out, The Wheatsheaf made it into the book for the first ever time in 2008 and is retained for 2009. This is of course, no mean feat for the licensees given the abundance of excellent pubs in the Wandsworth area.

The Wheatsheaf is a tiny pub, a legacy of a bygone age, where the beer drinker was king, and after work drinking holes were always full.

My favourite memories of it will be after visits to the brewery or agm on the usual tour of Wandsworth. There used to be a large pub dog, doberman type, who , given the slightest invitation, would disconcertingly choose to sit on your lap.

The pub will be closing on Saturday 27th September.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and I am pleased to report that the licensees of The Wheatsheaf are moving to their nearest other pub, the Crane, Armoury Way. This has been a pub fraught with problems for years. Flooding was the latest but Youngs have now invested in yet another refurbishment, this time to include flood protection and the pub will be opening on 28th or 29th with hosts who now have a reputation for one of the best pints in town.

The Crane has not been in the Good Beer Guide for approaching 25 years so there is clearly a job to be done on the real ale side. I look forward to a visit in the interests of research.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Cask Ale Seminar

This week's Morning Advertiser reports on a Cask Ale Seminar hosted by Wells & Youngs. It was the "Top Tips" section that caught my eye, offered by the managing directors of 3 small pub chains :

"If you are putting on a cask ale for the first time, put it on at a good price. It is difficult to push up prices later."

"Install an extra handpump, even if it isn't connected. It makes people think you run a real-ale pub"

"Don't turn the pump clip round when the barrel is empty. It gives the impression the beer is off. Instead, put a sign on the handpull saying : the beer is being conditioned."

Top tips indeed !

Monday, 1 September 2008

Tales from the Riverbank (2)

My wife dragged me along to the Barnes Wetlands Centre the other day for a little wildlife spotting. Not much to offer for the beer lover but I did learn that Pedigree is named after the French for a crane's foot - pied de grue.

Spotted a couple of griffins in the local pub, The Red Lion. (Is a griffin a bird ?) but also spotted a cuckoo in the griffin's nest. Nestled alongside the London Pride and the ESB was the lesser spotted Timothy Taylor Landlord Bitter surely a stranger in such surroundings.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Tales from the Riverbank (1)


I was walking the dog the other day along the river path past the Stag Brewery in Mortlake and just reflected on the size of the site. If the handful of acres at Wandsworth realised £69 million, this prime stretch of river bank but be worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

Of course, it has always been prime land but the brewery is about to change hands again. The owners, Anheuser Busch are in the final days of being swallowed up by Inbev, to combine as the world's largest brewer, with a turnover of $36 billion and production of over 46 billion litres.

Although Mortlake Brewery is now a state of the art lager plant brewing vast quantities of Budweiser, my guess is that this could be one of the prime assets of the Anheuser Busch UK business. Luckily the credit crunch will defer any plans to "rationalise the property portfolio".

Beer has been brewed in Mortlake for over 500 years and although the Brewery History Society would have grounds for complaint about any redevelopment, how ironic it would be for a brewery whose more recent history has been anonymous to the real ale scene, to be a case for a protest campaign.

In my memory the brewery was owned first by Watneys. In those days of the late 1970's there was still a large amount of real ale produced - although it was of the Watney variety - London Bitter and Fined Bitter together with the fine barley wine, Stingo (in bottle only). Although I don't believe that Red Barrel was ever brewed here, it was for the local Sheen Lawn Tennis Club that keg beer was invented in 1960's. As Watney was taken over by Grand Met, the brewery became part of Courage and then Scottish Courage, part of Scottish and Newcastle and at that time started to become more lager driven.

ScotCo then leased the brewery to Anheuser Busch who have since made billions of pints of Budweiser on the site and, it is believed, purchased the freehold more recently.

My only comment thus far is watch this space - I would think plenty of others are.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

SIBA

The winner of the SIBA South East competition was Arundel Brewer, Sussex Mild.

My category was Standard Bitter and Pale Ales up to 4%. A large category with 23 beers to taste. Our winner was Surrey Hills Brewery, Ranmore Ale.

Other winners are :
Mild : Arundel, Sussex Mild
Bitter : Surrey Hills, Ranmore
Best Bitter : Ballrds, Best Bitter
Premium Bitter : Arundel, Stronghold
Strong Bitter : Oakleaf, Gosport Bitter
Strong Ale : Westerham, Audit Ale
Porter, Stout etc : Ballards, Wild Porter
Speciality : Dark Star, Expresso Stout
Bottle : Oakleaf, Hole Hearted


A little more meat to this will follow later once I have fully recovered from tasting over 30 beers !