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


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 !


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

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 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 :

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.