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 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 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 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


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 :

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

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.