Friday, 18 December 2009

Middle Class Obesession ?

Can't resist sharing this. Apologies for not putting it into context but I guess you all read the newspapers ....

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Signing Off .....

Taking a break ..... TTFN

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Pig's Ear Beer Festival

Quick post as I am rushing around this week......

CAMRA's legendary London winter beer festival (known as Pig's Ear) makes it 26th appearance this week at Ocean in Hackney from Tuesday to Saturday this week.

Neither the town of Hackney nor the actual night club style venue were initially very well received by London's drinkers when the event was resurrected a couple of years ago after many years at Stratford.

However, last year, the numbers were up and plenty more beer was drunk so people are slowly getting used to it and clearly having a good time.

I don't think you can beat it for its range of winter, Christmas and one-off festival special beers.

I will be down there tomorrow as I am chairing the CBOB panel that is judging the barley wine category; mmmm barley wine at 10am.

Enjoy it everyone.

More info and beer list available on the ELAC Camra website here.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

White Horse Parsons Green

I think I may have developed an allergy to hops. I had three pints yesterday but boy, do I know I had a drink.

Admittedly, the three pints were taken at The White Horse Old Ale Festival and were mostly in the region of 6% - 9% so, I guess that makes it the equivalent of six or seven normal strength pints. I will have to be dry now until Wednesday as there is a big week ahead.

The White Horse at Parsons Green has hosted the Old Ale Festival in the last week of November for the last 27 years so you would expect them to be getting the hang of it but this year's list must be the biggest and best.

Among the highlights for me was Thornbridge Raven, a beer you might call a black IPA, brewed with black and chocolate malt but with a generous hop bitterness that balances the roast malt character. A 6.6% sharpener.

My overall winner for the day was Sierra Nevada, Celebration. A cask beer brewed in California and released for Thanksgiving and Christmas each year to celebrate the season. A rich beer with a spicy hop aroma, a complex taste of orange, with hint of honey and almonds finished with a long warming, fruity aftertaste. A lovely 6.8% beer as good as you come to expect from Sierra Nevada.

Some people do say that the WH is a bit expensive but overall my three pints cost less than £15 - less than I would have spent on a session of six or seven pints in the pub and this for rarities that I probably won't see again. Very good value in my opinion.

The festival continues throughout the weekend. I recommend a visit.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Portsmouth Pubs

I seem to be a bit off the pace at the moment having spent much of the last two weeks out-of-town and away from my desk.

Last week saw us spend a couple of days in Portsmouth where my favourite son is studying. Hit the tourist trails and experienced the usual ups and downs of the local pubs.

Gun Wharf Quays is the newest, most recently spruced up part of Portsmouth. It is a re-development of bars, restaurants, nightclub, outlet shopping and apartments. It is a happening place with some good vibes. It is common that the traditional pub in places like this is an All Bar One or a Yates. Here we find the Old Custom House a large Fuller's pub converted from old naval office building. Gales brewery was a backward company in many ways but this is an example of the vision and ambition that could have saved the company as an independent outfit. Fuller's have inherited a great pub here. It is large and multi-roomed but still bright and inviting. The staff give the impression that they are there to make sure your visit is as enjoyable as possible. We have enjoyed a meal here on a couple of visits. It is a pub where you get the impression that people are trying hard. The wide range of Fuller's beers is an add-on for me and the beer has been good on all three visits. I think the pub has had problems with consistency in the past and as such does not appear in the Good beer Guide.

The next pub, venturing towards Southsea, is The Hole in the Wall, Portsmouth CAMRA pub of the year, and the home of Oakleaf Hole Hearted beer. I enjoyed a pint of porter here and my wife and son had the Weston's perry - both good. I was concerned to see most people drinking pints of squash - lemon and orange. On further research, the orange proved to be Cheddar Valley cider, a brighter cider you will not see and the lemon was alcoholic ginger beer. Unfortunately I tried neither as we were hot footing it to the next place.

The Florence Arms, further into Southsea is a friendly pub that focuses on cider. A list of about forty bottled and cask ciders was offered. Whitehead perry was chosen by the lightweights, I had a lovely pint of an Oakleaf seasonal beer - a long name that I cannot remember (and does not appear on their website - was I dreaming ?).

Onwards and upwards to the Fifth Hants Volunteer Arms on the main Southsea drinking stretch, Albert Road, a cosmopolitan, vibrant if slightly scruffy street. I was expecting a Fuller's pub from the Good Beer Guide description. I was surprised as we approached because it must be one of the only Fuller's pubs that has not received the post Gales makeover. When we entered it was clear that this pub was in dire need of some tender loving care and attention. The furniture and carpets were filthy, the welcome non-existent and the beer, like the rest of the pub, tired. This small pub has probably suffered in this long, deep recession and really does need, what I think is now commonly called in the trade, "tenant support". I hope it gets a leg up soon because this is a small, traditional, street corner community pub that is fast becoming lost in this country. I know tenants have obligations under their leases but this sort of run-down ambiance does nothing good for a company as widely regarded as Fullers. A Good Beer Guide pub for many years on the evidence of many certificates on show but it must be in serious danger of being omitted in future unless it pulls its socks up.

The evening ended watching the football in the Leopold, a modern pub also on Albert Road. Excellent pints of Oakleaf Hole Hearted made the Thierry Henry handball even more funny.

So there you have it, a trot around the pubs of Pompey. Some highs and some lows. Mainly good beer, great choice of local beers and cider and reasonable prices.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Good Beer Guide

I like the Good Beer Guide. I always buy the latest edition. I have it on my sat-nav, I use it on every trip. Over the years, I have helped with surveys, editing and distribution - I trust the formula.

However, every now and then it lets me down. Last week, I came across the most dirty pub I have been in for years. The furniture was filthy, the carpets too. It has had no investment for years despite being owned by one of the regional breweries. Sometimes these pubs do make it into the GBG if the beer is of sufficient quality to overcome all of these deficiencies. After all it is the GOOD BEER Guide. On this occasion the beer was close to being undrinkable too.

I suppose the guide covers about 5,000 pubs so sometimes things will slip in depending on each local CAMRA branch. I would be surprised to see this pub in the Guide again unless it receives some significant improvements - both to the decor and the beer.

I hope I have more luck this week. My research continues.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Double Beer Festival

On Saturday there was a joint beer festival between the Bull at Horton Kirby, Kent's CAMRA pub of the year and the Dartford Working Mens' Club, the Club of the year for Kent.

Both bars had twenty or so beers available and transport was laid on between the two - a ride of twenty minutes or so - an excellent idea that should be applauded and supported.

I enjoyed three pints of Gales Seafarers at the Fullers results presentation at breakfast on Friday morning and decided to hot foot it down to Kent for the beer festival.

Idiot ! I did not check my diary - or my London Drinker - for if I had I would have realised that the beer festival was only on the Saturday.

Nevertheless I enjoyed three pints of great beer at the Dartford Working Mens' Club at £2.05 a pint - the Marble Pint and York Centurion's Ghost were both excellent choices. My plan was then to get the bus to HK but I ran out of steam and headed for home with my tail betweeen my legs. A lesson learned the hard way.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

A dead parrot ?

Given that this blog has been fairly well received in the eighteen months that I have been working on it, and continues to attract an increasing readership, I thought it worth spreading my quill a little farther afield and see if I have the capability of some more formal writing projects.

I had a few ideas, one of which I have worked on in more detail in the last couple of weeks. I shared it with someone I trust and we agreed that it was worthy of further research and work.

I am fast learning the ups and downs of the publishing world. My proposal has been tweaked at least four times so far and the pitch is now ready for a wider audience.

I am not going to elaborate further at this stage as the project is still very much a work-in-progress. One thing is for sure, I will give it my best shot to see if I have the confidence and the ability to become a "real" beer writer.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Roebuck on Richmond Hill

The view of the Thames from the top of Richmond Hill has been celebrated for centuries and now has protected status. Read more here.

This is also the view from one of Richmond's most historic pubs, The Roebuck.
Get to the pub early, sit in the window, and the view, while you sup a pint of London Pride or one of the three guest beers, is priceless.

Alternatively, on a fine day, take your beer onto the terrace to enjoy the panorama in its full splendour. The painting copied above is by JMW Turner, a resident of Twickenham, painted in 1815; the ones below are my own take on such a delightful setting.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Prize Old Ale

One of the highlights of the recent Willoughby Arms Halloween Beer Festival was a rare cask of Fullers, Gales Prize Old Ale.

The tasting notes in the festival program were written when Roger Protz was a boy, describing hand-corked bottles and wooden fermenters and really relate to a beer from a bygone age.

The story of the new version of Prize Old Ale is as follows :

Fullers acquired the beer when they took over Gales of Horndean in 2007. They also acquired a final batch of forty barrels of the beer that had been brewed by Gales and was being matured. Fullers took this beer back to Chiswick and launched it in bottle last year. The beer had a distinct, overpowering sourness reminiscent of the Belgian lambic style beers.

Fullers first effort at brewing the beer was last year. The 9.5% barley wine style beer was brewed in Chiswick in 2008 and blended with the very last drop - a small amount - of the old Horndean brewed beer thus retaining the provenance and continuity of the Gales beer, imparting some infected tartness but not allowing the lambic character to be overpowering. This beer was then matured in the brewery for a further year.

The beer was brewed again in 2009 and has just been blended 60:40 with the matured beer. This is the beer that has just been launched in bottle (and ten casks). The remainder of the new beer will now be blended with a small amount of the old beer and further matured until next year. A real labour of love for John Keeling, Fullers Brewing Director.

John provided me with some tasting notes for the new beer (via Twitter, hence the brevity) :

Prize Old Ale - aroma lots of fruit,sour cherries - flavour tart fruity sherbet edge balanced with malty sweetness

My own tasting notes at the Willoughby suggest a dark ruby colour, small tight head and a spicy hop aroma. Some alcohol evident on the nose. A full bodied beer, with a sweetness of fruitcake and wine gums with notes of raisins, leather and tobacco and a little sour tartness. A long spicy hop finish with a lingering alcoholic warmth.

The beer labelled the 2008 vintage will be available soon at the shop at the Fullers Brewery - which will also be getting an on-line presence in the very near future.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

CAMRA's Peak District Pub Walks

Open Letter to Bob Steel,
author of CAMRA's Peak District Pub Walks

Dear Bob

I am writing to thank you for the part you played in a short break that my wife and I spent out of town recently.

It was on the strength of your previous work, CAMRA's London Pub Walks, that I purchased your later effort on the Peak District.

The London book is without doubt the best book of pub walks in London that has ever been published and is an essential buy for anyone with an interest in London's pubs and their history.

Walking in Derbyshire is more of a stretch than a trot around three or four pubs in the Capital but my appetite was whetted when I saw that the British Guild of Beer Writers were hosting a seminar on Barley Wine at Thornbridge Hall, right in the middle of the Peak. Using your book as a guide we planned our visit.

Your book led us to our first stopover at the Old Poets' Corner in Ashover, a real find and surely one of the best real ale destination pubs in the country. One night here was not really enough but I was on a barley wine mission.

From here we drove into the heart of the National Park to our next stop The Monsal Head Hotel, which lies a mile or two from Thornbridge Hall. You describe the walk in this area as the best one in the book. We were not disappointed; riverside paths, a railway viaduct, open views and natural and industrial history; a ten mile walk pausing halfway at the Red Lion, a lovely pub on the village green, and finishing back at the hotel bar, a converted stables, which provides 5 real ales including local offerings from the brilliant Thornbridge Brewery. The hotel has slipped from the 2010 Good Beer Guide but I can vouch for the choice, service and beer quality - all excellent. The food served in the bar is the same menu as that offered in the hotel restaurant and proved to be first class. The hotel itself cannot be beaten for location and sits high on the hill overlooking the disused railway viaduct over the picturesque River Wye. Another real find that we will return to.

Bob, we had an absolutely excellent few days which would not have been nearly as good without your steer towards the best pubs and walks in the area. I will definitely be recommending CAMRA's Peak District Pub Walks to others. Thanks again.

By the way, I was hoping to attach the photo that should appear on page 66, the one in the book being use of "creative licence" but all the same a "red herring". Unfortunately, my camera was lost on a recent beer trip so that photo is also lost.

Best regards


Saturday, 7 November 2009

Wikio Ranking

Last month there was much sadness in the Beer Justice household as my Wikio blog ranking fell from number 39 to 40. Was it worth all of the effort to be the 40th highest ranking beer and wine blog ?

Well, I must be doing something right again. I knew that more people visited in November than in any previous month so I was delighted to see this reflected in the Wikio rankings with a massive rise to number 23.

I have no idea how this works but I will just keep plugging away and maybe - just maybe - the blog will be deemed strong enough to join the Top 20 in the coming months when I could rub shoulders with the most successful bloggers - many of them now good friends - who count their readership in thousands rather than hundreds.

Tell your friends, let's make it happen ;-)

Friday, 6 November 2009

Twickenham Brewery

I took the short bus ride to Twickenham Brewery on Saturday with the CAMRA London Tasting Panel to visit the brewery, gather up-to-date news and assist with Good Beer Guide tasting notes for their four beers that are available throughout the year.

The four regular beers are :

Naked Ladies, a name inspired by the statues of water nymphs in York House gardens in Twickenham, a 4.4% golden ale with a distinct hop aroma and flavour,

Twickenham Original, a malty 4.2% best bitter

Sundancer, their CAMRA award winning 3.7% session bitter
Grandstand Bitter - a well hopped, 3.8% brownish amber, session bitter.

The success of these beers together with a seasonal offering and occasional specials, means that Twickenham Fine Ales are, like many other local micros, working flat out, at full capacity, to fulfill the order book.

The next expansion plan is in progress as they invest in a new fermenter, new bigger delivery vehicle, additional staff member and additional space to grow capacity significantly over the coming months.

In theory, the country is in the depths of deep recession but many micro breweries seem to be reporting the same growth in business despite all of the barriers that Government seems to put in their way and despite reports that up to 50 pubs are closing each week.

Cheers to Twickenham, Sambrooks and Brodies for flying the flag for London.
We will also welcome the new Redemption Brewery to London's brewing scene in the next month too.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Sambrook's Junction

News on Sambrook's new beer is here.

Publican Awards

The Publican Awards have been announced. Some of the winners notable from either a London or a beer perspective are :

Beer Range Pub of the Year - Pivo Café Bar, York

Gastro Pub of the Year - Somerstown Coffee House, Euston

HQ Food Champion of the Year - St Austell Brewery, St Austell

Spirits Pub of the Year - The Hide Bar, Southwark

Unsung Hero of the Year - Joanie Clement, the Nightingale, Balham

Wine Pub of the Year - The Vintry, City of London

Cask Ale Pub of the Year - The Dove Street Inn, Ipswich

York is somewhere that I haven't visited for ages and it looks as though Pivo Cafe Bar is a worthy addition to the beer scene there. Memo to self - must move York up the list of places to visit.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

New Guinness TV Advert

When the PR team at Guinness got in touch with me, I thought I was going to get a sneak preview of their new TV advert. Instead, they have sent me some photos to wet my whistle and spark some curiosity in the new advert that is being launched on Wednesday.

It was hard enough for me to work out how to use the memory stick and digital reader but now that I have the grasp of the technology, I can now share them with you.

I am none the wiser but as with all their adverts it is likely to be expensive, entertaining, watchable and a talking point in the pub.

I assume that it also helps sell huge volumes of the black stuff :-)

Monday, 2 November 2009

National Honey Show

or : Honey, I've Drunk the Beers.

Last week I stepped into the Melissa Cole's shoes as a late replacement to help judge the Honey Beer category at The National Honey Show. Melissa had a bit of beer business to attend to in New York, so I volunteered to buzz off down to Weybridge for the morning.

The National Honey Show has been held annually for 78 years and has matured into a competition with over 200 classes of honey, beeswax, photography, confectionery, mead and now for the first time - BEER.

Class 41 - Honey Beer (entry fee £20)
Any style, 3 bottles or cans. The beer should be commercially available and honey must be an ingredient. Gold, Silver and Bronze medals awarded.

There are over 20 beers available commercially that have honey as one of the ingredients and a creditable seven made the effort to join the competition in its first year - though one was sadly held up in the post and did not appear at the judging table.

There were no judging criteria apart from the above so the three judges : myself, Tim Hampson, chair of the British Guild of Beer Writers and John Porter, beer and food expert, lately of the Publican, were able to set the standard.

We started with a blind tasting, scoring on appearance, aroma, taste, aftertaste, and overall quality. Then we undressed the beers and gave a score for presentation and further considered the use of honey in the beers given the nature of the event.

After much swilling and slurping, interspersed with a general education on bees, honey and beekeeping from our hosts, we decided that the overall winner should be the Bumble Bee Ale brewed by Freeminer Brewery exclusively for the Co-Op.

A 4.6% golden ale, with a delicate floral aroma, a mix of biscuity malt and balanced sweetness on the palate with the flavour of the Chilean Wild Flower Fairtrade honey not too overpowering giving equal measure to a lemon, spicy hoppiness and a long bitter finish. A crisp, approachable, very moreish beer.

Second was Bracia brewed by Thornbridge, a 9% rich dark beer brewed with Italian chestnut honey and in third place was Lovibonds Wheat Wine another strong beer (7.3%) where the taste of the locally sourced honey was unmistakable.

A thoroughly enjoyable morning, in good company, with some excellent beers and a worthy winner. Cheers to the honey bee.

Honey is becoming popular with brewers as, although it is an expensive ingredient, it does generally result in a crisp, clean, lighter beer than a malt only brew and can if brewed with care give rise to a lovely delicate, honey sweetness that is not too overpowering.

Hopefully the category will now gain some momentum and result in an increased entry for next year. At the National Honey Show there are 15 categories for Mead so there is something for Britain's brewers to aspire to.

Fuller's Vintage Ale

The 2009 Vintage Ale from Fuller's is just about to be released to stores and I was lucky enough too receive an invitation to a recent vertical tasting of the beer at the brewery shop.

Fullers Vintage is brewed once each year using the finest quality ingredients available to the brewer, John Keeling. This year's beer was brewed four months ago and bottled in the last week or two. It is an 8.5% bottle conditioned, barley wine, has a fresh Goldings hop aroma and flavour, and the distinct traditional Fuller's character of orange marmalade which comes from the Fullers yeast in their stronger beers. I love this version of the beer - newly brewed, good balance of bitterness and sweetness, fresh and loads of hop character. However this beer does mature and develop over time and, to illustrate its potential for ageing, next up was the 1999 Vintage.

This beer has been in the bottle for over 10 years and the spicy hop notes are gone giving way to an aroma and flavour more reminiscent of a sherry or liqueur, the orange flavours remain though I think there is an alcoholic finish that I can't really appreciate. However I concede there are plenty who prefer this older, more mature version of the beer. It has developed into a complex and sophisticated drink and is to be appreciated in a small glass on a cold night.

To my taste the beers reach a peak at around five years and the third tasting was a 2005 Vintage, a smooth mellow beer, no harsh alcohols, still a noticeable spicy, citrus, Fuggles hop aroma and flavour. It remains balanced with both the sweetness and the bitterness providing a delicious taste of rich fruit cake followed by a long warming finish. Lovely !

The shop itself is going from strength to strength. The recent refurbishment and longer opening hours have been an improvement and now one can find the full portfolio of Fullers beers together with a much expanded range of clothing and collectibles and some special items exclusive to the shop.

Each of the previous Vintage Ales that remain available are also on sale at prices ranging from £4.85 to about £7 depending on the rarity value. The years 1997, 1998, 2001 and 2002 are no longer available - this is a great shame as they are the only ones missing from my own collection. The store will be going on-line in the coming months too for those fans who are not within reach of Chiswick (alas UK only to start with).

To receive future information about special events and tastings at the shop, register here or follow @fullerstony or @fullersjohn at Twitter.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Haunted London Pubs

As we approach the witching hour it is timely to revisit the stories of ghostly goings on in licensed premises.

Earlier in the summer, I wrote a post on the curiosity that is the number of supposedly haunted pubs around the country. A few days later I received a copy of a new book on Haunted London Pubs published by The History Press.

The book brings me no closer to understanding why so many pubs seem to have a ghostly presence and I remain firmly of the opinion that it is all made up to drum up trade over the years. However, this book does focus on London and covers in some detail almost a hundred of our pubs and their spooky past.

The ghostly connection is covered for each pub from the old favourites such as the guardsman at The Grenadier in Belgravia and highwaymen at the Spaniards Inn, Hampstead to less well known visiting spectres at the Roebuck, Richmond Hill and The Market Porter in Borough.

All-in-all a rattling if slightly un-nerving read and an addition to my knowledge of London's fine pubs.

It is always good to find a book on pubs that is written from a historian's perspective rather than the usual beer and pub experts. A slightly different view to our favourite hobby is always welcome.

The book is well illustrated with black and white photos and although (as seems common these days) the cover price of £9.99 seems a bit steep for such a thin volume, the book is available at Amazon for a more reasonable £6.49.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Music to my ears

You know I am always delighted to share any snippets of genius that come my way. Here is Old Speckled Hen fan and musician Jonathan Vincent's take on Beethoven's Ode to Joy on his very special musical instrument. Jonathan was invited by Greene King to make the video after he sent them some amateur footage of his bottle blowing skills. In his words "the creation and tuning of the ‘instrument’ was particularly enjoyable, mainly because it involved drinking the excess beer with friends!” Marvellous stuff.

Halloween Beer Festivals

This week sees a clash of events in my part of London - though luckily both are held over a number of days affording a visit to both.

The first beer festival held at Le Gothique in Wandsworth earlier in the year was such a success that a second one is planned for this week - More details can be found not on Le Gothique web-site which still shows the spring fest but on The Beer Viking blogsite - who are one of the sponsors. The list of 75 mainly dark beers for your enjoyment here.

If anyone is hunting the Adnams seasonal, Belgian Abbey Ale, it should be available here together with some other highlights such as Sarah Hughes Dark Ruby, Robinson's Old Tom and the legendary Downton Chocolate Orange Delight.

Free pre-booked tickets are available here but selling out fast.

If I am not spotted at Le Gothique, I will be in Kingston at The Willoughby Arms Halloween Festival where the highlight is undoubtedly a rare appearance of Fullers Gales Prize Old Ale in cask.

This is the first version of this famous beer that has been brewed by Fullers in Chiswick - all previous versions being brewed at Gales Brewery in Horndene, Hampshire. It will be very interesting to see if the Fullers team have matched the famous tartness which came along as an infection from the old wooden fermenters in the ancient brewery but will be difficult to reproduce in the stainless steel conical fermenters used at Chiswick. There was once talk of blending a small amount of the infected beer with a new beer to impart a little of that tartness. I am very keen to taste it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Brewdog IPO

Although my CV says that I am a Chartered Accountant, I am neither authorised nor trained to provide investment advice to others. As such anything I may say to others about investing in Brewdog or indeed any other brewery shares is my own personal opinion and in most cases anecdotal.

I think it is a brave move to go to the beer geek community and ask for £2.3 million in return for a c10% stake in the business. They have already taken on board some "Dragon" investors who took a 12.5% stake for c£600k in June.

This latest round of fund raising values the business (effectively the Brewdog brand) at close to a staggering £25 million.

Personally speaking, I really hope they pull it off. This is an exciting time for them and to ask their loyal customers to climb aboard is innovative. The business currently relies on the founders who must be in it for the long haul; hopefully the dragons from USA feel the same. They all feel they are building a brand that has enormous potential.

If last night's drinks party to celebrate the share issue is anything to go by, the target investor is young, affluent, upwardly mobile and loves beer.

Me ? Only the latter, but I am on board with one share at £230. I am keen to go along for the ride but have only invested the minimum with money I can afford to lose. I like the beer and the people and feel it is worthy of support. I have a similar holding in Hop Back and Twickenham for the same reason but I lost £500 or so by investing in Cains just before it went into prepack administration.

Monday, 19 October 2009

News from Brewdog

In their words ......

This will be the single most exciting, audacious and revolutionary thing BrewDog has ever done.

Be very, very excited people.....

More info here.

The Old Poets' Corner

In 1946, George Orwell described a hypothetical favourite pub that he called The Moon Under Water. Read it here. I am about to do the same, less eloquently but you'll get the message. For arguments sake, let's call the pub The Old Poets' Corner.

What am I looking for in a great pub ?

I want 9 or 10 handpumps

I want local beers from local micro-breweries

I want beer from breweries I have never heard of

I want to see support for CAMRA's Locale scheme

I want the most local beer to be brewed in a garage at the back of the pub

I want national beers such as London Pride or Greene King Abbott

I want a dark beer, I want a strong beer, I want a golden beer, I want a mild

I want the beer to be as cheap as £2.20 a pint and no more expensive than £2.85

I want the beer to be so clear that it literally sparkles in the light

I want regular beer festivals

I want Belgian bottled beers

I want four ciders served directly from the cellar

I want two perries

I want the pub open all day

I want efficient staff and a friendly welcome

I want home cooked food

I want a carvery on Sunday

I want Sunday night to be curry night

I want a range of local sausages

I want food served throughout the day

I want locally sourced meat and vegetables

I want live music

I want quiz night

I want the local CAMRA newsletter

I want a friendly pub

I want people to make space for me to sit if the pub is busy

I want to engage in conversation with strangers

I want a dog friendly pub

I want a pub where the locals feel comfortable bringing in their harrier hawks on their arms after a day's falconry

I want a real fire in Winter

I want somewhere to sit outside in Summer with views of the surrounding countryside

I want reasonably priced bed and breakfast with a discount for CAMRA members

I want black pudding

I want to interrupt my beer drinking with walks in the local countryside

I want those walks to be downloadable from the web-site

I want the pub to win CAMRA awards

I want the president of SIBA to be sitting in the corner

I want the clientele to include a member of CAMRA's National Executive and the GBBF beer orderer

(I cannot guarantee these customers on every visit but hilarious to bump into them when I thought I was on a quiet break with my wife)

Unlike Orwell's, Moon Under Water, The Old Poets' Corner does exist. It is situated in the village of Ashover, Derbyshire on the edge of the Peak District.

I cannot praise this pub highly enough. A real find and an absolute credit to Kim and Jackie Beresford, the owners who work their socks off to make sure the customer is satisfied. Seek them out if you are in the area.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Beer Festivals

For your diary : these are the known local beer festivals in the next month or two

16th-25th Hoopers Bar, East Dulwich
23rd-24th Wenlock Arms, Hoxton
23rd-25th Hope (LocAles), Carshalton
28th-31st Willoughby Arms, Kingston
29th-31st Le Gothique, Wandsworth Common North
30th-1st Nov Fox, Hanwell
30th-1st Nov Hoopers Bar (cider), East Dulwich
30th-2nd Nov Land of Liberty, Peace & Plenty Heronsgate

2nd-7th Speaker (Guy Fawkes ales), Victoria
4th-7th Falcon, Clapham Jct
6th-8th Red Lion (Lancs & Yorks), Isleworth
11th-14th Nag's Head, Walthamstow
12th-15th WFCS&SC, Walthamstow
12th-16th Druids Head, Kingston
13th-14th Woking Leisure Centre
14th-15th Crosse Keys, City EC3
18th-22nd Pembury Tavern, Hackney
19th-20th Piglet 9 Leyton Orient Supporters Club
19th-21st Watford, West Herts Sports Club
20th-22nd Hope (dark ales), Carshalton
21st Bull, Horton Kirby
21st Dartford, WMC Dartford
27th-29th White Horse (old ales), Parsons Green

1st-5th Pig's Ear Ocean, Hackney
11th-20th Hoopers Bar (winter), East Dulwich

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Adnams Kolsch in Barnes

Sometimes the greatest pleasure in life is one that comes unexpected. Such was my experience last week when I dropped in on a local pub that I had not visited since Christmas. Given that I am the local CAMRA rep for my nearest 15 or so pubs it is inexcusable to overlook those that are not on the tried and tested real ale radar.

The setting of The Sun Inn in Barnes is perfect, nestled alongside Barnes Pond, in what is often described as a charming village-like atmosphere. Their real ale, in my experience, has never matched the beauty of the location. However, in the cause of research, it is important to keep the faith and I wandered in while dropping my London Drinker magazines to the award winning Fuller's and Young's pubs nearby.

The pub was full, as is usual, and on the bar alongside some of the more common beers was a strange pumpclip. On closer inspection, it appeared to be a new seasonal beer from Adnams - their take on a German Kolsh.

The beer was a delight. Gold in colour, it has a light floral aroma, is a 4.2% beer, served cool not chilled, with a lovely lemony hop flavour that faded quickly to a short floral aftertaste. Just what I needed after a more fruity ESB.

The beer is the first in a series of seasonal beers from Adnams and I will certainly looking out for future offerings :

October: Kölsch-style beer, 4.2%
November: Belgium Abbey Ale, 5.0%
December: German-style Wheat beer, 4.1%
January: American-style IPA, 4.8%
February: Belgian style Witbier, 4.2%
March: Irish Dry Stout, 4.3%

I will also be dropping into the Sun Inn more frequently. An unexpected pleasure on two counts - research well done.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Barley Wine Seminar

Decided to get out of the smoke for a few days this week by telling Mrs W that we were going to spend a few days in the Peak District. Little did she know that my cunning plan included spending Monday at a seminar on Barley Wine organised by the Guild of Beer Writers and hosted by Thornbridge Brewery - a match made in heaven.

My notes are copious so I must have learned something but it was followed by a long tasting of various barley wine style beers so much is now dead brain cells. I will do my best to share some highlights without getting bogged down in the detail :

Some 50 beer writers and brewers pitched up at Thornbridge Hall such was the pull of barley wine for an afternoon of speakers and tastings. First up to speak was Mark Dorber who gave a talk on the style of various strong beers; followed by John Keeling from Fullers to share the history of Golden Pride and Fullers Vintage and the merits of using a parti-gyle brewing method. Next came Steve Wellington of White Shield Brewery to give the history of barley wine from a Burton perspective and lastly an American viewpoint by Steve Grossman from Sierra Nevada Brewery.

A short break here for a cheese and beer tasting. Woodforde's Headcracker matched with a Cheddar, Fullers Golden Pride together with mature Stilton and Thornbridge Alliance with a Somerset Brie; perfectly illustrating that beer (particularly strong beer) is a far better match with cheese that the more populist "cheese and wine".

Back to the classroom and we were entertained by wise old beer sage, Barrie Pepper; the micro brewers perspective from Steve Gibbs at Durham Brewery; Jeff Rosenmeyer of Lovibonds Brewery then gave the story of his fabulous Wheat Wine, a barley wine in a wheat beer style (of which more another day), and finally Peter Brown with his views on how to sell the stuff.

This was followed by some tucker and an unrivalled selection of beers to taste including a Fullers Vintage from 1999 to show how such strong beers are able to mature once bottled, a Sierra Nevada Bigfoot that had been highly hopped (never ?) and matured in whisky cask, and the Lovibonds Gold Reserve, the Wheat Wine loaded with honey and on draught, (CAMRA activists look away now) and served chilled with a CO2 dispense.

The bus taking most of the delegates back to Sheffield station left at 7.15pm at which point I wandered off down the pitch black, tree lined lane to feel my way back to my hotel a mile or so away.

A great day ! Hopefully the legacy of the seminar will be more barley wine produced by brewers large and small. There were certainly some enthusiastic brewers there on the day and hopefully enough writers will follow it up to demonstrate that barley wine is no longer a drink for the old ladies to drink while their hubbies take a pint of mild. It is a beer style that can accommodate different drinking occasions, matches with good food and is very approachable in small volumes - a single serve nip or a 70cl bottle made for sharing - before, after or during a meal, or just a quiet contemplative warming glassful at the end of a long day.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The Cask Report

The last post suggested that although it has a lower retail price than other beers, cask ale creates a unique value chain that increases turnover and profit for pubs that sell it.

This is shown by a nice slide in the report (page 19) that did not reproduce well here. The value chain is illustrated thus :

Cask ale stockists are seen as better quality pubs

The cask ale drinker decides pub choice in group

Cask ale is only available in pubs

Cask ale drinkers are more affluent

Therefore :

Cask beer brings more customers into the pub

Cask beer drinkers visit pubs more often

Cask beer drinkers have a higher average spend per pub visit

In conclusion :

Cask ale = higher overall beer turnover

Cask ale = higher overall total turnover

Case proved.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Radio Four

If you have twenty minutes or so spare over the next week, I can recommend the Radio Four, Food Programme from last Sunday which covered the English hop renaissance :

English hops are enjoying a renaissance thanks to new varieties, greater demand for 'hoppy' ales and the incredible growth in micro breweries.
Sheila Dillon enjoys some of the heady aromas and samples some new ales. She visits Shepherd Neame, a brewery in Faversham, Kent and talks to head brewer, David Holmes, She visits farm owner Tony Redsell, whose family has been growing hops for over 50 years, and meets hop driers Derek Elvey and Peter Shead. Sheila also talks to Dr Peter Darby about The National Hop Collection at Queen Court Farm, near Faversham.
In the studio, she is joined in the studio by Roger Protz, beer writer and editor of The Good Beer Guide, and Martin Dickie, brewer and co-owner of Brewdog Brewery, Fraserburgh.
Available to listen on the Radio Four website over the next 4 days:

The Cask Report

Last night, I went to the launch of the latest Cask Ale Report which has now been rechristened The Cask Report and is again written by leading beer writer, Pete Brown, on behalf of the major players in the sector, Cask Marque, CAMRA, IFBB, SIBA, Adnams, Caledonian, Fuller's, Greene King, Marston's and Wells & Youngs.

The detail provides encouraging news for real ale and I recommend you dip into the actual report at the easily navigable and very readable website

Some of the following points might be secondary to the headlines in the report report itself but are still worthy of sharing :

It is the cask ale brewers that are showing most innovation in promotion and sponsorship - both Wells & Youngs and Greene King "inventing" new handpulls and both Marstons and Fullers showing commitment to sports sponsorship - with England's victory over the Aussies considered to be worth a million extra pints of Pedigree this summer.

Cask ale drinkers are about 15% more likely than other customers to eat a meal in their chosen pub.

Pubs with Cask Marque accreditation are much less likely to be a casualty of closure that others.

Cask Ale Week (29 March to 5 April) is likely to provide a sales uplift of over 25% on cask ale for those pubs taking part in that week.

Despite a lower wholesale price than other beers, cask ale brings increased turnover and profit for pubs that sell it.

62% of cask ale drinkers agree with the comment "it's worth paying more for" compared to 42% of other drinkers.

A national brand in the USA costs $3 whereas a craft brew costs $4.5

The national press are gradually recognising that cask ale is popular among their readers and although slow to move away from wine, once they see the light they will provide significantly better publicity for the category.

Finally, I think it is encouraging that CAMRA remains at this influential table. It would be easy for the major players to drift away from consumer input and forge their own furrow as in previous business cycles. The fact that the voice of the real ale drinker continues to be influential is a credit to CAMRA's Chief Executive, Mike Benner and long may it continue.

The fact that Julian Grocock, Chief Executive of SIBA is also on the committee is further proof of the influence that the growth in micro breweries is having on the sector and a clear illustration that the most efficient way to promote real ale is as a single voice encompassing all opinions.

Latest from Sambrook's

The latest news from Sambrook's Brewery is that sales of Wandle Ale continue to grow both in terms of the number of pubs taking the beer and the amount of beer each pub is selling.

A new fermenting vessel will be installed in the next two or three weeks and while most of the increased capacity will go to fulfilling more orders for Wandle, there will be capacity for a second beer at the beginning of November to coincide with CAMRA's London Pubs Week.

This, as yet un-named beer, will be a 4.5% best bitter. Any inspiration for a name will be gratefully received.

There is a newly appointed young brewer in situ, Andrew Dickson, who trained at Heriott Watt brewing school and has since furthered his training at Archers, Wadworths, Fullers and Oxfordshire Ales.

Up to date news, contact details and details of brewery tours etc is always on the website

To declare my interest, I am CAMRA's Brewery Liaison Officer for Sambrook's Brewery.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Cak Ale Report - From Zero to Hero

The latest Cask Ale Report is launched today confirming cask ale's renaissance.

The headlines under the banner "From Zero to Hero" are :

- 400,000 new drinkers in 2008
- Volume growth in a declining overall beer market
- Distribution in 3,000 new pubs last year
- More breweries trading than at any time in the past 60 years

Catch up with the detailed press release or download the actual report at

M&S Beer

One evening last week, I was invited along to the Marks and Spencer mother ship to taste their latest range of beers which has been expanded recently and should be in the stores now.

Their beer range had been close to non-existent until a couple of years ago when thay launched a range of own label regional beers - all bottle conditioned and all giving details of the brewers that they were sourced from.

That has proved so successful that they have now expanded their range of real ale and added a number of other beers to the list - there are now 22 beers and 6 ciders available on the shelves of the top 120 stores, with about two thirds of the range available in the next 200 largest stores.

The highlights in my opinion were the Cornish IPA, brewed by St Austell, bottle conditioned, a 5% fruity, hoppy beer with a delightful citrus aroma that gives an anticipation that is matched by a full flavour and more delicate light hop bitterness. One of the winners from the existing range. 500ml for £2.19.

The seasonal Christmas Ale, brewed by Cropton, comes in at 6.2% and is a classic Christmas spiced ale, fused with extracts of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and star anise. Some will find the spice slightly overpowering but I thought it was delicious - a real reminder that the festive season will be here soon. 500ml for £2.19.

Of the non real ales we started with a Spanish Lager and an Italian Lager, which "did what they said on the tin". I was disappointed with them but who am I to comment - many people will love the clean, unchallenging taste of these. The Belgian Lager and the Bavarian Winterfest were much more to my liking; both being very tasty, full in flavour and clearly brewed with passion and care by experts. All 500ml for £1.99.

Among the speciality beers was a Belgian Triple Abbey Beer, brewed by Huyghe Brewery, famous for their Delerium Tremens beer. A classic triple style, lovely frothy white head, golden in colour, good hoppy bitterness cutting through the 9.2% strength balanced with some more developed banana esters and apricot and peppery notes. 300ml for £1.99.

My final favourite was the London Porter brewed by Meantime, similar to their own Porter but slightly weaker (5.2%) and alas not bottle conditioned. Non-pasteurised though so still a fresh tasting beer with a lovely malty character and chocolate, leather and earthy notes. Brewed with 6 malts. 500ml for £1.99.

One minor disappointment was the suggestions for food matching. Now I am the last person to comment regarding food and beer - preferring the beer itself and thinking that any food will go with it but I think that M&S customers do not need to be told that Spanish Lager goes well with tapas, Italian Lager with pizza, Irish Stout with soda bread and stew, Cheshire Chocolate Porter with chocolate pudding, Scottish Ale with haggis.......You get the idea. If you are going to comment on food matching, please take it seriously, give it a focus, give it considered opinion, don't be lazy - the discerning M&S customer deserves better.

All in all though the range is excellent and shows a commitment to own label beer that is now unrivalled on the supermarket scene and for that M&S deserves much praise. Cheers.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Axe the Tax

The British Beer & Pub Association has decided that its message to "Axe the Tax" is an unrealistic goal in the current economic climate.

Axe the Tax was launched last year in an effort to persuade Government to reduce duty on beer following hefty increases and an apparent prejudice against the beer drinker.

It is now clear that we are not going to see any reductions in ANY taxes for the foreseeable future. Indeed, John Grogan MP, chair of the Parliamentary Beer Group, suggested to an industry forum last week that "Axe the Tax" was not a slogan that would work any time soon.

So, a sad day for Mr Pinty, another statistic in the unemployment figures, and a message to the beer drinker to get used to having to help pay our way out of recession.

No surprise there. This recession is deep and long and it will take an unpalatable mixture of higher taxes and reduced public spending to bring us back.

As beer drinkers, it will become our patriotic duty to drink more beer and be proud to pay more for it to do our bit for King and Country.

Are you ready for that test of your commitment ?

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Harry Houdini at Tetley's

Harry Houdini was a Hungarian illusionist and magician born in 1874. Later in his career he turned to escapology and is considered the father of that art and still widely regarded to have been one of the greatest escapologists in history.

He introduced a famous milk can trick in 1908. An over-sized milk can would be filled with water; Houdini would be handcuffed and sealed inside, then left behind a curtain to make his daring escape.

Building on this stunt, in 1911, Tetley's, even then a company that understood the value of publicity, challenged him to escape from a padlocked metal cask of ale.

Houdini accepted this challenge. However, it proved too much for him and he had to be rescued by a colleague who was becoming concerned at the silence from behind the curtain as time passed.

Houdini was hauled from the barrel, overcome by carbon dioxide fumes, barely conscious, and probably rather drunk.

His final demise was in 1926 at the age of 52 when he expired as a result of a ruptured appendix caused by a punch to the abdomen by a fan of his as a demonstration of his strength.

Carlsberg have announced that they intend to close the Tetley plant in Leeds and move production elsewhere. Follow the campaign to save the brewery here.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Non-Beardy Beer Book

This book has taken me an age to get enthusiastic enough to write a few words in its favour. It was published a year or so ago and has been maturing in my "work in progress" pile of books since then having been picked up and put down a number of times.

It is described as an alternative to beardy and boring real-ale guides and features a hundred irreverent reviews of the UK's bestselling brands. It is the king of beer guides that refreshes the parts other books cannot reach. All lovingly put together by a panel of independent (possibly inebriated) reviewers.

It is a paperback format with a cover price of £7.99 and is, as you might guess, a little over 100 pages in length.

The publishers have just launched a web-site which gives some of the reviews and saves me going into too much detail here.

All of the best known beers and ciders are covered in a mixture of humour combined with geeky beer knowledge and some less well known information - some of which is undoubtedly invented - surely Harry Houdini was never submerged in a sealed cask of Tetley's Original. (Oops - yes that is true)

The reviews are funny in parts but the book is poorly illustrated and as a formal read it is a bit of a stretch. It is definitely a book to keep in the smallest room to dip into from time to time during those more contemplative moments.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

New Beer from Sambrook's

....confirmed arrival in this space.....

Beer Tickers

Just catching up on some of the stuff that was thrust into my hand at Great British Beer Festival this year.

You may remember at last year's event that I helped a team who were putting together a film about the art (science ?) of beer ticking. Film maker, Phil Parkin was again a visitor to GBBF this year, this time to publicise the finished film.

"Beertickers : beyond the ale" is described as a documentary film about a strange hobby, a British tradition, curiosity, collecting, obsession, and drinking good old real ale.

Take a look at the trailer at

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Brew Like a Monk

I have at last finished the series of three books about Belgian beer published by The Brewers Association.
The set is sub titled "Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition" and the third in the series is called "Brew Like a Monk" written by Stan Hieronymus, one of America's leading beer writers.

Although the books are directed at the home and craft brewer there is much within for the general beer enthusiast and all three are recommended reading if you are keen to broaden your knowledge of Belgian beer styles.

The first two were called Wild Brews and Farmhouse Ales .
The third as you might guess from the title is a delve into the Trappist and Abbey beer styles that are among the most well known of Belgian beers.

The book covers in some detail the history, philosophy, beers and brewing of all of the Trappist and Abbey beers. It includes interviews, recipes and a general trawl through history bringing us right up to date with the monastic traditions of brewing. It also celebrates "The American Way" showing that many American craft brewers are now copying and imitating different Belgian beer styles. The book is written in an approachable, engaging style and, even if the parts on recipes are a bit geeky for the non-brewer, is a very entertaining and informative read.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Wikio Blog Rankings

It will not have gone unnoticed among the more eagle eyed of you that this blog has soared to number 39 in the Wikio blog rankings for wine and beer.

It is good to see that Pete Brown's Blog has dislodged wine blog The Spitoon from the top, thoroughly deserved for his efforts in the last month.

What is most gratifying is that it looks as though the blogs written about beer are generally in an upward trajectory and those about wine are going down the rankings.

Don't get me wrong, I like wine but the joy of writing and reading about beer is that it takes you to the pub - a social scene largely out of bounds to the wine writer as it is such an unfruitful source of material.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Williams Brothers

No not my new micro-brewery venture but a plug for my namesakes in Alloa, Scotland. I am always pleased to give a shout-out to anyone who goes out of their way to send me samples of beer and books etc but I was doubly delighted to receive some beer that had my name on it.

Williams Brothers (no relation) are part of Heather Ales, a company most famous for their ancient beer styles such as Fraoch, a beer brewed in a historic style with heather flowers instead of hops.

The company has been brewing Fraoch for twenty years but more recently decided to expand their range by brewing some classic beer styles under a new company name, Williams Brothers. The beers were entered into the Sainsbury's beer competition this year and out of 115 entries there were 4 beers from Williams which made it to the final 15 and are on sale now in Sainsbury stores nationwide.

80 Shilling (4.2%) is a traditional Scottish ale, lightly hopped with more emphasis on the malt characteristics.
The beer pours a chestnut brown colour with a thick creamy head. The caramel and toffee aroma is matched by a sweet malty flavour which finishes with a long roast, chocolate aftertaste. It displays a far greater hop character than would be expected in this style of beer. 80 Shilling, the traditional Scottish malty beer style, is all but invisible nowadays but this beer shows that the style can be very drinkable and need not be cast into the archives just yet.

Ceilidh ("gathering") (4.7%) is brewed with ingredients from around the world and is a lager style beer.
It is a good, clean tasting, crisp citrusy lager that has a pleasant light hop on the aroma; a classic grainy, slightly sweet flavour and a smooth, dry finish. Not really my favourite beer style but this would stand up well against other more well-known lager beers.

IPA (5%) is aggressively hopped with an unusual blend of Bramling X and Amarillo hops. A big long lasting fluffy head on a golden coloured beer. Good fresh hop on the nose make one's mouth water in anticipation. A classic IPA which gives a very bitter, hoppy flavour that is much loved among today's hophead beer drinkers. One to drink now as those fresh hop flavours are very rare in a bottled beer. One of my favourite beer styles at the moment and this beer does not disappoint. This beer is brewed to 5% but I would love to see it slightly stronger with the increased alcohol balancing out the bitterness in the way it does with Jaipur or Downton. Williams IPA Extra ?

Birds and Bees (5%) is a golden summer ale.
It is a golden coloured beer and has a lemon aroma with a hint of honey.
The taste initially is very fruity but then there is a lovely biscuity malt character that takes over leaving a fairly short dry aftertaste.

None of the beers are bottle conditioned but all are brewed with good quality ingredients without preservatives. The beers are slightly over carbonated for my belly and I would very much like to try them in cask and my eyes will be peeled at future beer festivals. The quest is on.

The fresh new branding and presentation of these bottles is excellent and I would guess that they have flew off the shelf at Sainsbury's. I hope there are some left for you to try.

On the beer scene it is good to see that there is more to cutting edge Scottish beer than the "punk" style at Brew Dog who are becoming as famous for their publicity angles as they are for their excellent beers. My kin at Williams Brothers are making sure that Scotland is keeping up with the rest of Britain in the current growth in the craft brewing industry.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Nanny State

Don't you just love these guys ? Can't wait to try this one.

Pub of the Year

The launch of the Good Beer Guide for 2010 brings the next phase of CAMRA's Pub of the Year competition with the announcement of the winning pub from each region.

London's winner this year is The Bricklayers Arms in Putney - still selling a good range of beers from Timothy Taylor Brewery but also now has two or three handpumps dedicated to smaller breweries with Sambrook's Wandle Ale a permanent fixture.

Their autumn beer festival is next week, Thursday 16th to Sunday 20th - the theme is beers from Devon and Cornwall and the list of 80 beers from 40 breweries is here.

The winning pub for Kent is The Bull at Horton Kirby. Readers here will be well aware of this great pub that hit my radar when they started advertising their monthly brewery showcases in London Drinker magazine. I have visited a number of times through the year and love everything about it. Nuff said from me but if you want to read far more eloquent and thorough reviews then take a look at Mark Dredge's Pencil and Spoon Blog.

Winner from Surrey and Sussex is again The Royal Oak in Friday Street, Rusper. This was the winner at this stage of the competition last year and you can read about my visit here. The pub was pipped at the final stage by overall winner The Kelham Island Tavern. Can they go one stage further this year ?

The pub of the year for East Anglia is The Wheatsheaf at Whittle, Essex. This is not a pub known to me but is described on their web-site as a traditional English Pub with possibly the finest Greene King IPA, in the area.

Those four pubs are now judged by the four CAMRA regional directors for the region and a winner is put through to the final.

The other winning regional pubs are :

Central Southern - Royal Oak Inn, Wantage, Oxon, OX12 8DF
East Midlands - Old Oak Inn, Horsley Woodhouse, Derbyshire, DE7 6AW
Greater Manchester - Crown Hotel, Worthington, Gtr Manchester, WN1 2XF
Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales - Golden Lion Inn, Llangynhafal, LL16 4LN
North East - Boathouse Inn, Wylam, Northumberland, NE41 8HR
Scotland and NI - Albert Tavern, Freuchie, Fife, KY15 7EX
South and Mid Wales - Severn Arms, Penybont, LD1 5UA
South West - Old Spot, Dursley, Gloucestershire, GL11 4JQ
Wessex - Prince of Wales, Farnborough, Hampshire, GU14 8AL
West Midlands - Cock Hotel, Wellington, Shropshire, TF1 2DL
West Pennines - Taps, Lytham, Lancashire, FY8 5LE
Yorkshire - Kelham Island Tavern, Sheffield, S3 8RW

Some old favourites and some unknown to me but I dare say all great pubs and worthy of a visit.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Good Beer Guide 2010

The Good Beer Guide for 2010 was launched yesterday. I can tell you nothing about it as my copy has yet to arrive. I know the post in London is piling up at the sorting office but as my direct debit has not gone through my bank, I think my on-line application to receive an early copy at CAMRA's keenest price of £10 including postage has failed.

I will now have to go to Amazon where copies are for sale at a cheapest ever price of £7.99 with free postage. CAMRA must make very little out of this deal but I would guess that Amazon may be making even less at this price. If I am reluctant to rely on the post, I will have to take a trip to Surrey Stationers where it is on sale for £9.99. The consumer is king.

I assume the book is similar to previous years; c4,500 of the best places to find good real ale together with the details of every brewery in the country and their beers. With such a large number of pubs covered, all chosen by CAMRA branches, there are bound to be some short comings in the choice of pubs, often made worse by the time lag between selection and publication. However, the book is still the bible for the beer drinker and a generally trustworthy pointer towards the best beer.

At least the embargo on publicity for CAMRA's regional pubs of the year is now lifted and I am again free to comment on the country's winning pubs.

Catching up

Last Friday's excellent visit to The Bull at Horton Kirby has been followed by a pretty dry week for me both in terms of writing this blog and with drinking beer. Hopefully I will be catching up in the coming days as I have also realised that there is plenty of material that I have yet to share. Forgive me if I start rambling........

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Pictish @ Bull @ HK

We don't see beers from Pictish Brewery too often in our neck of the woods so I am really looking forward to the Pictish Showcase at The Bull, Horton Kirby this weekend.

There will be seven brews from Pictish on sale as follows :

A refreshing thirst quenching pale golden session beer. Malty undertones and a powerful spicy hop aroma combine to produce a dangerously moreish beer.

CLUSTER (4.1%)
From the single hop series of beers. A pale, very hoppy beer brewed using Cluster hops. A spicy, citrus flavour with some dryness in a long crisp bitter finish.

RIWAKA (4.2%)
From the single hop series of beers. A pale, very hoppy beer brewed using Riwaka hops from New Zealand.

A superb premium bitter with a citrusy hoppiness throughout the initial taste
and long finish, all underpinned by a pale ale malt backbone that gives the beer a good body.

SIMCOE (4.4%)
Another single hop beer. A pale, very hoppy beer brewed using Simcoe hops. Floral notes in aroma and taste.

A premium tawny coloured ale with a ruby red hue. A robust hop aroma precedes a full bodied malty taste with caramel notes and a dry bitter finish.

GALENA (5.1%)
Another from the single hop series. A pale, very hoppy beer brewed using Galena hops. Clear golden coloured, very hoppy with a crisp and slightly bitter dry malt finish.

Pictish Brewery has a reputation that is growing far afield from its Rochdale home and my mouth is watering at the prospect of trying all seven of these beers later in the week. Hope to bump into one or two other hopheads there.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

White Horse, Parsons Green

As I said in my last posting, most pubs are likely to change character over time. Landlords will come and go, ownership will change, trends in refurbishment and decoration will move and food and wine fads will persistently alter the bar offering.

When Mark Dorber, one of London's legendary landlords over the last twenty years, said he was "retiring" to the country one could imagine that The White Horse in Parsons Green might see a few changes - and probably not for the better. Mark had worked at the pub, first as a cellarman, then as manager, since 1981 and had been the driving force that made the pub one of London's finest. He had also been one of the most influential people in London to bring rarer beer styles to the fore such as India Pale Ale and Old Ales.

Owned by one of the country's largest chains, M&B, there was always some concern that the pub would change its character once Mark had left in 2007.

It is my opinion that the pub remains one of the landmark pubs in London and its regular beer events continue to be among the year's most popular beer festivals.

The American beer festival held over the weekend of 4th July was so enjoyable that I was compelled to return for a second session. This despite many of the beers being 8-10% and queues for beer of twenty minutes - not due to lack of staff, just due to the sheer number of people attending.

The Belgian beer festival was held last weekend and was another great day out. There was a choice of forty odd Belgian beers in different styles together with a handful of British real ales brewed in Belgian style. A slightly smaller crowd meant that there were slightly shorter waits for a beer.

The current manager, Dan Fox, is only thirty years old but is emulating and improving on all of the good work that has been done at the pub over the years. It remains one of London's best pubs. Even without a beer festival, I would suggest that it has one of the best bottled beer menus in the country and continues to serve excellent choice and quality of real ales. Indeed it was again West London CAMRA branch pub of the year for 2009.

The next events are British Lager Week in the week commencing 12th October - in conjunction with The Campaign for British Lager (LOBI) - followed by the regular annual Old Ale festival in the last week of November. See you there !

Of course, Mark Dorber did not retire but went to run the Anchor in Walbeswick, Suffolk.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Hare and Hounds

My other local pub in the news lately is The Hare and Hounds in East Sheen. This is my real local. It has been my local pub of choice for just over thirty years. It's a big pub and over the years has proved to be all things to all people. Owned by Young's it has recently been the subject of their current phase of makeovers and refurbishments.

You may remember that it was closed for the work to be done just before Easter.

The pub was closed for months due to various problems with planning and disputes with the local authority but eventually re-opened about a month ago.

First impressions were good. The pub remains very much a pub rather than a restaurant style gastropub. Being so large, it can still provide different drinking or dining experiences for everyone. The garden is hidden and huge and has been scrubbed up and is a pleasant place for a pint in the fine weather. The back of the pub used to house a snooker table (removed in a previous refurb) so is large enough to have a waiter service dining room. The other two bars are spacious, comfortable and well furnished. A large screen TV is unobtrusively sat on one wall and will be used for special sporting events. The food offering is much improved and the pub is also now open for morning coffee. A real local amenity and very much what the best local pub should be. All things to all people.

Which brings us back round to the front and the public bar that we all fought so hard to retain. The council's heritage officer agreed with complaints that this was of historic importance to the area being one of the last 30's style public bars in any of the local pubs and refused an initial Young's application to make the pub wholly open plan.

Bloody Hell ! The public bar has been turned into a Bellini Lounge ! Worse still, it is now only available for private hire and is locked most of the time. A real thumb in the eye for those of us who campaigned for its retention and a real lost opportunity for Young's (IMHO). It really does seem that that they are hell bent on removing the old style drinker for a more affluent diner.

That is fine and Young's results do not lie with approaching 30% of turnover being food driven. However, with a such a large pub surely there was space to accommodate the blokes who want to visit the betting shop next door and return to the comfort of the pub for a pint or two.

Blimey, even the gent's urinal in the old public bar has been turned into a ladies pamper room !

One saving grace is that the beer quality is superb. I have visited a few times in the last month and each time I have been struck by how good the beer is. It is my honestly held belief that a pub will change in character over time but it is the beer that is the most important for me. With the quality of the beer this good, I will hopefully be a regular visitor for the next thirty years.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Red Lion, Barnes

The nearest Fuller's pub to my home is The Red Lion in Barnes. I have written about it before.

I drop in from time to time for a pint on my way home, take my wife there for lunch occasionally and deliver copies of London Drinker magazine.

It is a good pub. Good beer, good food, comfortable and friendly.

But you no longer have to take my word for it. Recently, the managers, Angus and Claire, were crowned Fullers Master Cellarman of the Year. They were also the winners of this sought after award in 2007 but had to settle for second place in 2008.

The competition is judged each year by the Fuller’s Beer Quality Team. To achieve the accolade of Master Cellarman, licensees have to attain and then sustain a score of over 95% in four visits throughout the year.

Cellar hygiene and dispense equipment, including everything from barrel to glass, are thoroughly inspected and a sample of beer is taken away for analysis.

Eleven finalists received a 100% score in their inspections and were therefore put forward for the final.

The 10 other finalists were: The Railway Tavern, Carshalton; The Holly Bush, St Albans; Heroes, Waterlooville; The Harvest Home, Denmead; The Swan Hotel, Staines; The Harpenden Arms, Harpenden; The Spotted Cow, Cowplain; The Star Tavern, Belgravia; The Fine Line, Monument and The Partridge, Bromley.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Bumper Hop Harvest

Thanks to Phil from Beer Merchants for sending a Tweet that the Kent hop crop was likely to be the best in years due to the combination of rain and sun that we have enjoyed throughout the summer. Full story is here.

My own garden hop bine is just coming into fruit. The single plant is now in its third year and has grown extremely well this year climbing high into the elder tree. It is likely to provide a bumper harvest (well, maybe a small bag or two). Another soporific pillow ? Perhaps I should find a brewer who might be able to use a bag full. Green Hop beer anyone ?

The hops on display at Kew Gardens seem to be less hardy. Although this photo is from earlier in the summer, I visited last week and the plants are a little way from showing any significant hop flower growth. At least Young's, Kew Gold beer is in better shape than the hops that inspired it.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Lego Beer Song

One of the great things about blogging is that folk will often send me stuff they think might be worthy of a greater audience. Thanks to David for this gem from You Tube.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Pub of the Year

You may have noticed that I have not disclosed the winner of the CAMRA Pub of the Year for the London region. That news is embargoed until mid September to coincide with the launch of The Good Beer Guide in order to gain maximum publicity for the Guide and the regional winning pubs. It is not necessarily an embargo that I personally agree with but I have had sufficient bollockings from CAMRA's leadership to observe it. You can probably discover the winner elsewhere on the web but I am pleased to say that, for once, I am in line with the CAMRA directors' preferred way of doing things.

Given that I am no longer a judge of the next phase of the competition I may even refrain from commenting on the pubs in the super regional competition for fear of being accused of prejudicing one pub against another (and another scolding) - I cannot promise though.

Something I can disclose is the short list for the SPBW London Pub of the Year :

Bree Louise, Euston
Bricklayers Arms, Putney
Calthorpe Arms, Clerkenwell
Crosse Keys, Bishopsgate
Duke of Hamilton, Hampstead
Old Fountain, Old Street
Old Monk Exchange, Victoria
Pembury Tavern, Hackney
Red Lion, Ealing
Royal Oak, Borough
Wenlock Arms, Hoxton
Willoughby Arms, Kingston

Judging will occur in September and October.

Friday, 21 August 2009

A Gap Year ?

Proud Dad yesterday as my son received good enough A level grades to join Portsmouth University for the next three years.

With my daughter already two years into an English degree in the People's Republic of South Yorkshire, the next year is likely to be a little quiet around the house.

As a result Mrs W and I are already making plans to travel more.

My list includes Bamberg, Prague, Belgium - various sorties, Amsterdam, Peak District - must include Sheffield. You get the idea.

Any other ideas gratefully received.

Her list includes a cruise, Vegas, New York, New Forest,Suffolk and Kent - for birds, Barcelona and Rome.

Pete Brown's latest book, Hops and Glory, gives just enough flavour of a Med cruise to give it a go (I think I have just about reached a certain age where cruising is acceptable). However, I must research the beer opportunities of the other places before I commit.

Many of the World's most famous beery places have been well covered on books and blogs over the years but hopefully this blog will be going International over the coming months.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Wikio Blog Rankings

At last The Beer Justice blog has received the recognition it deserves.

I was delighted to hear that my good friend, Arfur, who writes Brew Wales Blog is lying second in the Wikio Blog rankings for Wine and Beer just ahead of my other favourites, Jeff (nee Stonch), Pete Brown, Mark Dredge's Pencil and Spoon and Tandelman who sit third to sixth respectively.

I have no idea how this stuff works. RSS, dynamic links, backlinks, algorithms - my eyes are glazing over. However a couple of tweaks to the blog, a registration with Wikio and as if by magic, The Beer Justice blog is a new entry at number 51 - yes FIFTY ONE - nestled between "A Swift One" and "Hip-Hops".

The Mojo is definitely back.

Unfortunately I don't really have any clue how to increase the ranking so I will just try to write stuff people might be interested in and see if I can make it into the top 50 for next month.

Beer Blogger finds Mojo

Bit quiet here lately, I admit. GBBF always takes its toll. I haven't been used to proper working hours since I stepped off the City treadmill over six years ago. The 100 or so hours spent in the week at GBBF Press Office at least give a reminder of how tired and emotional one can get by working hard. At least GBBF is great fun.

Anyway, I think most visitors enjoyed the event. From a press and publicity angle, we managed to get coverage in most of the national newspapers together with plenty of regional and international press and a sprinkling of good TV. A lady from a Chinese TV news agency suggested that at least 100 million viewers might see her piece filmed from the Bombardier bus.

I am now back at the blog with plenty to share. Hopefully your visits here in the coming weeks and months will prove to be entertaining and informative.

A couple of final GBBF photos to sum up the event.

If anyone ever says that the press office at GBBF is a soft option, this is what they look like at the end of the week. From left to right, Arfur, Royce and Brian
re-hydrating at the staff party. Thanks for your company lads.

And to prove that I can get my hands dirty too, here is the new boy on the Fuller's bar covering for absence during the final session. I did my best but I managed to spill half a pint of Pride over a customer. I don't think I will be asked back.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

GBBF - American Beers

CAMRA has announced the winner of the annual competition for American cask-conditioned beer sold on the Bières Sans Frontières bar at the Great British Beer Festival, Earls Court, London.

An international panel of judges agreed that the overall champion cask-conditioned beer was Cambridge Brewing Company- YouEnjoyMyStout. The head brewer is Will Meyers and the brewery is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The beer is a 10.5% abv Imperial Stout aged for two years in previously used American oak bourbon barrels. The beer is very full-bodied with complex notes of caramel, treacle, and espresso mingled with vanilla and tannin from the oak.

The runner-up was Brooklyn Brewery's East Indian Pale Ale and in third place was Stone Brewery's Levitation Ale.

The Bieres Sans Frontieres bar at the Great British Beer Festival has this year featured a record 55 different American cask-conditioned beers in 2009 from breweries as diverse as Stone Brewery in California, Dechutes Brewery in Oregon and Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania.

Bières Sans Frontières is the International bar at the Great British Beer Festival and features 300 different beers from around the world. The bar is organised by volunteer Andy Benson and is staffed by over 60 volunteers from as far away as America and Japan.

I was lucky enough to be on the judging panel again this year and my category was Speciality Beer - an eclectic mix of Brett, grapefruit, coriander, smoked malt, espresso and a little lemonade like tartness - my notes are hazy with a 10am start and a flight of 6 beers to try.

Friday, 7 August 2009


Some bad stuff happens once the public are off the premises .....

GBBF Day 3