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.