Wednesday, 31 March 2010

500 Beers

My latest raid on Amazon included the newly published beer book, 500 Beers by Zak Avery the latest in the current vogue of beer collections - at least with this volume you are not expected to die trying to taste all 500.

It is clear from the tasting notes that Zak has tasted all 500 of these beers and for that alone he must be acclaimed - a great effort even if he did share them with his Beer-Ritz colleagues.

The book is an unusual format, more short and stubby, but quite fat at 288 pages. Not sure I even understand that but perhaps you get my drift if I say it is a size more appropriate for the smallest room rather than the coffee table.

The bulk of the book is taken up with the beer - as you might expect - 500 beers - not the best or rarest or strongest though all of those are included. It is a users guide to the world of beer. The beers are split into styles starting with different styles of lager and drinking through the whole range of English, German, American and Belgian styles ending with American esoterica and very strong beer.

Each beer is described in about 50 words and if you think there are only so many ways you can describe hop or malt character (I prefer "hoppy" and "malty") then Zak has nailed it with his tasting and retailing experience, his mature palate and his vast lexicon of beer. It is another of those books that makes you want a beer just by reading about it. Each entry either brings back a memory of a previous tasting or increases the desire to hunt down certain beers.

The book is lavishly illustrated with many full colour pictures of the beer world and has a good quality look and feel to it - perhaps it is too good for the smallest room and should be promoted to your smallest coffee table.

Cover price is £9.99 but it is well worth the £6.01 I paid through Amazon.

If there is one criticism of the book it is that there are too many photographs of German beers and gratuitous use of buxom Bavarian beer babes. (Did I really write that ?)

Finally am I the only person who delights in finding mistakes in this sort of book ? With so many beers to catalogue slight errors are bound to creep in. In Roger Protz's 300 Beers it offended our Welsh friends that Brains Dark was described in the index as from England. I assume that Zak has already spotted his deliberate mistake where Dark Star Saison is shown with a Belgian flag - a good pass at a Belgian beer style but, of course, brewed in Sussex.

You can find Zak's blog here.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Cask Ale Week

There is a regular criticism of those who write blogs about beer that they only write about bottled beer - sitting at home, cracking open esoteric bottles in their own company, pasting up photos and telling everyone what a great sensation it is.

I find it easy to drift into that category but I also feel I am a champion of the pub. Get out more ? - I always try to. Real ale is my favourite type of beer and it is only available in the pub. The pub is where I am most at home.

This week is the second Cask Ale Week when the beer and pub industry is encouraging more people to try a drop of Britain's National drink.

For me, and I guess most people who read here, every week is Cask Ale Week but if you have dropped in by accident, I ask you to put down your mouse, turn off the computer, get off to the pub and raise a glass of real ale to toast everything that's brilliant about beer. Cheers !

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Egham United Services Club

Over the last couple of weeks I have been writing about pubs and bars that have come to our attention in the last year or so that are now considered something special.

I have been reminded that there is also a club bar that is making an extra effort too. The Egham United Services Club first hit the radar when it was voted North Surrey CAMRA Club of the Year in 2008 - a title it has now defended in 2009 and 2010. It also went onto be runner-up in the national final for CAMRA Club of the Year last year and is awaiting the result for the final of this year's competition.

One of the reasons it has done so well is the excellent beer list at its regular beer festivals. The next one is over the Easter weekend and will include beers from many local breweries including Ascot, Dorking and Redemption together with beers from farther afield including four from Marble and six from Waylands Sixpenny - the new name for the Waylands Brewery when it moved from Addlestone to Sixpenny Handley in Dorset.

The club is about a ten minute walk from Egham station and is most welcoming to CIU and CAMRA members.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010


I have lots of goodies squirreled away in my garage but have been slow to enjoy them and give the world (well, the beer world) my sage opinions. The very least that anyone should expect if they send me some beer is that I actually drink it. If I enjoy it and can give forth then so much the better.

Last Friday, I was seeking something to get me through Sports Relief, where one has to watch at least five hours of dross TV to discover the one or two nuggets that makes it worthwhile (Corden, you know that means you).

Just before Christmas, the good folk at Chimay, the second largest Trappist brewery, sent me a gift pack with their three beers and a glass that was just enough for an evening in front of the TV. I don't suppose it was the robed monks that sent the beer, more likely their PR girls. (Monks with PR - another tale altogether).

Chimay beers have been around for years, almost 150 years, but their distribution has been strong in England, Europe and USA over the last thirty and Chimay will often be the first Belgian beer that budding beer lovers of a certain generation will have encountered.

The "Red" (by label and cap) is a 7% brown beer, the "Blue" a 9% strong, dark ale and the "White" is a 8% triple style golden ale.

Tim Webb in his bible, Good Beer Guide Belgium, has become slightly dismissive of the beers in recent editions, giving a nod to the traditions of the company and the constraints of brewing in a monastery but bemoaning the fact that the beers are not as complex as they once were due to the more modern production processes required. However, popularity is not in decline and the beers still enjoy good export sales.

So you no longer get depth and complexity. What you do get is an aroma that is a blast from the past. A yeasty nose that brings reminiscences about what you first loved about Belgian beer. You get good, malty sweet, strong beers that made Belgium famous. You get a real tongue prickling, spritzy carbonation from the sludgy yeast deposit that tells you this has a genuine secondary fermentation in bottle. You get classic Belgian beers that just might provide you with the open gateway to exploring further the world of great beer.

Given their wide distribution, you also get the chance to lift them straight from the supermarket shelf rather than having to hunt around more specialist retailers.

You also get a very enjoyable, mellow evening drifting off in front of the TV if you drink all three in one session.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Betjeman Arms

After my last positive post regarding a station bar, it is a shame that my next will be another rant about customer service.

Before I kick off, I must admit I was partly to blame. I should never have gone anywhere near the remnants of the St Paddy's beer festival that was held from 17th to 21st March at the Betjeman Arms on St Pancras station. I was there on Monday 22nd and after enjoying a pint of Roosters infused with lucky shamrock from the bar I was lured outside by the advert that there were still 15 beers available on stillage outside.

The Adnams Stout was still pouring well with plenty of condition and that was my (very poor) choice. The beer was horrible and was quickly taken back to the bar where there was the following exchange :

Me : I'm sorry but this beer is sour.

Barman : It's supposed to taste like that.

Me : It tastes like vinegar.

Barman : It's a stout, that's the roasted malt.

Me : It's not. It's a bacterial infection.

Barman : You should read the tasting notes before ordering.

Me : I think I know what it should taste like.

Barman : Nobody else has complained and we have sold lots of it.

Me : The infection would probably not have been there since the barrel was tapped. It will have gone sour over time.

Barman - as he tastes the beer : There's nothing wrong with it but I want you to be happy so I will replace it with Fullers Porter.

Me : Thank you

As a railway bar, the Betjeman Arms is a welcome addition to London. For the beer lover it is a far more enjoyable place to wait for your train than London's longest champagne bar. Geronimo Inns should be praised for the manner in which they have given the pub a real ale focus with a least two regular beers and frequent beer festivals. On this occasion though they left a sour taste in the mouth.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Sheffield Tap

Last week, I was talking about breakthrough bars in London and I was reminded about this on a short trip to Sheffield at the weekend. Surely the greatest and quickest breakthrough bar lately is the Sheffield Tap on platform one of the station.

The bar opened in December and was quickly flagged as must-visit notably by leading beer writer and Yorkshireman, Pete Brown. The pub has quickly become something of a weekend destination bar with capacity being reached by early evening. This is not your bog-standard station buffet !

They are now running brewery showcase months and on my visit last month there were four Brewdog pumpclips alongside the regular four from Thornbridge. This month they are bringing Dark Star beers to the beer lovers of South Yorkshire.

Of course, if you are not taken with this choice of casks there is a list of over 200 bottles and plenty of tasty kegs from around the world.

A major achievement happened last month as they announced that they had broken through 6,000 pints sold in a week - some breakthrough bar and definitely recommended.

A couple of other points about Sheffield. If you are in the area for a few days with a car, take a copy of Bob Steel's Peak District Pub Walks - a life saver (should that be thirst-quencher ?) when seeking to take in some decent beer among the fabulous scenery in the area.

I'm glad to see Thornbridge Jaipur advertised as being available at Student Union Bars - who said yoof was not interested in fine beer ?

I also note that the Kelham Island Tavern is CAMRA's national pub of the year for 2008 and 2009; Yorkshire pub of the year for 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009 and Sheffield pub of the year for 2004,2005,2006,2007, 2008 and 2009. A remarkable feat given the number of good pubs in the city they call beer mecca.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Hove Beer Festival

A busy diary last week did not afford a visit to the London Drinker beer festival but I did manage to take a trip to the seaside yesterday for the festival at Hove.

A beer festival would normally pass without comment with one or two beers on the list being from favourite breweries leaving one out on a limb to choose from the vast choice of other less known micros.

Something about Hove was different. Every beer I tasted was from one of the really outstanding microbreweries that have broken away from the pack in recent years.

I tried beers from Dark Star, Brewdog, Crouch Vale, Elland, Marble, Roosters, Saltaire and Thornbridge Breweries.

There were too many to try. Beers from Kelham Island, Oakham, Otley, Roosters, Pictish and Surrey Hills had to go begging.

A great list and a great day polished off with a couple in the Evening Star and one for the road in the Lord Nelson.

I find that beer at a beer festival is more enjoyable when you drink beers from favourite breweries rather than leaving it in the lap of the gods ticking off new beers from new breweries.

This list includes pretty much every one of today's great micro-breweries. Are there any missing ?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Wensleydale Brewery - Black Dub

The beer bloggers meet up was at least a month ago and the day has been covered in detail elsewhere. Suffice to say that Sheffield was a more than suitable place for 30 odd amateur beer writers to take a stroll around five of six pubs and three breweries. A good day was had by all.

One of the ideas of the day was a beer swap. Each person was encouraged to take a beer from their own area and swap it with someone from a different region. I raided my stash and lifted one of my last bottles of Courage Imperial Stout brewed in 1992 and swapped it with Rob from for a bottle of Wensleydale Black Dub from North Yorkshire.

Rob legged it round to Zak Avery's shop in Leeds and their views on the Courage beer can be seen here.

Although coincidentally also a stout my Wensleydale Black Dub was an altogether different beer. It was fresh and clean, a 4.4% black beer brewed with floor malted barley and oats. Not bottle conditioned but cold filtered straight from the cask tanks with a low carbonation to be as near to real ale as possible - that fizz was still not low enough for me but it dissipated quickly with stirring. This beer needed to be drunk as fresh as possible and was delicious and very quaffable. There was a slight hop on the nose but not too much roasted licorice flavour. Hints of chocolate were more Dairy Milk than Bourneville with a smooth vanilla and toffee sweetness. The beer was very balanced with no harsh bitterness. I think the gravity could be pushed up a little as the beer was slightly thin - though this is by no means a criticism. It is certainly something I would like to find in cask.

Wensleydale is a brewery I have not come across before. I have since tried two of their other beers at the Bricklayers Arms Yorkshire Beer Festival and they were both just as good. I have also had a good report from my brother-in-law to whom I sent a 52 week beer club from MyBreweryTap after I learned about this new on-line beer company on the Sheffield day - his first delivery also included another one of the Wensleydale beers.

Grateful thanks must go to Rob for opening my eyes to Wensleydale Brewery, they will now be on the must-try list if ever seen on my travels. Thanks also to Alex Barlow from All Beer for the tasting glass.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Pub History Society Conference

Last month the Pub History Society hosted their first conference at the National Archives in Kew. The conference was titled (as you might expect) The History of Pubs and followed a common format of five short illustrated talks followed by questions. The day began at 10.30 and closed at about 3.30pm. There was no charge.

The talks included :

The Lost Pubs of London where Jack Adams illustrated with an engaging style that pubs WILL always change over time and he described his research through anecdotes taken from his collection of books about pubs published over the last 250 years.

Then followed The Pub and the People where Simon Fowler, treasurer of Pub History Society and editor of Ancestors magazine, gave a talk about pubs during the inter-war years from working class boozers to grand hotel bars.

Before the break for lunch Patrick Chaplin, aka Dr Darts, delivered a presentation on Women, Darts and the Pub explaining in some detail how women did participate in darts from a very early period even though the public bar was very much a male dominated part of the pub and that many believed that women were "temperamentally unsuited to the game".

After the break for lunch, during which we were treated to a tour of the National Archives, we were entertained by David Roe who is the editor of the journal of the Inn Sign Society and has a collection of over 8,000 photographs of pub signs. He seems to spend much of his spare time giving this slide show of Pub Signs and Names to various groups. This is the second time I have seen his talk and he is most entertaining and knowledgeable.

Finally, we heard a talk on a Short History of Coaching Inns given by David Thomas. Again we were back to the fact that pubs will always change in character over time. The golden age of coaching being c1750-1850 being quickly overtaken by the age of the train and dormant by about 1825 - 1840 with many coaching inns making way for the "Railway Hotel" with a trip by rail costing about one tenth of the same trip by coach.

The day was presented and compered by Steve Williams (no relation) of the Pub History Society and I hope he was delighted with the way the day went.

It was an excellent day enjoyed by about 60-70 visitors. There was capacity for a few more so I recommend this if they do it again next year. I only learned of the event through my local paper so hopefully I will be able to help publicise the event for next year well in advance.

The best thing about the day was the cost - nothing, free, gratis, no charge - some history societies would see this sort of event as profit making and charge upwards of £20, all credit to the Pub History Society to treat it as educational and promotional.
The worst thing about the day was that there are no pubs very near the National Archives so the discussions could not be continued over a pint or two. Perhaps next year I will suggest a tour of the historic pubs of Mortlake a short walk along the riverside that I know extremely well.

Next year, make sure you attend this very enjoyable and educational day.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Liefmans Fruit

Liefmans Brewery has operated in Flanders, Belgium since 1770 and almost disappeared when its holding company Riva went bust in 2007. Duvel Moortgat, famous for its legendary Duvel beer, came to the rescue when it acquired the Liefmans Brewery in 2009 and it is now breathing new life into the famous fruit beers growing the brand by 43% in the last 18 months.

A new fruit beer has just been launched exclusively to Waitrose I was lucky enough to have a bottle sent to my doorstep for me to try.

The beer is based on Liefmans most famous beer, the cherry Kriek, now named Cuvee Brut and this is blended with fresh fruit juices of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, elderberry and bilberry. It is an absolute fruit-fest, you might even struggle to describe it as beer as there is no distinguishable hop or malt character. The sparkle of carbonation sets off the sweetness nicely and it proves to be a tasty, refreshing aperitif when served chilled. You might also say it is suitable as a dessert beer, although only 4.2%, the sweetness and spritzy sparkle would be a good match with a rich pudding.

Of course this beer is for the mainstream Waitrose customer and not specifically promoted towards the beer geek but it should do very well given its approachability and its marketing push. One final point which must be significant as it is spelled out in red ink on the press release. Liefmans Fruit has only 99 calories per bottle. I'll drink to that.

This is a brewery saved from extinction. Let's celebrate the fact that Duvel Moortgat have undertaken to rescue a piece of beer heritage and is giving Liefmans a dynamic future.

Watch out for Liefmans Cuvee Brut, previously known as Liefmans Kriek and the Goudenband Provisiebier, more complex beers which are not yet available in supermarkets but you may find at online outlets such as and

Liefmans Fruit is now available at all Waitrose stores at £1.60 per 25cl bottle.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Big Pub Quiz

I am pleased to add my weight (still over 200 pounds by the way) to give a plug to The World's Biggest Quiz.

The Family Holiday Association is organising the World’s Biggest Pub Quiz on 25 March 2010 to raise funds and awareness of their work changing lives by giving a break to young families coping with difficult circumstances.

They hope that thousands of people around the UK will be taking part! It's all about having a great night out, being a part of a nationwide event and supporting a worthy charity.

Find out more here.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Cask Pub and Kitchen

Every now and then a pub or bar breaks through the mediocrity of London's pub scene to offer something generally accepted as out of the ordinary.

The last exceptional newcomer was probably the Bricklayers Arms in Putney which resurfaced five years ago offering the full range of beer from Timothy Taylor Brewery in Yorkshire - it is rare to find their complete range in Yorkshire let alone London. The Bricklayers Arms has gone from strength to strength over time expanding the offering to include guest ales from microbreweries and hosting regular beer festivals. They have been twice winners of the CAMRA Greater London Pub of the Year and their latest beer festival last week must have been the best pub beer festival ever hosted in London with 140 beers from 67 Yorkshire breweries.

Last year, my favourite breakthrough pub was the Bull at Horton Kirby - not really London but close enough for a regular visit to their brewery showcase weekends with special beers from special breweries. The Bull went on to be CAMRA's Kent Pub of the Year for 2009.

In 2010, I have high hopes that the next pub to surge to the attention of London's beer drinkers will be the Cask Pub and Kitchen in Pimlico a 7-8 minute walk south of Victoria. It has been advertising in London Drinker for a few months and I was impressed with the beer, the choice and the enthusiastic attitude of the bar staff when I visited for the first time just before Christmas.

On my second visit a couple of week ago I was greeted with a second bank of handpumps (now 8, previously 5) serving three beers from Thornbridge Brewery and two from Dark Star. The other pumps also carried beers from microbreweries rarely seen in London. I sampled the Thornbridge Vienna IPA and the Thornbridge Exposed and they were both excellent as you might expect, the latter being a rare stout brewed with strawberry and pink peppercorns. The popular food match working beautifully in a beer with the strawberry and pepper complimenting each other but not too overpowering to spoil the roasted flavours of the stout.

The cask ale is complimented with some German, Czech and British lagers and a bottle list of at least 30 Belgian and over 100 German for those who like to go continental.

I am by no means the first to sing their praises and you can be sure I will not be the last. Boak and Bailey have written about it here and here.

The pub is situated at 6 Charlwood Street, SW1V 2EE and I recommend a visit.