Sunday, 30 January 2011

Meantime College Beer Club

There is no doubt that the twelve deliveries of two 75cl bottles of special and rare beers as part of the College Beer Club membership will prove to be excellent beers. However, at a chunky £350 for an annual membership, the guys at Meantime know that they will need to offer something additional in order to get people to join and more importantly renew for a second year.

Their idea is to make the Club more collegiate and to bring to members something a little different than just pubs and beer and to include a number of exclusive member benefits and events.

The launch event was held a couple of weeks ago at the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House, SE1 where members of the club were invited to a private viewing of one of Manet’s last great paintings, the Bar at the Folies-Bergère, painted in 1882.

About fifty members ventured out on a very cold evening and we were guided on arrival into the main gallery which is packed with major Impressionist works by leading artists such as Van Gogh and Gaugin. We eventually gathered in front of Manet's iconic painting where we were addressed on its merits, its context and its historical importance by Emeritus Professor John House, a leading authority on such works.

The only beer in the gallery was the two bottles of Bass that are in the painting of the Bar at the Folies Bergère - one thought is that the famous venue was a tourist trap attracting wealthy Brits who were drawn to their favourite beer - served warm from the bar - before legging it with one of the ladies of the night. Alternatively, the Bass could have been such a world famous beer that it sold well among the chilled champagne and fine wines.

After a full illustration of the painting we were led to the foyer where Peter Haydon of Meantime gave a talk on the history of brewing in London, the Bass application for the very first trademark and the tales that all beer - whether IPA, Stouts and Porters and indeed Pilsner lager all emanated from London.

We were all drawn into the stories with copious amounts of Meantime IPA, London Porter and were sent home with a bottle of the most tasty, Meantime London Lager.

A very enjoyable evening in good company that will hopefully set the scene for the year ahead. I am looking forward to the next event almost as much as the next delivery of beer.

It is hoped that the next event will be a talk on some of the famous Hogarth etchings that are in the John Soane Museum while the next beer will be a 7.5% Scotch Ale.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Pub History Conference


It has been announced that this year's Pub History Conference will take place on Saturday 19th February.

The conference, organised by the Pub History Society, will again be held at the National Archives in Kew and will include a wide range of speakers on various aspects of inns and taverns and their role in British society. It is expected to start at 11am and finish at 4pm.

See what I thought about last year's conference here.

This year's subjects are likely to include lager drinking in Edwardian England, seventeenth century survival in Suffolk, the records that innkeepers left behind and the role of pubs in rural Northants.

It is also hoped to have speakers on pub tiles, a Quaker temperance archive and a guest appearance by David Bruce, founder of the Firkin chain of brewpubs, reminiscing about how the Firkins changed the pub scene forever.

A show-and-tell session on pub related ephemera and memorabilia wraps up what should prove to be another enjoyable day.

Tickets are £5 on the door, which will include three months membership of the Society, tea and coffee and a behind scenes tour of the UK’s national archives. Pub History Society Members Free of charge. Further information and booking details are here.

If anyone thinks that the event might be a little dry and that there are no decent watering holes around the Archives, afterwards it is a short stroll back along the riverbank to Mortlake for a glance at the exterior of its historic brewery (now the Budweiser factory) and a beer or two in the local pubs, the old and the more modern.

By the way, for final clarification, I am not the same Steve Williams who helps organise this event and who is a Pub History Society committee member.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Royal Wedding Beer - Theakston's Prince of Ales 1981

A rather natty black and gold label adorned the Prince of Ales from Theakston's Brewery in Masham, North Yorkshire, brewed for the 1981 royal wedding. 275ml or 9.68 fluid ounces in a brown bottle but the point of difference for this beer was the stubby bottle design and the ring pull cap.

Alas after thirty years of being stored in poor conditions and its initial pasteurisation mean the beer is undrinkable.

Theakston's has had an interesting thirty years and has survived despite several set-backs. In 1981 the company had only eight pubs but the name of Old Peculier was already big in the free-trade.

In 1984 the company was taken over by Blackburn brewer, Matthew Brown, which was in turn gobbled up by Scottish and Newcastle in 1987. In 2004 the company returned to private hands when four Theakston brothers bought the company from S&N.

Hopefully we will see a 2011 version of the beer later in the spring.

Royal Wedding Beers - Castle Rock + Windson/Eton

I make no apology for saying that I am looking forward to seeing some of the 2011 Royal Wedding beers hitting the bars in the next month or three. Those from 1981 that I am opening and tasting are pretty much undrinkable.

Two early announcements, Windsor Knot from Windsor and Eton Brewery and Kiss Me Kate from Castle Rock, show at the very least that today's breweries have a bit more imagination about the name of the beers than the pedestrian Royal Ale, Bridal Ale or Prince of Ales from 1981.

This time I intend to drink the damn things rather than stick them in a cupboard for thirty years.

Bring it on guys ....

Friday, 14 January 2011

Royal Wedding Beer - St Austell Royal Wedding Ale 1981

This week's bottle of royal wedding beer brewed in 1981 to celebrate Charles and Diana's wedding is from St Austell Brewery in Cornwall.

Presented in a standard brown 275ml bottle with crown embossed foil top the beer poured completely bright and a dark ruby red colour with a brownish hue. The beer unbelievably had some sparkle to it having been "maturing" in the bottle for thirty years and had a small head that lasted while I drank it.

Although there were signs of age with the usual musty vinous aroma there was also an discernible aroma of leather and tobacco with a very slight fruitiness. The taste was pretty good. The sparkle really encouraged the subtle flavours out, a hint of raisin, perhaps blackberry with a lingering dry bitter finish.

The bottle does not show the alcohol content but I would guess fairly high (6%+) to give it legs for so long. Not delicious but definitely drinkable.

Good Beer Guide 1982 suggests that at that time St Austell Brewery had 132 pubs of which 62 served real ale.

It is gratifying to note that St Austell remain in business, proud of their family-owned independence, after well over 150 years. Real ale is now sold in all 169 pubs and throughout the country's free trade pubs.

In the current micro-brewing boom, I also stand firmly behind the family brewers that have remained loyal to the beer drinker for hundreds of years and I raise my glass in Tribute to St Austell Brewery. (see what I did there ?)

Windsor and Eton Brewery - Conquerer Black IPA

Giving a shout-out to Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham's website yesterday reminded me once more of my blogging failings - you can't beat pros.

Over the back end of last year I came across the newest beer from Windsor and Eton Brewery a number of times - Conquerer, described as a black IPA brewed to 5% with 5 different malts along with Summit and Cascade hops to produce an intense combination of roasted flavours balanced with full fresh pine hop aroma.

Every time I tried the beer it got better and better, every time I saw it on the bar I had to try it. It really was one of the beer highlights of 2010.

When it came to sharing its delights on this blog, I came across the musings of Ben (I assume) on the Dwink website.

There are times when you read something that just can't be improved upon. I can't beat this !

Read what thought about the beer here.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Hall & Woodhouse - A Gun Box of Beer ?

My blogging failings are shown up for all to see as I continue my Christmas gift guide well into the new year.

During last year Hall & Woodhouse Brewery created a gift box which was sent out to various media, beer writers, bloggers and other PR contacts to promote a new range of bottles.

The cardboard box holding a dozen bottles was designed to look like a wooden gun case with rope handles and printed in a wood effect. Inside the lid were found the tasting notes for the ten beers and two ciders.

The design and presentation of the gun box was so good that it went onto win an award for innovative packaging and is now available to the public via the Badger Direct website.

The Badger boys (and girls) are one of the family brewers who have embraced the internet fully and are using their website(s) with a great deal of creativity :

Check out the Badger Sett Ale Club web-site here.

and some funny stuff from Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham on their excellent website here.

Hall and Woodhouse is changing. They took a major decision some time ago to redevelop the old brewery site and replace it with a more modern plant. There were sceptic mutterings at the time about whether The Badger really had the appetite for such a big project. The announcement that the new brewhouse had been commissioned put a stop to that scepticism and now there is up-to-date news that the new brewery development is well under way - watch this space.

For the avoidance of doubt, I was delighted to receive such a box of beer and thoroughly enjoyed its contents. Thanks Badger !

Friday, 7 January 2011

Royal Wedding Beer - Devenish Wedding Ale 1981

The bottle opened this week is from Devenish Brewery. It was presented in a 275ml brown bottle with foil top. It was the first one that I have opened that has any sort of sparkle to it with a comforting pfzz on opening and even a small head when poured. The beer was a ruby red colour and poured completely bright.

These beers are generally not tasting too good, and would be generally considered to be "stale". However the sparkle did give it a lift and through the cardboard flavour and aroma did come some sherry/madeira notes and a hint of toffee/caramelisation.

Again no suggestion as to strength as that was not required to be on the label thirty years ago. Failed to drink the whole bottle.

Good Beer Guide 1982 suggests that there were two Devenish Breweries in 1981, one in Weymouth and one in Redruth. The bottle gives no clue as to its provenance. About 100out of their combined 360 pubs served real ale at that time.

Century of British Brewers published by Brewery History Society suggests that brewing ceased in Redruth as late as 2004 and in Weymouth in 1985.

The pubs were taken over by Boddingtons in 1993 - part of Whitbread's consolidation of the British pub and brewing industry. The pubs I believe, though cannot be absolutely sure, eventually found their way into the Punch Taverns estate via banks and venture capital investors.

Happy New Year

Yes, Yes, I know it's already a week into the year and I know that it is a month since the last post but what else could I offer as my start to another fresh year.

Christmas came and went, a trip to Ghent just before was cold but picturesque - more about the beers and bars some other time, if yer lucky. Weather thereafter meant that I strayed no farther than my cable tow from my Christmas tree.

Weather also meant my delivery from Meantime College Beer Club did not make it for Christmas and remains unopened awaiting a time when I just fancy a 13% Imperial Russian Stout - mmm

Next delivery from Mybrewerytap 52 week US beer club did make it through the snow but I have yet to do it justice apart from admire the list of beers within.

Christmas and New Year drinking was non eventful; saved by four pints of Dark Star (Hophead and APA) at the Evening Star on New Year Eve and a reacquainting with canned beer courtesy of Fullers - did beer in a tin always taste that good ? More on this too anon.

All I can offer you this year is more of the same. Though the more I read other peoples blogs the more I realise my shortcomings here. I am also going to suffer (suffer ?) a very big birthday at the beginning of August and would hate to be the oldest swinger in town so will have to suck it and see thereafter.

Anyway, I wish you all well for this year. Those who I know, I hope to bump into you over a pint or two somewhere on our travels. Those I don't know or who are farther afield, you mad fools, what are you doing here ?