Monday 31 August 2009

Anything for publicity

We have a wedding on Wednesday. Yes, that's right, people do want to get married in a pub. They are staying from tomorrow night through till Friday and taking over most of the place. We shut the restaurant tonight to get ready and give some of the staff time off. Monday night is generally quiet anyway.

Unfortunately, the phone has been red hot today with people wanting to book a table in the restaurant. Could it be as a result of the BBC program Country Tracks that went out this morning? - we were in it, 07:45 into the program. It was filmed in 2004 - 5 years ago.

From what I remember, Michaela Strachan is just as nice in real life. Pity I don't look as young anymore.

I'm hoping somebody has the ability to rip the section into an MPEG for me before BBC IPlayer makes the link unavailable - anyone?

Thanks is due to Washy for drawing this to our attention - point of fact Mr Washbourne, it is stated that I live around "here" all my life. Cumbria is "here"

Wednesday 26 August 2009

A Glass of beer

Firstly, a link. Jeff Pickthall posted a nice little amusing video done with animation of Lego figures. Now, its funny, but perhaps slightly bawdy, which makes me feel guilty especially as I've shown it to my nearly teenage offspring. As a responsible alcohol retailer I should be ashamed of my amusement at childish glorification of alcohol.

Or should I? No, of course not. I do try and run a respectable establishment and apart from the occasional mishap after 2 pints of Zippy Red1, there is very little trouble at my pub2. But every pub is different. Every publican sets their own standards and style of operation. Every location attracts a different trade and the property operator has to decide the style that works best. Town centre pubs are always going to attract a more boisterous trade. The Friday and Saturday night revellers, the people who have worked hard all week, the people who look forward to this as part of their leisure.

But, there is one thing, apart from alcohol, that links me with nearly every pub on the town centre circuit of pubs - glasses. Nobody likes to drink out of plastic if they didn't have to, every pub will serve beer in glasses and so they should. But lets look a little deeper at why the idea of plastic drinking vessels is so bizarre.

Imagine the government manages to mandate the use of plastic drinking vessels. Where will the line be drawn? Restaurants, presumably, will be fine. I'm guessing, and hoping, that nice country residential and food led pubs will be left alone. The government won't get away with every licenced property being banned from using glass. So presumably either troublesome establishments, or areas will be targeted.

It makes me wonder, does all this ring fencing of problem areas simply further divide the nice places from the rubbish? Are we going to find even more so that the no go areas become more so as stigmatised properties become even more rubbish and so need to attract the difficult trade to survive. If I'm dubious about a place, I'm going to be even more dubious about it if I know it only uses plastic glasses. After all, a pissed up nutter can probably find a weapon in nearly anything that's not screwed down.

An interesting side issue: I'm trying to find a suitable glass for serving a Witbier in. Although I can get some nice looking glasses it is almost impossible to find one that is a pint. I've got Blanche de Bruxelles draft on the bar, but serving that in a shaker makes it look boring.


1You know who you are, although I maintain it's the gallon you had before the Zippy Red that caused the problem. I promise, your secret is safe with me.

2Which is probably the reason for quite a few of the bad reports about me out there on the Internet. If somebody behaves in an inappropriate way in my pub, they tend to get to know what I think - bad luck. More publicans should do it.

Monday 24 August 2009

Big beer

I need to brew. 500kg or so of malt arrived last week so I've got little excuse. Hopefully I'll get two fermenters full today.

The last few times I brewed I alternated between my regular session beers and some experimental bigger beers. OK, still only in the range 5-7%, not exactly big beers for many, but still just above the normal range you'd expect.

Yesterday I asked Alan, my bar/cellar man, what I needed to brew. After a short discussion it transpired that I need to brew "everything". What, all that big stuff gone? So it would seem. Putting a combination of Cascade and Centennial hops in beer, making it a little stronger, using some more interesting malts and dry hopping seems to be a winner with some. I just need to work out which of my experimental recipes to use.

Then again, Woolpacker 3.8% and Light Cascade 3.4% still win with pure volume of sales, just. Make of that what you will.

We've already sold Ann's 53rd and my 54th birthday Tokyo* and I've only had the stuff a couple of weeks. Perhaps I'd better put some in the safe after all.

Friday 21 August 2009

Tokyo* Shandy

So, how do you actually sell Britain's strongest beer in a pub? You shout "Anybody up for a Tokyo* tasting session? £2 each" It's handy to have a few people about who you know want to try it but don't want to shell out for a whole bottle. That's what we did last night, it worked a treat. Although Lucy (2nd from left) decided that it tasted better mixed with Fentiman's Victorian Lemonade. Saruman (2nd from the right) tried the resultant shandy, and although he felt it was sacrilege to do such a thing claimed the drink was quite tasty.

I didn't seem to have any increased alcohol fuelled disorder as a result of the Tokyo*, although Washy (first on left) is trying his hardest to be banned, but that's par for the course. I suspect the Caol Ila1 was having a significantly greater effect on proceedings.

Grand night - and everybody will probably be back tonight. Better book the bouncers.

1This one is a hand bottled, done by the nice people at Bladnoch. 29yr 55.5% cask strength. Very nice indeed, smoky and peaty..mmmmm. If you join their forum there are some damn fine deals to be had.

Thursday 20 August 2009


Apparently my old picture sucks. Ann likes this one better. I'm really not that big. Sometimes I'm not grumpy either.

Whilst I was about it, I thought I'd chip in my little bit of support for the NHS. These days I feel like I do sometimes lean a little further right than I'd like. But surely health care based on need rather than abilty to pay is right? After all, I can't afford to pay for a liver transplant myself.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Perfect Job

Imagine you worked from home, no commuting, you just fell out of bed and you are there. Not worrying about that delivery of BrewDog ending up back at the post office because you were not in. No boss breathing down your neck catching you blogging, facebooking or twittering and no stupid company firewall to find out that you did, 473 times in one week.

Imagine a job where the only days you could get off were when it rained, or in the middle of winter. Imagine you could never get away from your job when the weather was nice, because that's when your job was busy. Imagine all those you are working for are out in the sun, laughing and jolly, while you're inside sweating your proverbials off. Imagine the frustration when you get asked, several times everyday "Do you get out on the fells much yourself?" and have to answer "No" and still remain cheerful.

Imagine you got to meet some of the most interesting people, everyday, and facilitate their enjoyment to such obvious pleasure that you feel on top of the world with their gratitude. Imagine some of your best customers become your best friends and come back, time and time and time again.

Imagine you have to deal with some of the worst and most inconsiderate people everyday of your life. They come into your home, treat you like a second class citizen, cost you more than they spend, vandalise your property and claim it was an accident, and then wonder why you ask them to leave. Imagine you have people verbally assault you and then wonder why your customer focus looses its calibration.

Imagine you get to brew beer that gets drunk more than other people's beer next to it. Imagine that you get to experiment with new brews and they still sell, imagine the satisfaction in that.

Imagine you like to do something different with food, to experiment and design new dishes and ideas that impress your best customers. Imagine this is written about nearly everyday in the visitor's book of your hotel. Imagine that you are always being told by the people who keep coming back how much you've improved the place.

Imagine, despite everything you do, or have ever done, you cannot seem to make much difference to the money you earn. Imagine every year that you work out you've earned significantly less than the minimum wage and broken the working time directive for yourself several times over. Imagine you can never relax in your own home.

Imagine that your ideas of how a pub should be run are shattered, into a million pieces, and you rebuild them, piece by piece by piece.

Imagine the people, the friends, the enemies, the achievements, the tragedies, the hard work, the satisfaction and frustration all rolled into one. Imagine you'd love to start again and do it all differently.

Imagine, despite it all, you'd do it all over again.

Tuesday 18 August 2009

Portman Pillocks

Portman group again.

Whatever you think of Tokyo* as a beer, nobody who has drunk it thinks it's going to cause any type of alcohol related problems.

The Portman group is an industry controlled organisation looking to protect the large multinational companies.

Tokyo* is a highly flavoured barley wine that cannot be necked and is too expensive to pose any risk to society. Also, if I understand correctly, there are only 1000 bottles in the country, it's a limited edition. I have 29 left, which I'm hoping I don't sell because there is one for each of mine and Ann's birthdays, plus one for each Christmas between now and the best before date.

Monday 17 August 2009

Hotel with public bar or Pub with rooms?

It's an interesting job running a place that has two very different trades. On the one hand we have a section of the building allocated to providing an establishment that has comfortable rooms and a restaurant that serves quality food. Carpeted throughout and we're trying to raise it's standards.

Alternatively we are in the middle of the mountains. It's beautiful and there are plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities. When it's sunny we get very busy with passing trade. When it suddenly starts to rain everybody runs for cover and many make it to our bar. We get muddy boots, wet dogs, dripping waterproof clothing. When it rains for a few days on the trot, which it can do, it all goes very quiet. For 6 months of the year it is just very quiet.

Our hotel trade is far more lucrative, is stable for more of the year, the customers demand higher standards and due to the lack of wet clothing, muddy waterproofs and careful control of resident's dogs the place is more comfortable.

3 years ago we segregated the general public from our lounge bar and reserved it for residents and restaurant use only. We have now gained 3 stars with the AA for our accommodation. The muddy path that crossed our lounge bar carpet has gone. We are increasing the revenue from the hotel operation.

We think of ourselves, in some ways, as a hotel with a pub attached. The pub is here because there is a hotel, not the other way round.

We still welcome all manor of wayward walkers, dogs, muddy boots and even, if we have to, children into our walkers bar. Our walkers bar is sparse but robust. Some fail to understand the need for segregating the bars. I was inspired to write this after this post appeared by Adrian Tierney-Jones, he's a good guy and entitled to his opinion. To be fair we really TRY not to be grumpy, at least most of the time and we don't treat "off comers" with disdain. Meshing quality with the outdoors can be tricky. Matching tourist trade with local trade is also a problem.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Beer Makes Strong Bones

With all the fuss made over alcohol by various agencies and the press, it's nice to find a healthy bit of news, especially for women drinkers. It seems that beer drinkers are less likely to get osteoporosis. It's no great surprise to me. The best beer is made with water rich in various mineral compounds, including calcium salts. That is bound to make your bones stronger, Sherlock.

The slightly scary thing is this research also shows that beer really does contain female hormones. These plant derived hormones are called phytoestrogens and are similar to human oestrogen. Perhaps that explains why male beer drinkers are prone to developing man-boobs.

Yeah, I know there are plenty of sexist jokes out there on this theme. If you haven't seen any just type "beer female hormones" into Google to find them.....but I didn't tell you to do it, OK?

Hops and Glory

One man's search for the beer that built the British Empire.

Book Review

Everybody knows that IPA was made to survive the long sea journey to India during the age of international sailing trade. Tall ships were the only way to transport goods to the far east and regular British beer would not be good at the end of the journey. Further more, IPA's hoppy light style suited the climate down to the ground. Moreover, so the legend goes, the style of beer actually improves by the extremes of the journey. There, what else do you need to know about IPA?

It seems Pete Brown was significantly unhappy with only knowing this. Moreover, he decided to risk life, limb and most importantly the patience of his wife to get to the bottom of the legend. He got himself a beer brewed, as authentic and true to the 19th century beer as possible and took it on the very same journey that the beer made during the great age of sail. The main purpose of the journey, apart from "toughening up" Pete with his poor ability to travel1 was to find out if indeed the beer goes through a magical transformation as a result of the wild fluctuations in temperature and sea movement endured.

It was bound to appeal to me2, my early book reading career being put in motion by Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons. So, a book that combined ancient sea travel with beer? I was sold on it before I even received my copy. I was also keen to get on with the job of reading it as my friend Jeff Pickthall makes a key appearance when Pete gets into difficulty. Jeff turns into an infamous international beer smuggler when the mission is looking like it might fail completely to achieve it's aims. The picture above, stolen from Jeff's Picasa library, is the moment Jeff saves the day, just in the nick of time.

The book does tell an exciting and gripping tale about Pete's trip by barge, train, plane, cruise ship, tall ship and finally container ship from Burton through to India. Following the route as closely as possible turned out to be a challenge. Nobody travels that route by sea any longer, but one man has done it now. This man puts himself through an ordeal that seems to go well beyond any rational justification, but anybody who is passionate about beer can immediately understand why he has done it, at least you will after reading the book.

But more than the re-creation of the sea journey Pete weaves into his narration the history of IPA. He tells of the building of the magnificent and often cruel world of our imperial past in India. The triangular sea trade that included the far east, where, through each leg there were goods filling the ships. Beer from the UK formed part of that trade and we learn how IPA becomes the dominant style that was shipped. We also learn how it continues to influence nearly 140 years after the Suez Canal is re-opened3 ending the necessity for such a long journey.

I'll confess to being too engrossed in Pete's adventures to take in all the historic stuff. I scan read much of the alternate history chapters as I was too excited to find out what near scrape Pete was heading for next. I fully expect to return to the book and take in more fully the comprehensive information contained there.

If you like beer or history or salty old sea dog stories then you'll like this book. I like all three, so I loved the book. Of course, Pete's humour makes you often laugh out loud, which can be embarrassing when you are sitting on a crowded train.

Perhaps buying the book just because Woolpack Dave says it's a good book is insufficient reason. If none of the above convinces you to buy the book then perhaps there is one good reason left. I met Pete recently during my trip to GBBF. I also met his enthusiastic wife Liz, and without whom, it is apparent from the book, Pete's trip would not have occurred. Pete has apparently promised Liz a good holiday from the proceeds of the book. As I write this Pete and Liz are on "holiday" in rainy Blackpool. There, that's a good enough reason to buy the book, saving Liz from such trauma.

1Actually Pete has not claimed to be a "crap traveller" since his earlier book Three Sheets to the Wind. After this epic he daren't I expect.

2Of course Pete's copious use of that literary tool, the footnote, also appeals to me.

3The canal is not an entirely modern concept. There is significant evidence of a canal over 2500 years ago that linked the Nile and the Red Sea.

Saturday 15 August 2009

More Morris Dancing

It's Saturday, I'm too busy to post anything intelligent. Today members of the local CAMRA branch visited and C de C left me a copy of the video she took of the Morris Dancing that happened here some months ago. Note our staff risking their lives with the sword dancers to deliver food.

If you are very observant you'll see me having a dubious beard stroking moment behind the bar.

Thursday 13 August 2009


Being a beer blogger and a publican perhaps has it's pitfalls. I like to think of myself as an honest person. This blog projects what I'm thinking, perhaps resulting in my heart being worn on my sleeve. I am also aware that what I write might perhaps upset customers or friends. I do sometimes wonder just how far that effect might reach.

I'm a CAMRA member. When I can, in the winter, I try to attend meetings. During the season my time is too precious, and so I don't. I do think the organisations intent in some areas has it's benefits and one of those significant benefits is to encourage pubs and publicans. I've said before, the CAMRA awards are a great boost to morale. Beer festivals are also a good thing and our local branch organise one that I think, in my humble opinion, is pretty good.

I'm not however going to pretend that I don't have opinions against some of the campaigns and policies of CAMRA. I would like to think that I have the democratic right to free speech. It seems though at times I am branded as anti-CAMRA, which is a shame really, because that is not the case. See the rather interesting Session Ale Project, where I get named. This blog is run by an American chap who seems to be fed up with the over dominance of big beers in the craft beer scene over the pond. I think he's got a point. In this country we seem to have an over dominance of session beer, at least that's what it seems like to me.

The local branch, West Cumbria and Western Lakes, are promising to visit Saturday lunch time. It also seems at least one of the most active members reads my blog, perhaps I should just say a big thanks for the nice stuff the branch said in the Summer Edition What Ales. Note page 25, if anybody is interested. Read the rest of the mag, the team do a great job and deserve their efforts to be read.

Finally, and most importantly, I've been having a bit of a fetish for big and even massive beers lately. However, looking at the article in What Ales it can be seen that we do not turn our back on low ABV session ales. Hopefully I'll have my Light Cascade 3.4% on the bar for the girls and boys on Saturday. That should at least please one blog reader.

Incidentally, the weakest beer I've ever had on sale was Drive Me Mild 1.9% made by me. It did OK, for a mistake. The strongest has just gone on sale and is Tokyo* 18.2% made by some people in Scotland and I don't expect to sell much of it. It's all about diversity really.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Old Dog, New Tricks

Well, that's a surprise, Tokyo*, the controversial 18.2% beer, is something of a revelation. My delivery arrived yesterday. I was quite excited. A chance to try this beer. I guessed I'd like it quite a lot1. I was not wrong. Described by others and Mark does a good job, so no point me repeating it here. But my significant other, Ann does not generally like beer. She pulls a horrible face when she tries nearly any beer. She tried Tokyo*, and she likes it2.

This all comes neatly on the tail of a discussion over on Impy Maltings blog about "blonde" beer names being marketed to men only and possibly being offensive to women who might like to try beer.

I'm really intrigued to know how much marketing, taste, upbringing and culture have an effect on the desire or otherwise for half the population to generally snub beer. I don't know the answers, but for now, I've found another beer to add to Ann's list; Kriek, Geueze and now Intergalactic Fantastic Oak Aged Stout.

Bugger, better order some more then.

Of course we drank it out of wine glasses and we shared the 330ml bottle between two of us. It is not an everyday beer, and probably best with a good blue cheese or a rich chocolate desert, or ideally, a desert that combines the two3. Treat it like a fine port wine, that's my advice.


1I seem to detect phenols in this beer, but it seems to work. I'm still getting my palate trained to recognise various "off" flavours. What is also intersting is that I'm finding that certain flavours that might be wrong in one beer work for me in anouther. Phenols in double stout is OK, phenols in IPA is wrong. Just my view of course.

2Look at that "watchit, anymore of this stuff and you'd better be up for it" kinda look. Perhaps sharing my beer has some advantages.

3A white chocolate, cream cheese and blue cheese fondant dark chocolate crunch base bomb. Known as a Blue Bore Bomb to us. Perhaps I'll have to post about that sometime. Extreme beer and extreme deserts, fantastic.

Monday 10 August 2009

BrewDog mystery

I've just had a delivery. Great. But what is the mystery freebie 13th bottle? Has anybody else found the same in their BrewDog order?

All arrived safely, without any breakages. After reading reports of poor packaging used by the guys up in Scotland, I just wondered. Can't fault this delivery. I might have to start to consider stocking them. After I've tried them out for quality, of course.

If I had a grumble, it would be the 10 days between ordering and delivery. I gather that might be a demand problem. Victims of their own success? Actually, the spare bottle might be a kind of apology because they had to substitute part of the order due to low stock. Either way, it's always nice to get a little extra you didn't expect - thanks lads.

Sunday 9 August 2009


Interesting, I've just been ranked by Wikio for the first time. Only 17th in the wine and beer category, but still, up there with the best. I'm chuffed.

Interesting, in a wine and beer category beer bloggers seem to have the edge, or so it would seem. It's all to do with how blogs link to each other, apparently. So, we're a sociable lot and no doubt, that's beer for you.

Right, I'm off to find more bloggers to make friends with. That can't be a bad thing, can it?

Interstingly, blogger spell check does recognise blog and blogger, but not bloggers. Obviously the system that provides this medium thinks we all act singularly and therefore there can't be a plural of the noun.

Friday 7 August 2009

Great Big Barrel of Fun

GBBF trip post No3

Tuesday morning should have seen a lie-in, but sadly the cleaning staff seem to think that 8am is the time to start. Oh well, nearly caught nude in a hotel again, at least I was by myself and not up to no good1. However, the rude awakening made me decide to get up, shower and head off for breakfast. I needed to ensure beer soaking carbohydrates after too much protein in the canapés from the day and night before.

I spent most of the morning drinking coffee and reading my newly signed book. I'd been struggling a bit with Pete's historical chapters and was pleased to have got to the start of the real journey, and of course the demise of Barry2. I'm eagerly awaiting the Famous World Beer Smuggler, who hasn't yet entered the piece, but he'll be there there soon.

Finally, it was time to approach Earls Court. A queue? For a trade session? Gee, it's going to be full inside then.

I've been to Earls Court before, for trade shows, where no expense is spared on carpet and decor. It was interesting how different the place looked, but then amazing how many people such a great place can swallow and it didn't get too crowded at all. I was pleased to be able to get a nice tasting glass. Session drinking was not the point of this trip; Networking and beer tasting was. A 1/3 stemmed glass was perfect, not quite as good as an over-sized wine glass, but then I'm not the incumbent Beer Writer of the Year. Off I headed for the Bière Sans Frontières bar, only, where is it? If I had a complaint, then the lack of a map would be it. Carpets would be a complete waste of money, but I like maps.

OK, 5 minutes later and bumping into Adrian Tierney-Jones and I found it. It took me a little while longer before I found a beer I wanted, a slow start, but eventually, I found my feet. A little overwhelmed at first at the size of the biggest beer festival in the country, but, gradually I decided it was a good setup. After a couple of hours there I could find what I wanted and understood the really quite logical setup.

I tried a few beers, and I did have a mission to find out a little bit more about wood aged beers, I suspected I would like them despite my friend Jeff Picthall saying they are crap "I can't say I'm a big fan of wood-aged beers". Confirmed, I like them, sorry Jeff. However, perhaps it's time to thank Jeff for suggesting that not going to the GBBF was a non option, thanks Jeff, you were right on that one. Now all I need to do is convince Ann that the trip was all work, work, work.

I don't want to fill this post with details of all the beers I tried. Except to say that again, I was drinking big foreign beers. My little stemmed glass perfect for trying lots of different ones. I tried lambics and cherry lambics and German Pilsners3 and more Belgian influenced American beers. It was fantastic.

I left the British beers alone, well mostly. It's not that I don't like them, it's just I know what they taste like. I don't need to spend money and time on a trip to London to try beers that are a variation on a theme. Beers that taste more or less like the ones I can get at home. There are some British breweries out there doing more innovative things, but knowing who they are and what they are doing wasn't easy for me to find out. For instance, if I'd known about Pride 'n' Joy, the 2.8% beer, I might just have tried it. I did try Fullers Vintage Ale, which I enjoyed and it made me realise, I'm not a ticker, I'm an explorer, thirsty for new ideas. But, you know, I'm open to new ideas, I'd love to hear from breweries that are doing something different, blogging is the new beer media, apparently, perhaps if I'd heard about things before I went I'd have tried it and then blogged. Just an idea for you brewers out there, BrewDog have got the idea.

But best of all, I caught up with many great people. Of course there was Tandleman. Thanks to Jeff Picthall for this picture4. There was Barm, Beer Nut, Zak, Mark and Jeffo. There were many other people I met that day and for me, the best thing was the fantastic combined enthusiasm by everybody for beer. That's what we were all there for, the beer.

It's easy for us to slag off various styles of beer because it doesn't fit what we want out of beer. I do it I know. But it's only opinion. We all know what we like. Some like to stick within their comfort zone, perhaps straying a little when adventurous. Others, like me, throw caution to the wind, unable to risk the chance that there is something we are missing out on, because life is too short to be bored. But, if you like beer, I'd suggest whatever type of beer it is you like, you're with freinds at the GBBF.

Of course none of this would happen without CAMRA. 1000 voluntary people, that's what it took to get the thing running. 1% of the CAMRA membership directly involved in the staff, presumably giving up holiday time to do so. This was CAMRA at it's best - Thank You.

Sadly it had to end. My train left Euston at 19:30. I left Earls Court at around 18:30, slightly later than perhaps I should have, but I just kept bumping into people. Across town with 20 minutes to spare, a quick Burger King5 burger and a coffee before boarding the train.

Drunk? no, not at all. Giddy with the pleasure of meeting so many wonderful people, some of whom my failing memory is struggling to find names for. But not drunk. 10% beers were typical for me on this day and not once in the 28 hours I spent in London did I feel drunk. It's all about pacing and appropriateness. On the train home I even read some more chapters and slept no more than I normally would have done, entertained by the constant apologies from the shop staff; member of the on board team in the singular, about the late "change of set" causing printer problems, stock shortage, coffee machine cleaning and could passengers please remain in their seats while he sorts it all out. We were sure that with his sweet tone of voice, that if he was being mugged we would still get the same calm apologetic explanation and he'd be sure to inform us just as soon as normal service resumed.

So, what is this about 10%, 12%, 15% or even scary 18.5% beers causing binge drinking? BrewDog are right. It's a cure. But why? And why is this notion being poo-pooed. Because it's to do with drinking culture, that's why. It's to do with taste. It's to do with savouring. It's to do with getting around the fact that a 330ml bottle could be shared, no really, I did this and it worked. I'm not sure how I'm going to make James's assertion sound correct; that 18.5% beer is the solution, not the cause of binge drinking, but I think he's right. It just sounds barmy and to be fair, judging by the choices of beer most people made at GBBF, our culture is just not ready for it yet.

Conversely, on arriving home, I drank a pint of my 4.4% American-inspired-hoppy-slightly-above-session-strength-pale-ish-beer. It tasted remarkably like an American IPA.

Oh, and very well done indeed to my Cumbrian colleagues Giles and Howard for Silver in the bottled beers category. Yewbarrow from their Great Gable brewery is indeed a good beer. I can't comment on any of the other awards as I'm not familiar enough with the beers.

1Yes, it did happen once, in my own sodding hotel. Yes, I was with someone on this occasion.

2Well buy the book then and you'll find out who Barry is.

3Which one again Barm? I forgot.

4OK, do your Wurst. Actually, notice two interesting beer creatures here. On the left is a confirmed pub supporter who enjoys nothing better than supping a few pints with mates and is unlikely to be caught being pretentious - note the pint glass. The fine specimen on the right is a bit of a beer scene chameleon. In his own home, strangely, he can often be found swilling pints like a good un, however, on this occasion, not wanting to loose face in front of his pretentious beer writing mates, is joining in with fine gusto - note 1/3 pint stemmed glass.

5Needs must. But, just like British beer, it's great for the right thing. In a pub, with mates, I'd drink a pint of standard British ale. In a restaurant on a special occasion I might well choose fillet steak or venison or corn fed chicken breast filled with organic goats cheese and wrapped with air dried saddleback ham dressed with a jus of white wine reduction. Today for lunch I had leftovers. Filled a gap and was fit for purpose.

A Piss-up by Beer Writers

GBBF trip post No2

If the best beer writers in the country can't organise a good party, then who can? Monday night saw the 21st Birthday party of the British Guild of Beer Writers. My first real chance to meet up with many people I had heard about and perhaps interacted with on the Internet. Pete Brown gives an excellent report here almost making my post superfluous. But I'll find some words to fill a post, after all, I've got to practice so I too can work up to a 130,000 word1 book.

A fine party it was indeed, made that way by good beer and good company. If I listed all the people I met I'd be bound to get some wrong, so I'll save myself the embarrassment. With so many new people in little more than 24 hours that I was in London, I soon started to get confused, not unusual, it's true.

Jeff Pickthall, my fellow Cumbrian, had managed to get The Hairy Bikers to come along. With Jeff Bell also there the northern contingent2 formed the naughty boys at the back of the room during the speeches. We ended up getting told to stop chatting. The trouble was we couldn't hear the speakers, which was a bit of a shame really, because I gather some good stuff was said. Unfortunately the PA just wasn't set right for Public Address. It did work well for the SIBA band later though.

The beer was interesting. Not quite as exciting in its entirety as the American beers of earlier in the day, but the Harveys' Imperial Extra Double Stout was fantastic. I've never had a beer so opaque, it was so black that even the low sun over the Thames couldn't get it's bright penetrating rays through the liquid. I had a nice picture of the bottle, but on returning home I looked at the pics only to find that a member's female acquaintance was sitting opposite and all I can see in the mid background is the region just above the low cut top3 she was wearing. Honest, I didn't notice at the time, sorry.

I think I was just captivated by the quality of the beer and the joy of being with people, as Pete points out, brought together by beer. It was one of those evenings that you just don't want to end, the crack4 was spot on and I stayed longer than I should have done.

This trip was an important chance for me to explore how far I'm going to take this beer writing lark. To do so much further than blogging, we're told, is a toughy. However, It's turning into a passion, a desire to communicate what I know about beer, which it turns out isn't much and there is so much to learn. The beer world is interesting and it's diversity is becoming broader and deeper and there is a future - somewhere - for us beer writers, provided there are people who are prepared to read it. I wanted to hang on to these people for as long as possible, to soak up their combined knowledge before I had to go home. But sadly, I recognised the signals all too easily, as the bar staff signalled less and less subtly that it was Foxtrot Oscar o'clock.

I still hadn't checked into my hotel at this point and the last tube had gone. Jeff P got me to Clapham Junction, from where there should have been a single bus journey to take me to Earls Court. I've never got on with the bus route maps. Which side of the street should I be on and which street? These seemed to be nagging questions. The digestif effect of the stout and stuffed chilli peppers seemed to be kicking off peristalsis causing discomfort as various muscles fought. This doesn't help one to concentrate on sorting out a confusing situation. Being from the country, where a good sense of direction is required, a real map is preferable, rather than some sort of stylised interconnectivity transport node solution that bares little resemblance to reality. I decided to walk, using the A to Z as my comfort blanket, praying for the conclusion of alimentary activity to just wait a little while longer5. At 3am I eventually checked into the hotel, got to porcelain with such relief but surprisingly un-drunk and went to bed.

I'd been drinking beers that we're typically 6% and above, but I'd just been having tasters. Free beer all day and I was sober, well, fairly anyway. How was that? I think it's a sharing thing. I had a glass and there were bottles. Later, when it was draft beer, it was in pitchers. We just drank, and talked, and poured a little more into the small glass I had. No pressure. No rounds. No big glass shouting "drink me". Just great beer to enjoy, oh, and top company.


1Pete signed my copy of his book, Hops and Glory. In doing so he also disclosed the word count - thanks for the target, although I suspect, like you, I would overshoot somewhat. What's all this "couldn't think of any more" bollocks? Although words come easily, I've got several dictionaries and a thesaurus full of them if I get stuck, it's assembling them in a suitable order I sometimes have problems with. Oh, and thanks Liz for insisting on my full name.

2Sorry Stonch, you're from the North, as well you know, and don't forget it. But, it was nice to see you've got somebody who's able to cope with you, spot on company both.

3No, I'm not sending out copies. I like these people, I'm not going to upset them any more.

4Crack is similar to criac in Ireland. In Cumbria it means gossip, news or general conversation. I know in London it means some sort of substance, but us simple country folk don't understand these sort of things.

5OK, too much information, but in Cumbria you don't have to walk too far before you can find a convenient wall to hop over. Where do you go at 2am when you are caught short in London? Call yourselves civilised?

Thursday 6 August 2009

American Craft Beer

GBBF trip post No1

Despite being from the delightfully remote and beautiful Cumbrian valley of Eskdale, where the population of sheep1 greatly outnumber us humans and the air is crystal fresh and clear, I always enjoy with great relish a visit to London. This time I was here for the Great British Beer Festival and incidentally to also attend the 21st birthday party of the British Guild of Beer Writers. I'd have to admit to childlike excitement as I stepped off the 15:12 at Euston, incredibly less than 3 hours after I'd boarded it at Oxenholme in The Lake District.

My first call on Monday was the Porter House in Convent Garden. My hotel was at Earls Court and a change at Leicester Square was needed anyway. It's two minutes walk from the tube station and a guarantee of something reasonable to drink. The guild party was not starting until for another three hours so I had time to kill. Having got myself a bottle of Liberty Ale I walked out into the sticky afternoon mug that is expected alfresco in these southern city places, and settled to enjoy my beer.

Within a few minutes a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers walked up simultaniously greeting me and the three others on the next table, who it turned out are also members. "Has it started already?" he asked. "Has what started?" I returning a further question. "There's an American beer tasting session downstairs, I'm sure you'd be welcome as a guild member". Well it would be churlish to refuse, wouldn't it?

The "New world" beers are still an area of research I need to develop. Although I've had my hands on them here and also in Oregon, I'm quite convinced I need to explore them more. A bad experience, as it turns out, with Arrogant Bastard Ale had made me sceptical about the whole American beer scene. That is until I cracked open a bottle of something different from the same consignment 2 years later which changed my view completely.

This tasting session was about to confirm that there is a whole new angle that can be applied to beer. It showed, that in fact, the bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale I had before must have been duff as not only did it taste foul, but it also made me as sick as a dog. The very nice gentleman who gave it to me probably didn't know, and I was too polite to object. The beers I tried here all excited me, including Arrogant Bastard.

There were, I believe, four American breweries represented including Stone and Victory. As well as my successful second chance at Stone's beer I was impressed by V12 which had an incredible Belgian style nose, quite unmistakably. I asked, because I suspected, what yeast was used and was delighted to hear it was Westmalle. That explains things. In the taste there is something that cuts through the wonderful Belgian style and declares itself American, the hops I suspect is what makes it and together it works fabulously well. At 12% ABV not a session beer, but as I'll explain later in this series of posts, that, in itself, does not produce drunks. In fact, it would seem to me that this could not be further from the truth.

There were incredible stouts and porters and IPAs and even a hoppy Pilsner to really inspire. All beers with bags of flavours and most with ABVs higher than are the norm in the UK. I realised these beers were all beers I'd like to have better access to and started to ask how I could obtain them. The answer seemed to be that I'd have a problem in my location, up in Cumbria. Then somebody pointed out that there was no reason why we couldn't make these type of beers here in our green and pleasant land. It would make them cheaper than these imports and cut down on global freight into the bargain.

The majority of our UK beer culture is about the tradition of real ale. There is nothing wrong with this, but it's by far the loudest drum being beaten. There is more to beer than "Trad Beer" as my cellar technician terms it, seemingly with disdain. Even the labels on the bottles of these US beers project an excitement and a cool image that is almost completely missing from the craft beer scene in the UK. These people are about pushing boundaries and making something even more exciting than was done last time. We could learn a lot. If nothing else we could learn that we need to fight the prohibitionist movement, not join in with it.


1Now, I know what you're thinking, and you are right. The totty quality is significantly better in London.

I Don't Belive It!

There, an exclamation mark in the title. Perhaps I really mean it. Abolish alcohol duty on 2.8% beer and below, why do these people really think that's going to make a difference?

Anybody that thinks that an abolition of beer duty at this percentage is going to save the pub industry really, really does not understand the pub industry.

It's bollocks.

Perhaps, when I have time, I'll tell you why. That will make the total number of posts I need to do add up to four. But today, the sun shone, and I had a lovely day with my kids while the pub ran beautifully without me. Tomorrow, I need to do some real work, GBBF favours returned to the family, but not yet the business.

60p reduction in the price of a pint? cloud cuckoo land mate. Alcohol free Coca Cola costs typically £2 plus a pint in a pub and there is a good reason for that. Go figure. Stop diverting from the real issues, please.

Blood is now vaporising with astounding speed. Sorry to those who might have expected a report on my trip to the GBBF etc, it's on it's way - this one just got me gobsmacked. But really, I thought pubs were about beer, perhaps wine or whisky or, if you have to, alchopops, not plain old pop.

Sunday 2 August 2009

What's a Duck-do?

We often have duck on the menu. Apart from being really tasty and coming from Goosnargh, which must mean it's good. The event of it being cooked is great fun for new members of staff.

"Check on chef, one Fillet, one Duck."

"Ok, Fillet no problem, I've got the duck breast here, I need a Cointreau to go with the fillet and fetch me the Duck-do from the walk-in please"

I normally have to turn away as I'm crap at the poker face malarkey.

"Yes Chef!........... erm, what's a Duck-do?"

At which point there is a chorus from the rest of the brigade "Quack, quack"

Actually, it only ever worked properly once, when Iulian was in charge of cooking one evening and Rasvan, his brother, had just started with us. Lets just say we needed a few moments to regain our composure before we could continue to cook. Iulian is a pretty good wind-up merchant, don't take him on at poker. Luckily, Rasvan also has a sense of humor, you have to have to work with me.

Sorry, but I had to use that joke to introduce this beer. I eventually got to try Kwak last night as we escaped for a few hours. On a Saturday? - yup, incredible. Anyway, I'd heard a bit about this Belgian beer before. Some reports seemed to suggest it was overrated. I had to try it, if for no other reason than it is served in an interesting glass. "Do you want it in the funky glass?" the barman enquired. Part of the reason for ordering the beer, surely.

That crazy glass looks at first sight like it's big enough to take two bottles. Deceptively, it just about manages all of one bottle with it's decent head. Carbonation seems very high, but the beer, whilst not my favourite Belgian beer, is a worthy experience, made all the better for the entertainment of the glass. If you want to know more about the glass there is some information on the Bosteels web site about the "coachman's glass". Personally I just think it's a useful marketing gimmick, but one I like.

I also got a little peckish and spying a stout on the bar decided, unusually for me, to try it with the dark chocolate Bounty that was shouting "Buy Me!" from the back bar. I don't normally like chocolate with beer, but this worked well with the bitter dark chocolate and roasted barley flavours mingling well.

Right, I'm off to the GBBF. I have a strong suspicion that most of the time I'll be around the BSF bar, which apparently is where the real beer writers hang out. Besides, Tandleman is on that bar and it would be nice to get a real chat with him this time.

If you see me there during the Tuesday trade session, do say hello. If you see me there at any other time you've had too much beer and are seeing things; I won't be there unless of course I've had too much beer and I miss the 19:30 back out of Euston for the frozen north. I'm suposed to be back in Cumbria before Tuesday turns into Wednesday, I have a pub to run you know.

Saturday 1 August 2009

Worlds Best Ale

I got sent a press release today. Apparently, the World’s Best Ale is Robinsons Old Tom (8.5%).

This is according to Beers of the World. It seems their web site has yet to catch up with the news.....