Friday, 30 July 2010

Blog Redesign

I see many of my blogging chums have redesigned their sites, upping the clashing colours level, squeezing themeselves into a small middle strip of the screen and generally jazzing themselves up a bit. Way to go?

Tandleman's offering is starting to look a little old fashioned, but in my view it is at least readable in the strictest sense of the word, in that you don't have to wander all over the place looking for the content. You will sense that I feel some of the redesigns are, shall we say, more successful than others, though I may well be deluded about my own.

Should I tinker? I'm thinking of it. Do I want to be the the only lemming left at the top of the cliff?

Quite possibly!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Hopping Mad

My ongoing central heating problems have been driving me to obsession, but a welcome distraction was offered yesterday. I don't drink that much during the week, but a suggestion from my mate John of a quick afternoon pint seemed to me to be just the thing to chase away the blues.

The venue was the ever excellent Baum in Rochdale. I spotted Acorn Green Bullet on the bar and made a bee line for it. I wasn't disappointed. The excellent body, lingering resinous hoppiness and insistent bitterness throughout was just what I needed. John was drinking Shipyard Independence Ale which he rated highly. I had a taste. Damn good. Simon the owner couldn't say who brewed it, but thanks to Rabidbarfly and Tyson, I know now it is brewed by the Shipyard brewer Alan Pugsley at Marstons, though thankfully at Banks' not Burton. No sulphur for me thanks. The story is here if you wish to read it. I had a pint and again it was superb with good hop presence throughout and another lasting hoppy finish. Alas these were just a temporary hiatus in my domestic heating problems.

I returned home to greet my central heating guy who still couldn't make the connection from my controller to the boiler work. Oh for a few more pints of Acorn or Shipyard at that point. Still, I had the compensation of looking back fondly at two superb beers and a pleasant interlude from the irritating obstacles that litter life. It was a reminder too that a quick pint with a mate in a pub, particularly when it is unexpected, gladdens the heart in a way that opening a bottle of beer at home never could.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A Date for Diaries

The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) will be holding their SIBA (North) National Beer Competition judging panels in Manchester for the first time ever. SIBA Council has reached an agreement with CAMRA to run their major tasting event in the Palace Hotel, Oxford Road, Manchester from 28th – 30th October. Following the judging on Thursday 28th, the event will then open to the public at 4pm to 10.30pm as a SIBA Beer Festival in association with CAMRA.

Some 300 cask beers from the 128 SIBA North members will cover a wide range of styles and after judging will be available for purchase. There will also be a quantity of bottled beers available to buy following the bottled beer competition. Competition winners will be announced during the early public session. The event, in the (very) Grand Room at the Palace Hotel will be open 12 noon to 10. 30pm Friday and Saturday. A major departure from normal CAMRA festivals is that all beers will be served from hand pumps – 48 beers available at any one time – with, yes - wait for it – a sparkler and a clean pint to line glass for every fill!

This promises to be a very exciting and different event. A lot of the details are still being worked out, but yours truly will be (God help me) responsible for the training of the volunteers in pouring a pint through a sparkler. All the beer will be cooled to cellar temperature and the handpumps and cooling will be set up by SIBA Technical Services, so it should all be spot on.

Hopefully we are in for a fantastic do, with magnificent cask ales from the North, served in proper Northern style through a tight sparkler and conditioned and cooled to perfection. Be there or be square! It is one not to miss.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Oh My Aching Feet

I note from Twitter and elsewhere that beer geeks are rightly looking forward to the Great British Beer Festival. And so they should. This extravaganza is, or at least ought to be, the culmination of any British beer buff's year. It is the icing on the cake and indeed a large chunk of the cake itself.

The statistics are no doubt elsewhere, so look them up if you want to, but its sheer size is amazingly impressive. One of the great things to do is walk amongst the place before it is filled with people, just taking it all in. It is simply gobsmacking. For the aficionado, the cask beer list alone should satisfy most tastes and the foreign beer list should have you drooling; the scratchings, curries, sausages, crisps and pies should keep you going and the chance to meet up with friends old and new and talk beery bollocks to each other, should have you beating a path to the door.

Among the 80,000 or so visitors will be the thousand or so CAMRA volunteers. Those that set it all up (look around you and have a think about how much effort that takes) keep you safe, look after beer, drive fork lifts, sell souvenirs, pick up litter, offer you a glass, a programme or directions and of course importantly, perhaps above all, serve you beer. All are giving their time freely and will be on their feet for days. It will hurt, but right now, young and old, they are really looking forward to it too. Without them you wouldn't have a festival to go to, so spare them a kind thought or two. I'll be one and I can tell you hearing about how great it all is, or what a good time you are having, getting a smile or a word of thanks, goes a long, long way towards making it all worthwhile.

See you there.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Little Ale Cart

One of the more pleasurable duties I have as CAMRA Branch Chairman is to present the odd award. Yesterday it was the big one- a Pub of the Year Award - to the Ashton Arms in Oldham.

It is not though this estimable pub I write about, but two of the beers on offer, both from Little Ale Cart in Sheffield. First up was a 4.3% pale and hoppy number called either Sir or Saint Gatian. (I should have taken a photo). This was beautifully pale, with delicate but firm hopping and a very floral, perfume aroma. This was so popular it was drank dry in no time at all, to be replaced, fortuitously as I arrived at the bar for a refill, by Tranquil at 4.1% from the same brewery. Again pale and hoppy, it had a more resinous, in your face kind of bitterness, a lovely firm body and a bitter, hoppy finish. Both were in the tip top condition you'd expect from a pub of the year, making the experience even better. These are what Gazza P would call Mid Atlantic Pale Ales.

For those that know about them, Little Ale Cart has been producing lovely hoppy beers for a while now. For those that don't, seek them out.

Flagship Pubs (1)

My first ever cask ale was consumed in the Bon Accord in Glasgow back in 1974. I can't say it was an Damascan conversion to the real thing. The grip of keg beer was too strong and cask ale in the West of Scotland at that time was as rare as a brass monkey's bollocks. It still is to all intents and purposes. The Bon Accord was not the only outlet for cask in Glasgow then, but it was by far the best. Over thirty years later, though changed inside, it probably still is.

I was in Glasgow at the weekend and of course when we left the train, I and an equally thirsty E nipped straight into the Horseshoe Bar in Drury Lane. Now this is a classic pub , with its patter, bustling atmosphere, vertical drinking and slick service, as well as its value meals. In cask ale terms it lags however. The offerings tend to lack lustre in both selection and quality. E got the better of the deal with her half of Deuchars, though you are painfully aware that if you have to praise Deuchars, you are deep in the doodah beer wise. My pint of some other nameless Caledonian brewed fluid could not be finished.

On the way to Queen St station, there is one other pub, the Standing Order, a JDW offering in a massive former banking hall. I quite like it, not solely because I can gaze wistfully on blown up photos of the banknotes of my youth, but for its buzz and the sheer chutzpah of its size. The quality of the beer however suffers from the copious volumes of Tennent's Lager and John Smith's swooped down. E declined, wisely as it turned out, to partake of any of the numerous dark offerings. My pint of Houston Warlock Stout was so tart and bitter that I wondered whether it was off or not. I just couldn't tell, but either way I couldn't finish it. Two pints in a row with undrunk beer left on the bar. Not a great score.

On the way back the next day, we stopped off at Charing Cross and headed over the deafeningly busy motorway undercroft, past the magnificent Mitchell Library and into the Bon Accord. It felt right, with gleaming brass handpumps, a gantry glittering with rare whiskies, a cornucopia of selection and eager bar staff. Our choices were both English. First up, the excellent pale and hoppy Bradfield Farmer's Blonde and then, E's preferred tipple, York Tettnang, which was clean, spicy and peppery. Both were very moreish and bursting with condition, so we did the decent thing and had some more, until the 17.40 from Glasgow Central nagged at us insistently to get moving. I know some complain about the hefty £3 a pint price, but for beer of this quality that you could not only finish but enjoy, it seemed a small price to pay.

Now here I have to say that a flagship pub and a classic pub are not the same thing, but if you'll indulge me, we'll save the "classic pub " argument for another time. What makes a flagship pub is a moot point, but they all tend to have several factors in common. I would venture that they are considered "best of class", a "mustn't miss" and they are renowned for choice, quality, service and dependability. They will sparkle inside, be warm and welcoming and be the sort of place to which other pubs ought to aspire. If part of a brewery, chain or group, it will be the one they are most proud of.

Of course not all pubs can be flagships, but all, like the Bon Accord, can strive to be quality places to go to. It is a pity so comparatively few seem to have even that modest ambition.

The mission statements on the pub's web site are exemplary too.

Monday, 19 July 2010

In a Far Away World

I am continuing to look back with some fondness to my starring days on rfdb, the Yankee led newsgroup which I contributed to for many years.

In this month in 1999 I was looking forward to the American beers at GBBF (I am this year too. 1999 wasn't the first year I'd worked at GBBF, but was when I started my relationship with BSF, which continues to this day.) In 2000 there was rather a long thread on the same subject and a meet up to taste American Porters. In 2001, I did tasting notes (rather better ones) on Victory Prima Pils, Victory Hop Devil and Great Lakes Brewing Burning River Pale Ale. I was also planning a trip to Snoqualmie Falls Brewing and one to see Mike McG who was brewing at Zero Degrees in Blackheath. We also discussed some remarks by Michael Jackson on British Brewing, given in a television interview.

Michael's comments are worth reading and probably as relevant today, Or are they?

“ Having worked as a producer, as well as a presenter and guest, over

several decades, I presumed to give her some advice- - especially, to be aware that, just as she was getting into her stride, the item would be over.

She did well. Pity about me. The four-minute discussion, with we two guests and the usual male and female duo as presenters, quickly moved away from the ads.

"What can the British ale brewers do to fight back against international brands?" asked presenter Jeremy Bowen. "Be like the Americans: proud of their products and shouting it from the rooftops," I replied. [Even veterans of live tv get a rush of blood to the head in those hasty minutes. I am summarising my memories; there is no transcript]. "It isn't always easy to find a good pint in Britain," Bowen observed. "For a truly hoppy one, I go to America," I announced, realising a second later that I had just offended all my buddies in British breweries. Just to compound the insult, I added that British brewers had their heads in the sand. I had hoped to provoke a lively discussion but, just as I was getting into my stride, the item was over.

The brewers with their heads in the sand do not attend the Great British Beer Festival, which opened that afternoon. Those who did attend spent a great deal of time trying to bash my head -- and body -- through the floor.”

Now I have rediscovered this valuable archive, I might just bore you again.

Unexpected Boost for Pubs

It seems the recession is hitting night clubs hard with many drinkers preferring cheaper beer in late opening pubs than going on to a club. A total of 355 such clubs closed last year as cash pressed drinkers chose not to visit them for a late night tipple.

When I was younger in Liverpool, it was quite common to go to a club for a late night bevvy, as quite simply, if you wanted to continue boozing, there was little option as there was nowhere else to go. Most of us would have preferred to stay in the pub anyway, but now there is choice and fewer seem to want to pay a premium for the privilege.

No doubt some will blame the smoking ban though.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Gwladys Street - For MicMac

This'll bring back memories Mike! Your two childhood sweethearts, side by side. In no particular order of course and I suppose they looked better when you were a lad.

More Higsons

I feel like treating you all a bit today, or maybe I'm just feeling nostalgic, so more Higsons. Anyone know the rest of the characters in this set of show cards? I'll give you a clue as Billy Butler used to say on Radio Merseyside. There were 14 in all.

There's no prize, but I might just post more photos.

Blast From the Past

In my modest collection of breweriana, I have a few items from my favourite brewery, Higsons of Liverpool. Or should I say, my favourite closed brewery!

Does anyone out there remember this? It is a lager font - well a photo of one anyway. The beer was short lived and indirectly caused the demise of the brewery. Maybe I'll tell you why sometime. Unless anyone knows of course.

Then you can tell the story.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Fuller's IPA - 1998

Way before blogging was possible, there was this thing called Usenet. It still exists. I used to contribute to it, including this rather lack lustre beer review. Look at the price of the bottle. You probably wouldn't pay much more now.

It was posted on May 27th 1998. I've been around I have:

Fullers IPA Bottled 500 ml - Bought Leeds UK £1.49 abv 4.8%
Best before 05/01/99

Golden brown / amber in colour with a thin loose head which rapidly falls away. Aroma is of flowery hops, possibly Fuggles, with crystal malt and caramel.

Beer starts with a deep bitter Goldings flourish. Body is quite light and malt is subdued throughout. Carbonation is just on the high side of medium through which the abiding impression is of hoppy bitterness. Finish is short and bitter leaving a pleasant hoppiness and some caramel.


Overall the beer is on the thin side and drank below it's strength. IMO the pasteurisation shows through too much. This beer would improve as a BCA. Nonetheless pleasant and drinkable but unremarkable.

The label claims "Fullers have faithfully recreated the traditional characteristics of this historical product"

God was I was crap at beer reviewing then! In this instance at least.

Monday, 12 July 2010


The poll is over. A somewhat disappointing 74 responded to the set of questions posed and only 63 let on whether or not they are a blogger.

The results were kind of mixed, with both good and bad news for blogging and bloggers. The good news is that clearly blogging is doing something right, with 51% believing that it encourages them to drink better beer and a respectable and 37% reckoning blogs the best place to find out the essentials of British beer today. Now you don't have to be a genius to work out that in a poll where you could answer to each question if you wanted, there is a large minority in the first case and a large majority in the second that don't see it that way.

Significant numbers think there are problems of blogs being inward looking and an unhealthy number think it all an ego trip by the writers. Nonetheless, taken as averages of the "positive" and "negative" questions, almost twice as many were on the positive than the negative side and only 9% find blogging as boring or irrelevant.

So a reasonably good result? I think so, but it seems there is still more work to do to satisfy our readerships.

Finally 63% declared as non bloggers.

The results are below for the record.

An essential "must read”? 17 (22%)

A way to pass the odd five minutes; mildly diverting, but that’s all? 29 (39%)

Boring, repetitive and irrelevant? 7 (9%)

A vehicle for overblown egos 25 (33%)

A place that will inform, enlighten and encourage you to drink better beer? 38 (51%)

A self congratulatory, inward looking clique? 29 (39%)

Being affected and overtaken by Twitter? 9 (12%)

The best place to find out the essentials of British beer today? 28 (37%)

In terminal and inevitable decline? 3 (4%)

First and Last

It is the way of things that CAMRA days out are a mixed bag. Sometimes you are lucky and the chosen pubs all produce ale at its best for the descending thirsty hordes, or more usually there are some where, shall we say, optimum standards aren't quite reached. Thus it was on Saturday when our CAMRA branch went to East Lancashire, a lovely part of the country with neat stone built villages and rolling green hills.

Our first stop probably spoiled us. The Swan with Two Necks in Pendleton is in a very pretty village location, with a little stream directly in front of it which is fenced off, no doubt to stop you staggering straight from the pub front door to an unwelcome early bath. When the landlady opened 10 minutes ahead of time for us and we were met with a sparkling pub, shiny handpumps and beer which had clearly been pulled through, we knew all would be well - and it was. It couldn't fail to be with Copper Dragon, Harviestoun, Marble and others on the bar. I had the Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted to start. It was in tip top condition. Others spoke highly of the same brewery's Freddie Truman and the Golden Pippin was well thought of too. Of course Marble Pint was beckoning and didn't remotely disappoint. Wonderfully, clean, bitter and resinously hoppy, it was sublime and a reminder that when on form as it was here*, this is one of the finest beers in the UK. We had an hour there. It wasn't enough and many rightly congratulated the landlady on her wonderful inn keeping.

I won't say much about the next two pubs. Both were just OK, though I did have in the Old Sparrowhawk at Fence (through a duff pint of Bank Top Flat Cap being changed), a pint of Draught Bass, which was a lot better than I expected and didn't taste much of Marston's at all. It was fine in that "I wouldn't want any more of it" sort of way. Likewise in the George and Dragon at Barrowford, a somewhat dull pub was lifted by a very decent pint of Bowland Pheasant Plucker which drank well for its 3.6% gravity. Shame about the name though. We were also lucky enough to sample some excellent Mallinson's Hit for Six as well as very creditable house brewed beer at the Ministry of Ale in Burnley.

Last up was a great pub though. The Crooked Billet Inn at Worsthorne is stone built and imposing. Originally built by Grimshaw's Burnley Brewery, it had many original features; much tiling and mosaic, a fantastic bar and gantry and delightful etched Grimshaw's windows. The beer of choice was Lancaster Gold served in proper brewery glasses with Red Rose emblem. Friendly locals and a chatty landlord ended the day on a very high note indeed.

* Much better than the one I had the night before in the MA.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Bavaria Says Yes

In a referendum on Sunday, Bavarian voters ended the dithering and doubt about smoking in their state with a decisive "yes" to banning it completely in in all public buildings. The previous strict law had been weakened by political in fighting and dubious avoidance by some pubs, as well as single room exceptions. All these have been swept away.

Over three million voters participated in the referendum, with 61 percent voting in favour of the ban. The citizens' initiative "for real protection of non-smokers" will impose a total smoking ban on all clubs, bars, restaurants, cafes and beer tents from 1st August.

As someone who goes to Bavaria a lot, I welcome this and look forward even more to my trip later this year. Whether it will be welcomed quite as much in the filthy "Raucherclubs" is a different matter, but the state has already said it will enforce the law from day one. The sting in the tail is that the Association of Private Breweries announced that it will mean price rises due to the cost of enforcement, particularly in beer tents. "The citizen must pay for it through higher beer and food prices" they said.

It seems though this year's Oktoberfest will be exempt and smoking will be allowed for the last time.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Beer Blogging

The new Wikio list is out and Pete Brown, who announced the results, has written a response to his previous question about whether " beer blogging has become boring and (sic) introspective". Some good points being made by him and others, but to me nagging doubts remain about where beer blogging is going. The lack of comments from non bloggers indicates to me that there is something amiss. If all we get is a (declining) number of comments from ourselves, we are doing something wrong are we not?

I have posted in the past about the influence of "professionals" in blogging as well as the insidious effect Twitter has on the amount of comments received, but what do others think? I have devised a little poll -well two actually. You can answer "yes" to more than one question. To make things clearer it would be helpful if you could do the other poll in conjunction with it, then we can see if there is a grain of truth to my suspicion that we are beginning to speak to ourselves in the main.

Have a go at it.

(By the way, when are these guys at Wikio going to change it to "Beer and Wine" rather than Wine and Beer? It is clearly obvious the wine is "also ran" in this context)

All Bar One

South Manchester, the domain of Clarkey* and his pals, is a bit of an unknown quantity to me. I don't often go there and don't really know it that well, but visit I did on Saturday afternoon. My destination? Chorlton - or Chorlton-Cum-Hardy to give it its full moniker, is the Notting Hill of South Manchester and an area I lived in very briefly, for about three months, more than twenty years ago. Then it was leafy, posh and had one or two decent pubs. Now it is leafy, posher and has loads of new bars, yes, bars to have a go at. None were there when I padded these streets and nor were the Worker's Hand Knitted Yoghurt Co-operatives, Organic Delis and such like which the "yummy mummies" need to make their existence complete. Still they all added colour and variety. Chorlton had changed and to my mind, had changed for the better.

I went with my oldest mate Mike, who was armed with the splendid crawl which appeared in the summer edition of "Beer". Now Mike is of the ilk that when he has a pub crawl in his sticky mitt, deems it essential to follow it to the letter. Thus we started at the only bit of Chorlton I recognised and that's only because the supermarket and railway are still in the same spot. The supermarket then was Safeway, but now is Morrisons. I know we lived near there, but buggered if I know where.

There is much talk about whether bars can replace pubs, or complement them, or just be there for those that want something a bit more modern, trendy, cosmopolitan and different. Chorlton provides at least a circumstantial case, that done well, bars are a great alternative to pubs - sometimes at least. Now it has to be said that on a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon, with a decent pint in your hand, a place outside on the pavement and the prospect of one of the finest and most compact pub crawls around, it would have taken a dedicated curmudgeon not to enjoy it. This is of course the limiting factor. Outside, pavement drinking and watching the world go by makes these place. Inside they all tended towards the gloomy, constructed as they they all were out of former shops. While gloom may have suited the butcher, baker and candlestick maker of yore and may well suit the trendy young things at night, it would have been a bit of a melancholy experience to be inside in the peeing rain. Still, it wasn't raining and they shone brightly like the sun.

Two things struck me. The cheerfulness and friendliness of the staff, who all seemed genuinely happy to be there and the very high standards of the "offer" generally. Posh food was available in all it seemed. There was a plethora of interesting imported beers in both bottle and on draught and all offered cask ale. Most in fact offered very good cask ale, carefully chosen and in top form. All were amazingly clumped together, as if the bar fairy had carelessly dropped them all from his sack. A lot were next door to each other, which gave an opportunity to compare and contrast and to try and divine why one was chosen by customers over another.

Now here's the thing. While all were enjoyable (bar one) they were all pretty samey and herein lies a possible catch. Pubs, apart from JDW that is, are all different. Bars are superficially at least, much the same. I think then that the "offer" is the distinguishing feature and they fight for custom on that basis. That is a good thing. I have severe doubts if I'd have found them quite so attractive and enjoyable at night with packed, dark interiors and their outside drinking areas dominated by smokers rather than people watchers, but for a different and very pleasant afternoon crawl, it was enjoyable and refreshing.

So what were the highlights? I have to say all were good. The standouts for me were the first stop which was Oddest (there is an Odd and an Odder in Manchester) with stumblingly charming service and superb Mallinson's beer and the two Marble outlets, which frankly, on this showing, served better quality beer than the main brewpub itself. We had one pint that perhaps wasn't at its best, (in Pi I think) though Mike was mollified by a delicious (so he said) asparagus and mushroom pie - yes Pi sells pies! Oh and the title of this piece? One bar, again I can't remember which, had no customers at all. We checked it out. Only Pedigree and Hobgoblin and run of the mill lagers here. Maybe that's why? All the other bars had carefully chosen local ales and a selection of imports. The difference showed. To paraphrase Mr Clinton, "It's the offer stoopid".

I think my conclusion is that when bars are done well, when the circumstances are right and when you can drink outside, bars can be every bit as attractive as pubs. But pub or bar, it is all about the offer.

Despite Mike's best efforts, we missed out quite a few on the crawl, but we'll be back to finish them off. On a sunny Saturday of course.

* No it isn't. See comments!