Wednesday, 31 December 2008
So they find the most tedious paper-skinned living-forever-through-denial freelancer to write a happy-clappy health piece about detoxing. It’s pure Googlefiction of course, but still every part of it is backed up by ersatz quacks who at least managed to fill in their Response Source form and so is clearly an expert in something.
Of course they advocate taking charcoal/dried cat anuses/rose-flavoured magical spring-water to cleanse your blood/colon/soul. It doesn’t matter what is in these potions and lotions though because it’s all-natural and nothing natural ever hurt anyone, ever. And that is a fact.
Along with keeping Ben Goldacre in columns for another year, they also always want you to stop drinking, at all, for a whole month, regardless of such inconvenient truths as the Reinheitsgebot and the general purity of most alcohol. But they can be very insistent, very repetitive and use a very big font. So here are five reasons why you should carry on drinking right throughout January and beyond:
January Is The Coolest Month
January is the best time of the year to go to the pub. Those lovely sweet/smoky dark beers are in, the fire is lit and since the sun never actually comes up there is nothing to see outside the window – except the inexorable decline of capitalism.
Silence With Golden
January is the quietest time of the year to go to the pub. Since the rest of humanity is wracked with Sunday supplement-driven self-flagellation, they aren’t spoiling your drinking time with their voices/faces/jostling. You’ve got a pint of Entire Stout, they’ve got a litre of something gloopy sculpted from wheatgrass, and a hollow feeling.
Also the amateur drinkers who ruined the whole of December with their tottering, bragging and eruptive vomiting have also gone back to their PCs and padded work cells for another twelve months - or three months in the case of most of the financial institutions who think that they can dodge the world’s ire simply by delaying their parties till March.
Brevity Is Best
February is only 28 days long. If you really want to punish yourself, you know it makes sense.
Fiends Like These
If it is your friends who say you drink too much, where else could it be easy to make new friends than a pub?
Who's Got A Problem?
Who actually needs a month off alcohol? Alcoholics is who. So if you need a month off booze, it’s because you’ve got a problem and if you don’t, you don’t. Simple, so long as you don’t question the logic and just get your round in.
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
You see it is a wonderful thing and it has grown during its three years. So the first surprise to my post-work-spazzed head about this year’s event was how many SIBA members seem to be treading the mulchy path to organic brewing. Because there were more beers on offer than last year with ABC, Bath Ales, Celt, North Curry, Matthews and Bridge Of Allan joining Butts, Spectrum, Marble and the Organic Brewery.
What also chaffed in my limited brain was the range of styles and shades of offer. The increased cost and restricted availability of organic materials doesn’t seem to have dented the diversity or depth of the brewer’s range and reach. So there were hop-powered beers, dark ales, pale beers and just one punchy ginger number. And I tried most of them, except the Bath Ales, which felt like a charity addition.
One Beer To Try
It is tricky to pick which one of Butts’ many lovely beers to select – the darkly rich chocolate Blackguard porter is superb – but Barbus Barbus is one of those beers that I have to have every time it appears. It’s a gently sweet golden with hints of malt and orange marmalade amid the hops. It isn’t a big gaudy whore of a beer but a well balanced one that also packs in plenty of flavour for a 4.6% ale.
Another Beer To Try
The annual appearance of Marble’s Ginger, meant that at least I had to try some, even though starting a drinking session with it would be as likely to invite disaster as playing the 1812 Overture at an outdoor Afghan wedding. For this 5.0% beer delights and punishes in equal measure and I’ve already sung the praises of this fiery pint. Anyway the zest, zingy, utterly fresh 3.9% Pint was my favourite from the
Two Beers To Try
First in a double header of stouts came the
The Glencoe is actually the more traditional of the two. Beneath its gently beige-shaded head, it has a smooth, almost milky sweetness that probably comes from the oats. Cutting against this is the carbonation – not fizziness - but the burnt, smoky flavours. So there is a little bit of ash, burnt toast and perhaps even liquorice that all combine with a bit of malt to provide a lovely finish. It’s really rather lovely affair.
Obviously the Marble Stout is different, otherwise I wouldn’t have mentioned that fact earlier, but it is very different. For a start it is hoppy and for a palate that has just attuned itself to the mellifluous malt and soft fruit of the Glencoe, that is a shock. So imagine the oily washing-up liquid bite of hops and those hefty citrus flavours fused with roasted malt and chocolate. Does it work? I don’t know, it is pretty interesting though. I understand that blogging is all about rabid, utterly certain opinion over considered thought but this time, opinion fails me.
One Beer To Avoid
Being a West Country lad and keen to embrace almost everything from this corner of the world - bar slave trading, losing the tops of your fingers in a threshing machine and Bristol City - I had to try a pint of ABC’s Gurt Lush. Even though the staff warned me against it, even though the regulars warned me against it, I tried it.
Now I’m told that they are really nice chaps and that their beer is getting better all the time but I really wish I hadn’t. Sorry ABC.
Oh well ‘tis the season for regret. Merry Christmas!
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
But in all the quickly cobbled together, mildly slurred pub-polls I’ve ever conducted, the origin and nature of the ingredients in a beer hardly ever get a mention, even amongst ardent label-searching vegetarians. Beer seems to exist outside the normal rules.
It was largely the same at The Royal Oak’s Organic Beer Festival. Because while the vast numbers of organic ales on the bar, and those served straight from the barrels, attracted plenty of attention, most of the pints were bought without the livers owners’ even knowing about the pesticide-free origins of the hops and malt. Let alone caring.
And yet Britain is reputed to be the third largest market for organic produce in the Europe. Over the last few years the Soil Association have charted double-digit growth for the retail sector. And while that may be slumping now there never seems to have had the same effect in beer or booze generally. The word ‘organic’ and ‘local’ appear on menus all the time, but very rarely on pump clips. Instead the brewing industry seems to target its organic beers at supermarket bottle-buyers. Particularly with sweeter or novelty ales.
Instead the received wisdom, both on the web and in the pub, seems to be that all organic beers are lacking something. That higher costs lead to weaker beers. That the price of organic hops prevents brewers from producing certain style - particularly the bitter-bombs that are so in vogue at the moment. That somehow any brewery that worries about such fripperies couldn’t create an ale worthy of serious consideration anyway.
So in the name of a purely unscientific research the question has to be asked: Do you think about organic beer? Do you even notice if your beer is branded as organic, local or even British? Have you ever knowingly tried an organic ale and is there one you like? And more importantly do you care either way?
Thursday, 4 December 2008
Men are clearly stupefying dolts. That isn’t a conclusion that you need to spend much time with Andy Townsend to come to either. We are easily pleased. We have to be otherwise we’d be insulted right to the most oblong shaped part of our medulla oblongata by Top Gear. Really most men are happy with bladder integrity and unfetted access to their own penis.
We don’t even ask for much either, except at Christmas. Then we demand presents that reflect the many varied facets of our personalities – those that aren’t represented by power tools or porn. Well you can probably guess what I’m going to advise that you buy for your friends, for family or for yourself - beer.
But I don’t mean you should join some club or order bottles online. I’ve tried it and you feel mean when the beige box is unwrapped. A few bottles seem to cost a lot of money – and some companies seem to stick a lot of less exciting ales in with the good ones. Instead go right to the source – a brewery – and get a box, or a barrel or a mini-cask.
It might seem excessive to buy that much booze and that is because it is. It is also generous and sociable and – this is the good bit – fun. Few people can resist pouring themselves a lovely foaming pint. It might be the sense of agency, it might also be because no one has any idea how much you are drinking.Yes I know what you are thinking – why don’t you write short, regular posts like other bloggers? Either that or you are guessing that it won’t appeal to non-ale drinkers. But here is a little anecdote:
Last year we had a biggish party with lots of friends and family – and three 10 litre boxes of beer and a 5 litre one too. It was a calculation based on a generous estimate of how much beer all the ale drinkers would get through. Except that the lager drinkers all became beer drinkers that night and even some of the wine drinkers were temporarily converted too.
So we ran out of beer long before the evening was over, simply because no one could resist giving those little taps a twist. And we ended the evening taking requests for the names of the brewers and making promises to buy beer boxes as presents for others to give that Christmas. Convinced yet?
Buying Your Beer Present
Choosing The Right Stuff
Obviously you know what your pals/parent/liver likes but in our experience to make sure it’s all drunk means going for lighter, paler ales, less hoppy ales such as Brassknocker and not the traditional brown, often metallic Bests. So picking something light and bright will make sure your gift is appreciated – and while you are there why not get something darker and dangerous for yourself?
How Long Will It Last?
Most beer for home consumption will be what is known as Bright. This means that all the sediment and yeast has been filtered out at the brewery making sure that the beer is ready to drink immediately. It does mean that the box or pin will only last about five or six days but it does mean that the beer can be moved, poured and enjoyed at a moments notice. We even took a 10 litre box to a festival, keeping it in a tent and somehow it survived just fine.
How Much Beer To Buy?
It’s is tricky to estimate how much beer a person can get through but remember that this beer is going to need to be gone by New Year. Just try to estimate how many pints it will take for you to enjoy the company of an irascible racist grandfather, in the dry semi-tropical heat of the front room, while the Christmas edition of Alan Carr’s Giant Step Backwards perforates every eardrums. And then add a couple of pints. After all the Queen's Speech watched sober is something few people can endure.
The smallest most breweries will sell you is a tiny 5 litre mini-cask for as little as £15. At just 8.8 pints they aren’t too big and they do look great, although they can be tricky to recycle.
Almost every brewery will do beers in boxes, varying in size from 10 litres (17.6 pints) to 20 litres (35.2 pints). Again prices vary from brewery to brewery and beer to beer so you can pick up a 20 litre of Cotswold Spring’s Olde English Rose for £50, the same quantity of Hopback’s Summer Lightning will cost you £74.36.
Where Should I Go?
The biggest choice can usually be found by contacting a local brewery directly. Click this scruffy but effective website to find the breweries near you. Or if you are lucky enough to live in the
Some pubs will also sell you all sorts of ales in containers of varying sizes and many of the brewery-owned houses will offer some good prices too.
Is that simple enough for you man?
Monday, 1 December 2008
I like you. I must do because I’m going to tell you a secret. The
Friday, 21 November 2008
I am shamed. A scrolls-distance ago on this wordstring I vomited up a few elongated paragraphs about my booze obsession. I burbled on that my desire to try different beers had rendered me socially maladaptive – or a ‘ticker’. Well, I lied. I have since discovered that my condition isn’t even worthy of a citation in a footnote, in the appendix, of the diagnosis - I met Phill The Pint, a man who has just notched up 5000 unique ales.
I knew him already, of course I did. He was ‘that bloke’. You know how pub acquaintances work. Names are rarely exchanged despite the various eruptions of whinge, bile and wind that pass for human interaction in pubs. And so even after a year of sitting two stools down from him, I thought of him as the chap who sounds like Dr. Phil Hammond.
In fact, didn’t that always strike you as odd in Cheers? So they made the boast in the title song but if the show had any basis in reality the final scene wouldn’t have been Sam flicking off the lights, but Carla checking Cliff’s grey nametag.
Anyway the above comparison to the pathologically unfunny Dr. Phil is unfair. And not just because of the extra L, this Phill’s material has more of a Les Dawson feel to it. Not the final-honed highly affectionate gags creamed over by the cardigans on Britain’s Best Ever Comedians That We’ve Got Clips Of, it is more the sweepings from Channel 4’s 50 Masters Of Misogyny.
But Phill is a proper ticker. And there are three ways of verifying this fact. One is that he always drinks halves. The second is that he will willingly enter a Wetherspoons. Thirdly and finally, he carries around a list of every single draught real-ale he’s ever had.
But it isn’t some pocket book with copperplate script and ornate illumination on the A in Abbey. It is a print out - a cold and unromantic collection of perforated pages seemingly time-warped straight from the wheels of a daisywheel printer. Not for Phill the now BNP-endorsed delights of Excel, because these perforated pages conceal in their six-inch thick folds and 9-point lettering, the immense number British-only draught beers that he has tasted - A heavy testament to one man’s battle against his liver, the Amstrad PCW8256 and LocoScript.
And I mention this not because it makes me feel better that I keep no such dead-tree record, that at least my computer doesn’t have a green-screen or that I’ve done it with a girl. Instead it is because last Wednesday Phill finally broke through the 5000 beer-barrier with the help of Chris from Twerton's The Royal Oak and five West Country brewers who created one-off beers especially for the man himself.
And for that I applaud Phill, while also coughing up an almost inaudible ‘nerd’.
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
“Which of these beers is local?” It’s a phrase that you’ve probably never heard before. In public. Delivered without irony. But this is Bath. In this petite city ‘organic, local and ethical’ has become the mumbled mantra for the hordes of trustafarians, tofu-knitters and Liberal Democrats as they bumble around the farmers’ market, flax-bag and HFW book in hand. They then strap their six-year-old ADHD-ridden bag of furious conceit into four-tonnes of reinforced steel and use zebra crossings as shortcuts, all to get home in time to be scandalised by a Food Programme story about air-freighting hummus.
But on this occasion, the ruddy-cheeked drinker wasn’t worried if the ales offered had been created from the salty tears of tiny-tots, harvested by squirting DDT straight into their Bambi-like peepers, he was just concerned about ‘beer miles’.
Luckily pretty much everything in The Royal Oak was ‘local’ that Sunday. A busy weekend had seen a flurry of flustered calls to the nearest brewers. So looking across the bar there were four from Blindmans of Frome, three from Matthews of Timsbury and a couple from the Bristol Beer Factory. There was also a rogue one from the Leeds Brewery but that just goes to prove one thing…
Isn’t the West Country great?
Cumbria might have more breweries per person than anywhere else in Britain but how many of those are tiny outlets giving a few tired, poorly, huddled masses in their free-breathing North Face wasterproofs a pint in just one or two cliff-side pubs? When it comes to variety, diversity and quality it is hard to beat Somerset and south Gloucestershire…
Abbey Ales of Bath do a really lovely mild while the (relatively) new boys Arbour Ales are always trying something different, from their dark lager to an oyster stout (pictured) produced with real shells.
The only problem being is that Arbour’s beers always remind me of early Belle and Sebastian records. Not because they are mimsy, whimsical affairs, more because their willingness to experiment seems to overwhelm their experience. So some of their drinks seem to be a muddy flurry of ambition instead of the clarity and purity of other's slightly duller beers.
If you prefer a sweeter edge to your noir-ish pints Bristol Beer Factory have their sublime Milk Stout while Butcombe produce clean, tasty beers including the light Blond, which uses lager hops to entice those who have recently graduated from the fizz.
Cheddar Ales might not be that near to home but it is worth going the extra mile(s) for the toffee-flavoured Potholer, the darkly dry Totty Pot and the golden-hued Mild Cheddar. Being just off the M4, Cotswold Brewery is much easier to reach than Cheddar and always a favourite in our house. Not just because the Codger is an amber, lightly-hopped delight but because they always have something racked and ready when we roll up at short notice.
Brassknocker from Matthews is also wonderful beer, wonderful enough to be short-listed for the Champion Beer of Britain this year. It is almost too good though, as at our wedding party that barrel was drained long before anything was even opened. And if you are looking from something seasonal, they seem to have a different ale for almost every month of the year.
There is more to RCH of Weston than Pitchfork but I adore the wanton bitterness of this hoppy, sinewy pint. Imagine being a chicken and having lemon stuffed into every cavity. It’s nothing like that. It would probably be worse, because really it has more of a painfully-grapefruit finish.
It might be stretching things even further to including Wickwar but no one should miss out on the CAMRA Champion Winter Beer of 2008 – Station Porter or their beautifully balanced Best known as BOB.
Just think of all those ales, all delicious, all brewed locally. Shame you drove to the pub from Devizes in your Porsche Cayenne Tarquil.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
Using your skill, luck, judgement and Wikipedia can you spot what is the secret behind the success of the Ye Olde Punch Bowl Inn, the pub owned by the lightly comiced actor and voice-over artist Neil Morrissey? Could it be that C4 have allowed him to create a series of hour-long adverts for his own pub, his own beer and his own book?
I admit that I slumped my way through Morrissey’s Perfect Pint - along with the tiny fraction of the nation who didn’t turn off during Embarrassing Teen Bodies and go and do something less boring instead – like rate all their stolen songs out of five on iTunes.
And so here is my review of the programme: Meh. Now I understand your objection that I’ve resorted to L33T-speak there but since brevity is still meant to be the soul of wit, I win. LOL.
Anyway I'm hardly likely to start picking on some former sitcom star now am I? Not in the current climate.
However what the show also did was implant the dated 90s laddishness of Neil Morrissey as the acceptable face of ale. Not just in the doe-eyes of the proles but also for the media too. Now when it comes to commissioning editors, producers, researchers and hack-journos fumbling for guests or commentators about beer/pubs/brewing it will be unrelenting mediocrity that is La Moz that pops into their spazzed heads.
Okay so at least it will make a change from the Protz but there must be others? There has to be someone more suited to representing all our hopes and alcoholic dreams? Obviously we have to steer clear of any previous advocates: The ‘Lonesome George’ of The Today Programme- John Humphries, and a man who seems to be attempting to bring back the feudal system through his model villages and pricing of biscuits – Charlie Windsor.
Well who would you like to lead? Who should front the campaign to save our pubs from the wrecking ball or become 'six contemporary living spaces' ? Or even worse, the indifference and slow decline of that pubco ownership brings? Who would you like to see on your bottles of beer?
My suggestion is Peep Show’s Mark Corrigan. With his love of history, Hawksmoor churches and total dislocation from the rest of humanity, he could be the perfect spokesman. After all with his past of historical re-enactments, girl-autism and “weird nuts” he would at least chime with the public's expectations of us ale-drinkers.
And yet he still seems like a relatively decent human primarily because of Jeremy, a man so vapid, vain and morally pinballing through life that you wonder if he’s ever been on a boating holiday in Corfu.
It sounds unlikely doesn’t? After all who would pick a man best know for his lager drinking, his slavering lust for a woman that he can’t have (until the plot jumped the shark anyway) and a pitifully dysfunctional relationships with his distressing flatmate. But after last night that is what we’ve got.
But the greatest signs of my decay has to be that I’ve started to like mild. Yes, it is as surer sign of coffin-dodging as casual racism or sitting in a pool of your own piss while Songs Of Praise plays at volume louder than war. But as I enter my doddering dotage I’ve come to enjoy these weak but interesting beers. And more importantly that all that – I’ve done it at a time of year not dictated by CAMRA and their designated 31 days of drinking mild.
Since milds are as fashionable as buying a shares ISA or having your breakdown in private, breweries seem to have decided to drop the name from their range. And who could blame them because it is hard not to associate mild with customers whose vowels as flat as their caps as they sip drip-tray dregs. Instead these model, modern, microbrewers market these ales as light beers, emphasising the balance of hop and malt instead of mentioning the M word.
Next time you approach the bar wearing your ‘I am 33 badge’, party hat and standard issue scowl and spot the bony hand of the reaper reaching out to pull you a pint, here are a few to sample:
Abbey Ales for one aren’t ashamed to name their Mild but this 4% ale with its light chocolate flavour and stab of coffee bitterness seems to only surface during Spring. Also created as once-a-year-treat is the Mild Cheddar from Cheddar Ales. Golden and pale rather than dark or dense, it is only 3.6% but there is plenty of malt and a little light hoppiness to give it slightly sweeter edge. Darker and so more suited to these gloomier times is the 3.8% On The Rails from Ascot Ales in Camberley. While its biscuity depths hide chocolate and caramel sweetness a little hit of hops give is a touch of citrus that lifts the whole experience from the depths. And finally there is the Sarah Hughes Ruby Mild, but I’ve already mouthed enough words about that classic reborn.
Yes I might be old enough have been alive when Keynesian economics were in last in vogue and AC/DC last topped the charts but then today I got asked for ID. Okay, so I was in Waitrose during the gimmer-shift when the rest of the world is in work but that didn’t stop me having to whip out some documents when buying a bottle of Hook Norton Double Stout and a few turnips to go in a beef stew. So it might be more a testament to the rising cost of eye tests than the lack of lines on my visage but it made me happy. After all wouldn’t the world be wonderful place if the ‘yout’ were out buying bottles of Hook Norton Double Stout?
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Hello. My name is Alex and I’m a ticker. I wasn’t always this way. I used to be happy with one pint of something nice and then another, and perhaps one more after that. Each drink was the same as the last, each sip tasting identical to the one before. The only other flavour allowed to pass my lips was the sting of salt supplied by a bag of peanuts. Or for those truly special occasions: an away win or a date - a packet of Golden Wonder.
But all that has changed. I went here. Now I’m as likely to repeat a real ale as the BBC are to repeat How Do You Want Me? a sweet little sitcom that contrasted the crushing mediocrity of Simon Nye‘s writing with the unkempt wonder that is Dylan Moran in full bemused flow.
But why would you always stick to the same beer? Unless that particular pint is so utterly transcendent that its absence causes your liver to weep chunky tears of blood and iron. Because there is a whole world of drinks out there, and discovering them won’t happen if I stick with the same ale time and again. The perfect pint will always escape me if I get a ‘usual’. And so I need to keep searching, I need to keep sipping, I need to keep scanning. Like The Littlest Hobo of beer, but with slightly less body hair, I’m always moving on.
And now after years of quiet enjoyment, it is starting to become a problem. No longer am I happy in good pubs with good music, good food and good conversation. I keep wanting more. Once I’ve sampled all the regular ales, tried the guest beer and seen what is coming on next, I’m itching to move again. I’ll even trade in a fireside seat on a damp Friday night for the remote chance that the next place will have something different, something darker, something unusual.
There are limits though. I don’t write down all the beers I’ve tried in a little book. I don’t score, rate and rank every pint I’ve ever had using a system as fiendishly rule-bound as the latest New York dating manual. I don’t maintain a database of any kind, well unless this page counts… and it doesn’t. I also don’t drink halves. If I’m going to try a beer I’m going to either enjoy right to the bottom of the glass or make sure that I wince my way through the next half an hour.
Logically I should be happiest at a beer festival, but I’m not. Yes, I enjoy the variety of the ales on offer and yes; I like the chance to taste beer from breweries that I’ve never heard of in distant places. But beer festivals are shit. Nice drinks don’t make up shuffling around drafty and dusty community halls, blinking under harsh sodium lighting and enduring ‘good time’ Zep and Creedence covers bands whose limited talent is only matched by their limited understanding of sacrilege.
So the question has to be asked. Am I alone in this affliction? And are we scoopers just OCD box tickers who’ve grown out of football stickers? Do others out there wonder if there more to beer than just the brown Bests offered in so many pubs? Do you go out of your way to try something different or is good beer about enjoying the familiar, and lots of it? When your pint is half-empty are you happy with the same again?
Friday, 17 October 2008
It was destined to be drunk. I’d already seen its gnome logo waving and winking at me from the back of the bar. Lurking beyond all the other hand pumps and beneath a wonky blackboard acclaiming its Ardennes origins, its Scottish influence and its ‘premium’ price. But it was that Sunday night that fate took my hand, pushed into my pocket and pulled out £1.90. For a half.
I was innocently wandering home after an evening visiting parents. Meandering towards an empty house and a re-heated meal for one when my brain remembered that it likes beer. Perhaps a pint and quick peruse of the otherwise un-crumpled paper in my pocket could be the salve for my jaded soul? No, I must go home.
That is when my iPod shuffled me up an American ale podcast. I can’t remember which one, there are so many, and they burble away in the background ranking pints of West Coast IPA by their life-threatening IBUs. But for once the podcasting pair caught my ear as they were talking about my pub-flirtation - the McChouffe.
And they praised, they fawned and they mewed. Superlatives gushed into my ear like Stephen Fry Reads Roget: Chapter 19: Track 244: Sublime. Clearly these two knew rather a lot about beer and the brewing process, but this was bordering on the fulsome. First ‘prunes and strawberry jam’ were mentioned then ‘peat smoke, fruit and flowers’ were added to the mix. Soon it became a cavalcade of ‘heavenly glows’ and ‘maple syrup’. Finally ‘potpourri appeared as a supporting player on the outside of the tongue’ with ‘sweet unroasted barley’.
It seemed to go with everything too. From fried chicken to soy sauce or bread pudding and crème brûlée, you could drink it with anything and anyone. And yet my steely resolve remained unbent as I strode past the open pub door and into the darkness beyond. That was until I saw two long-lost former co-workers coming the other way. Serendipity, chance, design - call it what you want but fate had patted me down for small change and I followed them inside.
And what about this ambrosial ale, the much talked about Mc Chouffe? Well, it was nice. The sweetness was soft and sugary, the malt had a touch of nuttiness to it and there was also a hint of chocolate richness. There might have been a little dried fruit too.
Now obviously it wasn’t worth the hype, nothing could ever be. But it did confirm four fundamental truths:
1. A lot of Belgian beer is crushingly over-rated.
2. Never trust American podcasts on the subject of Belgian beers that are influenced by sweet Scottish ales.
3. Tartan trousers might suit gnomes as much as they suit Johnny Lydon, but gnomes have more dignity.
4. If God exists, he/she is dead from the tastebuds down.
Friday, 3 October 2008
For this new Axminster brewery is the creation of John and Becky Winnerah, owners of The Royal Oak in Bath who have now relocated to start the complex process of making drinks to make me giddy – instead of the slightly less complex process of selling drinks to make me giddy.
And so having plenty experience of the kind of booze that John buys and sells, I was expecting the booze that he brews to be different. I though they might be more like the man and his tastes. I was expecting something darker, something smoky and strong, perhaps with a hint of bitterness too. Okay, so I wasn’t expecting it to be wearing a green rugby top and listening to The Specials but these two just beers didn’t fit the profile.
For a start, they are both pale and skulk around the 4% mark. First up was 2 AM, a beer that looked pale and coppery and had a zesty sweetness to it. That was followed with the Art Noveau which weighed in at a full .2% more alcohol and reminded me a little of Cheddar Ale’s fantastic Potholer. Which might not be what I expected but who is going to complain about that? Well knowing him, John. Probably.
Friday, 12 September 2008
It is phenomenally easy to mock real ale drinkers. It must be because every halfpenny word-whore who has ever put ham-fist to keyboard has tried it. As deadline looms and they thrash in their paddling pool of inspiration, an accusatory Bic is jabbed in our direction and some apparently withering remarks about brown clothing or a ‘strange goatish smell’ are scratched out. Three minutes later their word limit is reached, the blank space is filled and another part of their soul leaks out. But who cares if each point is relevant as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, as grounded in reality as their last expenses claim or as densely packed with stereotypes as a rolled up copy of the Daily Mail?
Because as every as columnist, copper and paramedic knows ale drinkers aren’t really the ones that deserve these wrist-tossed of volleys of limp-invective. They are harmless individuals; peaceable, passive and shy to the point of autism. They are the blue whales of the public house. They offend no one because their only desire is a nice pint and a little peace and quiet. They don’t throw punches, they don’t throw bottles, and they don’t get themselves thrown out.
Instead the greatest danger to soul of humanity is clearly the thing that goes bump, crash and bleuurgh in the night. The bullish, the boorish and the oafish - The Non-Discerning Drinker. From Blue WKD to piss-yellow lager to green Toilet Duck, the NDD doesn’t care what they pour down their throat, or if they slash someone else’s. More commonly known as ‘the assailant’, they cause perturbation, despair and moralising politicians to increase the tax on beer.
However, since ASBOs aren’t enforced at the dangerous end of a Dalek’s plunger, these abrasive little pissdrips are still allowed to chaff against normal, decent society. So to help you avoid meeting them, we’ve created a handy Crt-C, Ctr-V guide on how to dodge their kind.
Non-Discerning Drinkers consider a good pub to be one from which they aren’t barred, yet. Where atmosphere and alcohol selection matter to the rest of us, the mono-browed, asbestos-livered element doesn’t care what they drink, where they drink or know how much they drink.
Now this could make them very difficult to avoid - except for an unexpected benefit of the smoking ban. Now the puffing line-up outside a pub forms the perfect guide to what goes on inside. So if a row of buttoned-down Ben Sherman shirts has congregated outside, you can happily walk by. Similarly if the overheard flapping of meatholes never ascends beyond which one of Nuts’ Photoshop-smoothed cover-stars they would consider ‘doing’, there is no need to even break your stride.
As mouth-breathing drones, Non-Discerning Drinkers are the foot soldiers of global capitalism. ‘Brand-loyal’ and easily influenced, they are shock troops of those major corporations who currently produce drinks but who would surely diversify into kitten-buggery - if only the EU subsidies were increased. It even says so on their mission statements too, in very fine print.
In fact NDD’s minds are so easily swayed by flashing lights and loud noises that if placed next to a merry-go-round for long enough they could be convinced to remove their own spleen with an ice-cream scoop. They would also consume it raw, so long a badly stuffed cockney bear in a pork pie hat asked them to do it. Or if they were told that Australians wouldn’t do anything else.
Do not mistake those eyes that glisten and flash inside the fleshy, porcine skulls for signs of intelligence. It is actually pure rage. Taunted by the complexities of the modern world - locks, computers and flush toilets - they live in a state of permanent anti-intellectual rage. Any attempt to engage them on conversation beyond the basics of football, Top Gear and ‘that time that they did football with cars on Top Gear’ is akin to sketching out a your own suicide note.
Their language is limited to one simple sound: ‘Dave’. However the length and volume of this sound can communicate many different emotions and situations. From the exuberant greeting of “Dave!” to the plaintive wail of “Daaaaaaaave!” as one of their number is stumbling home with his face clanged open by a bouncer.
At any given point during the day or night, there is a 15% chance that the average NDD will be dressed as Spider-man. Anthropologists are yet to discover quite the reason for this behaviour but seems to be connected to the NDD’s ‘pack mentality’. For often once one of these offalheads has donned this costume there is a good chance that a portly Batman in deeleyboppers will follow soon after. Note: while this behaviour is unacceptable on the public highway, when described by ‘Blowers’ during Test Match Special, it somehow becomes quite charming.
It’s not so much the actual footwear of a NDD itself that marks this group out (Although there is a good chance that they will bear some similarity to a football boot even though the wearer has all the poise of a bin bag full of gruel.). It is more the splattering of piss, blood and bloody-piss across the toe area that will be a giveaway. This veneer is often made all the more noticeable by the wearer’s tendency to repeatedly attempt to insert them into other citizen’s faces.
Britain, considerer yourself warned.
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
The Good Beer Guide listed Woolpack in Mildmay Road, Chelmsford are holding a beer festival on the 4th, 5th and 6th of September. Despite being a tied house, Greene King have allowed publicans Dave and Maggie to include twenty of guest ales, to sit alongside nine of their own beers.
Entry is free and all of you scooper/tickers can see a provisional list of beers here.
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
Toilets that approach Division Two football ground standards, paintwork that would have to be touched up just to qualify as ‘scuffed’ and beer garden divided from the main road by a few flimsy fence panels. To the undiscerning eye Bath’s The Royal Oak probably isn’t the acme of boozers, it probably isn’t even a passable pub.
And yet this frayed but friendly freehouse is actually one of humanity’s finest creations. Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration but it definitely snuggles somewhere below the eradication of small pox but just above the moon landings. Because during the three years since this boozer first re-opened its slightly ill fitting doors after decades of decay, The Royal Oak has rapidly become the finest in the city.
Now that might be hard to believe for anyone who knows Bath’s magnificent selection of historic pubs with their wood-panelled snugs, warming fires and respect for fine ale. But it has to be remembered that people were happy buying bread in vast-indigestible wedges - before someone came up with the idea of slicing it.
What really separates The Royal Oak from the superb Old Green Tree and the beautifully preserved Star is the variety and the majesty of the beer. There are ten ales and two ciders on offer at any one time, and with no regular pints and no fixed breweries the brews changes on an almost daily basis. So once a barrel is empty, on comes a different beer, from another microbrewery and probably from another part of the country. And while local producers are heavily supported, if you can keep drinking for long enough, pretty much any SIBA-brewed ale will appear in front of you at some stage. Well, what do you expect from the twice Bath CAMRA pub of the year?
The range of ale of offer is simply immense. From gloriously smoky stouts to fragrant pale ales, there are beers of all styles, colours and percentages. From Hopstar to Brewdog and Marble to Arbour, the only thing that unifies this diversity of booze is that every ale will be from a British microbrewery. They aren’t just impeccably looked after though, these beers have been mollycoddled into a state of perfection. Yes, if the sweet lord firstly existed, and secondly, worked in cellar management, he’d fit at the Oak, and not just because of the beard.
But surely such constantly changing ale can be mystifying to minds dulled by a diet of mundane Bests and poorly kept IPAs? Well it could, except for the cleverly positioned glass in front of each pump. For these are examples not samples, and their colour and condition reveals more about the beer than any educated guess based on percentages or pump-clip information. Generous tastes of each drink are offered though, and without the muttering that others pubs often proffer with each mouthful. And if that isn’t enough information, you can also always ask the bar staff’s opinion, because as the sheer amount of facial hair on show demonstrates, these guys know a lot about beer.
If the ever-evolving ale list isn’t to your taste, the Oak can still draw you in; with local artist’s work on the walls, a real fire in winter, two Czech lagers and a Belgian beer on draft. There is also music too. Played by groups of all sizes, styles and standards, it is performed at seemingly random times and on differing days. The Wednesday night Irish free-for-all is the only real fixture, which at least makes the twee twiddlings of the endless jigs and reels easily dodged.
The best way to avoid the repetitive beat of the bodhran or the busy front bar is to venture into that most rare of things in Bath- a beer garden. Where other pubs in the city scatter plastic chairs on a slab of scorched concrete, this is a child-friendly green space with shaded picnic tables and disabled access (another local rarity). Sure, the main road is only the other side of the fence, but once you have a pint in your hand there is still tranquillity to be found even in town.
Despite this being a pub in which you can make a meal of the beer, culinary options are limited to ‘British tapas’: pork pies, pickled eggs and crisps. That hasn’t always been the case though, because over the last few years as the building has been transformed from shell to successful business, menus have come and gone. From fried pub staples to pizza, and even at one stage a beautifully bold offal-led selection, many chefs and style have been tried and many have departed. And food is probably the only thing that The Royal Oak truly lacks, unless you include pretension and sparklingly clean toilets…
Monday, 11 August 2008
The old Beer was as dour as a union newssheet, designed in Pagemaker and written with the pace and sparkle of a last will and testament. Not only did it reinforce the image of ale drinking as tweedy and relevant to ‘the yout’ as The Archers, but it actively reeked of fust.
Now all that has been swept away by the glamour, gloss and gloriously tactile paper stock of a newsstand magazine. But there is more than just full-page photography and cheery illustrations to this redesign because finally, the features have become both engaging and relevant.
The main reason for the change is down to the new contributors. Bloggers Melissa Cole and Stonch have been brought in to debate gastropubs, Guardian noob Ben McFarland chips in with a tidy piece about pubs and Martyn Cornell again demonstrates that having a vast knowledge of beer doesn’t automatically have to mean produce copy that borders on the hypnotically dull.
All the old faces also remain though: Protz, Nowak and Moor. But with their word counts judiciously reduced, their columns no longer meander and shamble. The only truly false note is a beer-science piece that instead of giving us a slice of Heston-like insight into brewing descends into a rant about denying Australians work-permits.
Full credit for this mini-revolution must go to editor Tom Stainer for giving Think Publishing the time, the budget, and the words, to turn the publication from an embarrassment to an asset. Now if only they can do the same for the monthly mortification that is What’s Brewing…
Thursday, 7 August 2008
Mercifully the whole venture was mercifully confined to a segment on his F-Word TV show – a programme/brand extension that attempts to bring the Top Gear demographic to the world of cuisine – i.e. there is bellowing, there are celebrities and there are arguments so facile, so malformed and so ill-conceived that they must have stemmed from the slopping lobes of Clarkson himself.
And it was while Ramsay was presenting this tit-a-thon that the diva of dinnertime spat out Timmy Taylor's Landlord, Brooklyn Chocolate Stout and Meantime IPA claiming that only the most bland and flavourless beers could possibly be consumed with his food. So to create his own ale he decided to emulate Innis & Gunn's wonderful oak-aged beer, a brew that draws much of its flavour from Bourbon casks, except that Gordon’s brew was reportedly pale, sweet and about 8%.
So while his drink is mercifully not available in any shops, the question has to be asked. Do superstar chef endorsements enhance or embarrass the real ale movement? Is the publicity good for beer even when what they are saying is negative? Do Michelin stars mean you know anything about ale? Does Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall sneaking a bottle of a Hall & Woodhouse’s Stinger into shot make you want a face full of nettles or just ensure that at least the ITC are watching? And what about Neil Morrissey dabbling in brewing? Has he raised the profile of real ale or raised the unpleasant memory of the pitiful Men Behaving Badly?
Hit the button below to comment or just shout at the screen until the spittle flows…
Tuesday, 8 July 2008
Hop Back Brewery
In 1988 Public Enemy released the seminal hip-hop masterpiece It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. In exactly the same year, this straw-coloured ale came straight outta
However, this Golden-style beer with its hefty hoppy note is still superbly thirst-quenching on a warm day. And if you’re having a barbecue and your friends won’t try warm ale, it’s robust enough to even survive a short time in the fridge. Or, as Chuck D would have it: Cold Lampin' With Flavor.
Thursday, 3 July 2008
It is one of the little quirks of life that displaying any knowledge of beer is viewed by society with the same contempt, and from the same distance, as those who use piss as an eau de toilette, spend weekends dressed as minor characters from Stargate or travel by bus. So as you back away and glance askance at me, here is the difference between porters and stouts: porters get their delicious dusky colour from dark malts while stouts use roasted malted barley for their swirling blue/black hue.
Conveniently, toasted malt – along with a hint of bitterness and some dark fruit – is among the most prominent flavours in this slightly dry pint from
Monday, 30 June 2008
Sarah Hughes Brewery
Tel: 01902 883380
Mild is a little like Doctor Who pre-2005: despite its long heritage and past popularity, it became mocked, overlooked and finally cancelled as more shiny imports stole its audience. It too suffered its own version of the ‘Sylvester McCoy years’ as the strong but lightly hopped pre-Great War drink slipped from its position as pre-eminent ale to a shadow of its former self when DORA and WW1 saw the alcohol reduced. But this dark and fruity pint is brewed from a Victorian recipe, so its mellow maltiness and port-like richness hides real complexity and longevity that should make the style ripe for a Russell T-type revival. Although, being dark, rich and complex, instead of merely bombastic, it’s more like the superior work of Stephen Moffat.
Thursday, 26 June 2008
If it was ordered from a menu with more pages than an LA drug-dealer during the Oscars; if it came in a slender bottle wrapped in waxed paper and accompanied by a novelty glass; if it wasn’t called Nutty Niki… If it was, did and wasn’t then this beer would be huge. But it isn’t because, instead of being the product of monastic Belgian brothers, this wheat beer was created by a Californian who has relocated to a life on the
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
The name alone has probably already conjured up the mental image of two hair-netted old puffins hunched over a shared bottle of super-sweet Mackeson's. But this recreation of an Ashton Gate brewery original should change the way you think about this unfashionable drink. For a start, at 4.5% it’s strong enough to deter the post-chapel coffin-dodgers, even if the added milk sugars (lactose) do add a surprisingly sweet aroma and aftertaste. But cutting against any sugariness is the warmth and depth of roasted barley, which not only gives the drink a slightly burnt final note but also adds to the glorious opaque colour and dark swirls that corkscrew inside the glass. A pint worth blowing your pension on.
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Describing this beer evidently isn’t easy – famed food, critic Matthew Fort managed 600 words on it for The Guardian without ever actually mentioning what it tastes like. And taste is something it has more than enough of.
First of all, it’s an IPA (Indian Pale Ale) and IPAs tend towards being boozy and hoppy. Well, when I say ‘tend towards’ I mean in the way that Max Mosley ‘tended towards’ those nice German lasses.
And hops dominate these golden-hued beers, not as is often apocryphally claimed to preserve them for the long journey to the subcontinent, but to give them their trademark refreshing citrus edge. But this particular example of the style is the Pan Galactic Gargleblaster of IPAs. Not only do the hops give you the hit of lemon, you also get the gold brick to wrap it around and use to smash your brains out. However, unlike Douglas Adams’ creation, at least there’s no olive balanced on the top.
Sunday, 15 June 2008
With all the bludgeoning subtlety of an online debate and much of the same raw fury, this is a ginger beer that leaves lips tingling and taste buds cauterised. Instead of using the gentle flavour of the root to compliment the beer, Marble have chucked in the whole stem to create a clenched fist of a drink. And it is brilliant. While other gingers are condemned to seem watery and weak, this pint reeks of peppery heat, raw power and tonsillar fisticuffs. But it’s also simplistic, limited and rather boring after a single pint. Now that is brewing genius, and commercial suicide.
35 years old. That, according to Greene King’s clipboard-men, is the age that the average British male settles on his ‘usual’. Perhaps the elastic of a birthday party-hat restricts blood flow to the brain or he catches the Reaper’s eye over the punch bowl but, either way, this is the momentous age at which the compound creature settles down to drinking monogamy. From this moment on he forsakes all other beer brands in favour of the familiar, until that one bottle has to be prized from his cold, dead fingers – or cirrhosis of the liver sets in, whichever comes first.
But the depressing part of this news is that this unquestioning commitment to one drink for forty years is apparently based on a sampling of just seven different brands. Seven beers? That hardly seems enough to see you through a heavy Friday or a weekend break in
Take a quick sample of the big sellers in off-licences – or a glance in the hedges, canals and gutters of the nation – and the names form a litany of mediocrity that owes more to the test-tube than the brewer’s art: Stella, Carling, Foster's, Carlsberg, Budweiser, Carlsberg Export, Kronenbourg 1664.
So in the hope of opening a nation’s eyes (even if I have to use the lid-lifting Ludovico Technique from A Clockwork Orange), I will offer over the next few days seven other examples of beer styles that might prove a little more inspiring, exciting or, in one or two cases, mildly terrifying.
Monday, 26 May 2008
If any brewery is attempting to break out of the musty, fusty world of beards and pullovers that dominates real ale in
They are also experimental brewers, recreating long-forgotten varieties and even attempting some other soon-to-be-forgotten fads such as gluten-free beer. But this Winter Ale isn’t going to be the one to unite the pin-striped City types and the cardigans from CAMRA. At 6.5% it’s strong but insubstantial; winter ales should be warming, but here the booze is just a background note.
Instead, the flavour of this mahogany-shaded ale reminds me of Marmite. That’s right, Marmite – that Berlin Wall of yeast-based taste, dividing brother from sister and father from son. There is something in the thin, sweet, malt flavour that reminds me of the smell of burnt-toast soldiers too. Marmite, toast and alcohol? Unless you’re Shane McGowan most of us avoid beer at breakfast.
I don’t have a beard. In fact, I don’t have any facial hair, bar a scraggy fluff-patch below my lip that even a four-bladed battery-enhanced Nasa-influenced razor with lubrastrip somehow missed this morning. I’m also still young enough to tick the ‘25 to 35’ age-box on surveys, to watch TV online and to know that White Denim is not just a summerwear faux pas. I’ve even done it with a girl. So why do I love real ale?
It’s because, in spite of the image of murky drinks served in half-pint pots to bifocal nerds whose guts protrude over their jeans in a marvel of cantilevered engineering, British beer is joy in liquid form. That’s right, ale - that flat, opaque, old-fashioned, borderline-warm bitter - is a thing of rare beauty.
The reason that I hail the ale is that every taste of a fine beer is like taking a holiday, without leaving the cosy confines of the pub. Every region, every type of pint, every brewery, and even every individual pint, tastes different. From foamy whiffs of lemon to satisfying smokiness and even lip-tingling chilli-heat, their variety is almost infinite. Instead of each and every sip of mechanical fizz being another plodding step on the road towards inebriation, that journey is skipped along with giddy abandon, high on the delight of discovery and brown booze.
What I want to do is bring you along on this path towards pissedness. Not all the way to tongue-lolling traffic-cone-theft, but to have you too discovering the delight, the depth in British beer. To put down those over-chilled chemical lagers, the over-ice faux ciders and the over-rated flowerpots of Belgian foam and to reawaken your tastebuds.
The problem that we face on this shared journey is that most people’s first, and often only, taste of beer will probably have been something as brown, dated and indigestible as their parents’ G-plan sideboard. But these creamflow, nitro-kegged liquids reflect the current microbrew pints as much as dinner at the Little Chef, Heston reflects Heston’s molecular gastronomy.
These are daring drinks, produced in small numbers for the cognoscenti with passion, skill and flair. They are also often green. ‘Local’, ‘ethical’ and even ‘organic’ are as much watchwords for brewers and drinkers as they are for chefs and food critics. Try to think of these bold people as mini-Blumenthals, but with a mash-tun instead of a dry-ice machine.
It’s also a growth industry. New breweries are opening all the time, often supplying just one or two locals in the immediate area, making the drink as much part of the holiday memory as the scenery. And while alcohol sales are down and costs are up, micros continue to show growth.
And that is why the Good Beer Blog is here: to persuade the nation to give our national brew another chance. It’s here to cajole, inspire, advise and even hector everyone into forgetting their previous bitter experience and to again lift a pint of artisan ale. So read on and hopefully you too will soon learn to embrace the ale, cheer the beer, never doubt the stout and, perhaps, even test the best once again.
So amid the myriad of words, alliterative allusions and overwrought metaphors found here, there will also be news on new brews, articles on ales and a place where you can track down the best bottled and draught bitter. So keep reading the Good Beer Blog and we promise to keep it clean (shaven).