Sunday 25 December 2011

Bruges trip

I mentioned that I won't be visiting any pubs over Christmas. That's because I'm spending a week in Bruges from Boxing Day.

A beautiful city at any time of year, it is especially so at Christmas with the gluhkriek stalls, ice rink and of course Christmas beers. I'll be visiting classic bars Brugs Beertje and De Garre plus newcomers such as Rose Red. Struise Brouwers have opened a new beer shop which should be worth investigating. Trips to Brussels and De Haan are planned too.

A Lowry-esque view of the Markt
An added bonus is Tranmere's game at Sheffield Wednesday on 2nd January. We're travelling back overnight from Rotterdam to Hull so it will be a short detour to drop me off in Goole where I can catch a train to Sheffield where the obvious first port of call will be the Sheffield Tap. Happy Christmas!

Saturday 24 December 2011

Value for money?

Pencil and Spoon seems impressed by Brewdog Camden stating that "Draught BrewDog is from £3.50 a pint (Punk is £3.95); draught imports can be double that but will mostly be drunk by the half; samples are freely given (my advice: exploit this); bottles peak just under £20 but most give change from a tenner. It's not cheap but it's not unusually expensive for London"

Thank God I don't live in London. I expect change from a fiver for a bottle of beer, never mind a tenner and £20 gets me a good night's drinking.

Thursday 22 December 2011

It's beginning to taste a lot like Christmas

My Christmas drinking started in earnest last week with my trip to the Kerstbier festival. Finishing work is a precursor to three days serious drinking at home. I go on holiday on Boxing Day so it looks like I won't be making any pub visits, but more of that anon.

Anyway, I've prepared some fine beers to help me through the rigours of Xmas TV:

Thwaites Old Dan

Ballast Point Sculpin IPA

Meantime IPA 750cl

Marble Old Manchester 750cl

Fuller's Vintage Ale - 2004, 2005 and 2009

Brew Dog Hårdkogt IPA

St Feuillien Cuvée de Noël 2009

De Dolle Oerbier Reserva 2010

De Dolle Stille Nacht 1993

Eldridge Pope Thomas Hardy's Ale 150th Aniversary 1987

Westvleteren 12 2006

Should do for starters. What are your inbibing plans?

Wednesday 14 December 2011

The most wonderful time of the year.

I got fed up of Christmas long ago. False bonhomie, too much food, boring TV, pubs packed with strangers, public transport suspended. In contrast, my favourite weekend of the year is the one before Christmas. I set off tomorrow.

Essen (not be confused with the German town of the same name) is the norhernmost station on the Belgian rail network. Just one kilometre from the Dutch border it is a perfectly nice but boring commuter town. No doubt very pretty in summer, it feels bleak in midwinter as a savage easterly breeze cuts across the Kempen. There a plenty of bars but nothing to attract the beer tourist. What it does have is one of the best beer festivals to be found anywhere in the world. This is a labour of love organised by the local volunteers of O.B.E.R. which stands for the Objective Beer-tasters of the Essen Region. O.B.E.R. is one of more than 20 local clubs of the Belgian confederation of beer-tasters known as Zythos which is the Belgian equivalent of CAMRA.

Each year the local Heuvelhal is the venue where O.B.E.R aim to showcase every Christmas beer brewed that year. The number rises every year and will be pushing 150 beers this time. While gaining in popularity, it still has an initmate atmosphere that other festivals lost long ago. The beer list can be found HERE and includes some of the finest beers brewed in this finest of brewing nations. I can't wait to try classics such as barrel aged De Dolle's Stille Nacht Reserva and Bush Prestige. You can even catch me working behind the bar from time to time.

Yes, you can see Rochefort in 75cl. bottles
Essen has only about a dozen hotel rooms, so other than the odd camper van or foolhardy types sleeping in the back of cars in sub-zero conditions most people choose to seek accomodation in Antwerp which is a half hour journey by train or Brussels or Bruges. These cities are recommended even without the beer festival as Belgian cities know how to 'do' Christmas with their ice rinks and market stalls and more subtly attractive lights than the Blackpool Illuminations style found in Britain. Of course every Belgian bar worth its salt carries a range of Kerst biers at this time of year.

Last year's renewal was made even more memorable by the once-in-a lifetime snowstorm that paralysed much of Northern Europe and allowed me an extra night in Brussels with hotel courtesy of Eurostar.

If it is too late for this year to resolve to visit this festival at least once. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Liverpool Beer Festival

 RedNev blogged a few weeks back concerning the perverse system of ticket sales that Merseyside CAMRA use to sell tickets for their beer festival. Tickets, apart from a small number for less popular sessions sold by post and a tranche reserved for festival workers, are purchased by queueing in person in Liverpool city centre on a designated day. This penalises anyone who isn't local and means that few tickets are sold to the public at large.

The designated sale day was yesterday. A friend of mine got up at 6:00 a.m. yesterday to travel to Liverpool to queue up. Joining the queue at 8:00, he stood in the hail and wind for over two hours but when he eventually reached the head of the queue only one ticket remained for the Friday night - he had hoped to buy three, hardly an excessive order.

Why not spread tickets sales across a number of pubs, or sell them all online which would be the fairest method. I'm sure the vast majority of punters would find a small fee for postage better than the hassle and cost of queueing in person with no guarantee of tickets.

Sunday 4 December 2011


That's how much a bottle of Marble Brewer Barley Wine costs from the Marble Beer House. It is 10.7% and is presented in a 75ml champage-corked bottle but even so is it value for money? I think not.

Perhaps Marble are starting to take their customers for granted. I did buy a bottle of Old Manchester to take away but £8.50 isn't enough for the staff to provide a bag to put it in. Also, I went to order food at the bar but was told that meals were suspended for an hour. An hour later there was still no timescale for ordering foood and when I enquired why I was told that the staff were busy catering for two pre-booked parties in the restaurant. In other words the ordinary customer could starve or in my case go elsewhere. I will say that the draught beer was as superb as ever.

Sunday 27 November 2011

The Wisdom of Roger Protz

The great man has received quite a lot of criticism recently. The criticism is deserved juding by the piece reproduced below from the latest What's Brewing. Referring to Hartley's XB he says:

"If memory serves me well, I recall a darkish bitter with a strong malty character, quite different to the paler and hoppier bitter brewed by Jennings."

Now I never considered Hartleys XB to be darkish but that is a minor point. But Jennings' paler and hoppier? I think that maybe Mr Protz's memory may not be serving him as well as he thinks.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Open Arms - More real ale in Birkenhead

External works are ongoing
Birkenhead has gained another pub selling a range of cask beers. The Avenue was a pub in Claughton, Birkenhead surrounded by terraced housing. It was built by Birkenhead Brewery to their usual template in the 1950s on the site of The Avenue cinema which took a direct hit during a 2nd World War bombing raid. Birkenhead suffered badly from German raids due to its shipyard, industry and proximity to Liverpool.

Picked up for a song by the owners of the successful Cock & Pullet, on opening day the beers on offer were Brimstage Trapper's Hat, Liverpool Organic's Cascade, Phoenix Spotland Gold (!) and Thwaites' Wainwright. Observing the customer preference for fizzy lagers and the lack of cask ale heritage in the area it will be interesting to see if cask ale is a success.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Alcohol Police again

They were bothering fans at the Tranmere game yesterday. As if we didn't have enough to worry about. using the acronym 'What' (Wirral Help & Alcohol Treatment) they were asking people to complete questionnaires which of course told us that we were all 'at risk' from excessive alcohol consumption. They were then handing out costly leaflets and booklets.
I liked the advice which identified when people were most likely to drink or drink too much. They included:

After work

Out celebrating at a party or club

When I want to relax

In other words I am at risk whenever I'm not at work or sleeping. I wish Wirral NHS would spend their our money on reducing waiting times for operations or abolishing car parking charges.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Meantime reduces strength of beer. Are we surprised?

Meantime IPA has a new label. It also has a new strength, dropping from 7.5% to 7.4% ABV. Not a surprise in view of the new increased duty on strong beers and not in itself cause for great concern. But I'm worried that the 7.5% threshold will be reduced in future years either as a continued attack on drinkers egged on by the health lobby or merely as a blatant tax grab. Either way the emasculation of beer is underway.

Friday 11 November 2011

Curiouser and Curiouser and Curiouser

I was passing through Formby the other day so I popped into Waitrose. We aren't privileged to have one in Wirral so I went in to check out the beer range. I was pleased to find Fuller's Vintage Ale 2011 gracing the shelves so I grabbed a couple. I've already drunk one. Slightly sweet as expected but already a high class ale.

Something else that caught my eye was a range of beers under the 'Curious' name. There was 'IPA' and 'Brew' which is an unpasteurised lager brewed with a champagne yeast. I chose a bottle of Porter because it is bottle conditioned. All are on offer in Waitrose at £1.20 each! A bit of research found the beers to be a collaboration between Chapel Down Winery and the Sussex Brewery. Interesting.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Happy Birthday Brimstage Brewery!

Rhode Island Red - My favourite and surely a future winner at GBBF

Brimstage Brewery was five years old last week. At any one time Trappers' Hat and up to two choices from Sandpiper, Rhode Island Red, Scarecrow and Oystercatcher Stout can be found in the pubs and clubs of Wirral, Liverpool and Chester. In celebration of this landmark all five beers are currently on sale in the Wheatsheaf, Raby, the first time that the full range has been available in a pub at the same time.

Originally one brew a week was produced from the 10 barrel capacity plant, but such has been the demand for the beers that 3 brews a week is now the norm and it won't be long before that output will need to increase. If you've never drunk the beers I'll just say that you are missing out on excellent ales.

Monday 31 October 2011

How local is local?

I was in Asda Bromborough last week. Whenever I visit a supermarket I always check out the beer aisle. There's usually nothing to attract me but occassionally there is a nice surprise. Anyway, I noticed that the store had a dispay of 'Locally produced' beers.

Cains from Liverpool is certaily local, Holt's from Manchester and Beartown from Congleton is pushing it a bit - at least Beartown is Cheshire, as historically is Bromborough. But hang on! Lancaster Brewery beers classed as local to Wirral? It's 60 miles away by the shortest route and 85 miles along the M6 which is the route most people would take.

What would you describe as local?

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Home Alone

It's half term and my wife has taken my daughter plus my wife's mother and sister away for a break in the Lake District. Nothing wrong with that. But what I can't come to terms with is where they are staying. They've booked two night in the Eagle & Child in Staveley. One of the best pubs anywhere and they've gone without me. While I was hard at work today they were drinking Hawkshead beers in the Beer Hall. Even my sister-in-law who deosn't drink beer. Something wrong surely!

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Shock horror: Quality newspaper acknowledges existence of beer.

The Independent strangely chose today to publicise brewdog's 'Equity for Punks' finance-raising scheme. Where have they been for the last three months? I suppose any coverage of beer outside the mainstream should be welcomed.

Another question - who has invested £10,000 in the scheme and why?

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Younger's to Young's

"Heineken has sold Scots ale brand McEwan’s to independent brewer Wells & Young’s.
The deal also includes the Younger’s beer brand as well as the 17% of the Courage beer brands still held by Heineken.
“This is a significant and major acquisition and secures the future for the much-loved McEwan’s and Younger’s brands,” said Wells & Young’s managing director Nigel McNally.
McNally vowed to give the brands “a new lease of life” with a major marketing investment, while retaining production north of the border."

There had been talk recently of  the revival of Younger's and McEwans cask ale brands. Young's and Wells will no doubt use this aquisition to expand their market into the Scotland and the north of England where Bombardier and Young's ales do not have the same following as they do in the south. They have also obtained brands that will play well in the non-real ale trade.

Monday 26 September 2011

Drinkers beware

I find the proposals publised below very worrying. I quote:

Northern Ireland's environment minister has outlined his proposals to change the drink-driving laws.
Alex Attwood says he wants to cut the blood alcohol limit from the current level of 80mg/100ml to 50mg/100ml. There would be another, lower, limit of 20mg/100ml for young drivers and people who earn their living from driving. Mr Attwood also wants to give police powers to randomly stop drivers without the need for reasonable suspicion. He also proposes, in certain circumstances, removing drivers' right to opt for a blood or urine sample instead of a breath test.

Other plans include:
  • A new graduated penalty regime that will allow for fixed penalties for first offences at lower limits and court prosecution for high level first offences or any second or subsequent offences
  • Automatic referral of offenders to an approved drink-drive rehabilitation scheme.

He also said "I would like to see a 20mg limit across the UK and we have got evidence that the majority of drivers would actually support that tougher stance. ”

The minister said that while much progress had been made towards eliminating a drink-drive culture, more work needed to be done. He said that over the past five years, 75 people had been killed and 463 seriously injured by drivers impaired on drink or drugs. "This is totally unacceptable and I am determined to do what I can to tackle this issue once and for all," Mr Attwood added.

"I have listened to the public on this. There is widespread public support for a step change in how we deal with drink drivers and I believe that what I am proposing will make a real difference."

Having read his speech it contains a number of assumptions, half-truths and miss-use of statistics. he also shows disregard for the decisions of the government.

Firstly, where is the evidence that drivers support a lowering of the drink -drive limit? I've never met anyone who's mooted this idea.

Why remove the right to a urine or blood test? The breathalyser is notoriously innacurate.

"I've listened to the public on this." The public may quite rightly want to see drink drivers caught, but that doesn't mean they want to criminalise many thousands more drivers.

"Over the past five years 75 people had been killed and 463 seriously injured by drivers impaired on drink or drugs. Note my highlighting. I'm not by any means saying that deaths on the roads are anything but a tragedy. But from the figures some of the deaths were due to drug use and he doesn't say how many of the deaths were casued my drivers with between less than the existing 80mg but more than the proposed 50mg limit in their blood if indeed such statistics exist. Also, some of the deaths may have had nothing to do with drink and were caused by bad drivers who are a menace sober or drunk.

"I would like to see a 20mg limit across the UK."  Politicians in Westminster have already decided not to lower the legal limit to 50mg. Why should this man's personal opinions be allowed to hold sway against the decisions of the government?

Of course. once this law takes hold in Northern Ireland, the pressure will be on for rest of the U.K. to follow and there will be thousands of innocent and safe drinkers prosecuted because they had a few drinks the night before and the current rate of pub closures will become a landslide.

Just to conclude I am firmy against drink driving and always walk or use public transport when drinking. But this development really threatens all responsible drinkers and would be a further nail in the pub trade.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Still super lager?

Watching Tranmere Rover's unlucky defeat to Preston N.E. yesterday I was surprised to see the home team shirts sponsored by Tennent's. I associate it with a Scottish market and wonder how many pubs and clubs in Lancashire actually sell this crap. I thought that other than the ever vibrant park bench sector, this was brand who's heyday was the 1970's when it vyed with the likes of Skol and Grunhalle before the global brands swept everything before them. Appartently, the deal is worth £1.2 million over 3 years.

Thursday 22 September 2011

CAMRA Good Beer Guide - Is it?

Curmudgeon makes the valid point that the 2012 Good Beer Guide from CAMRA favours pubs with a rotating range of guest ales and Locale accreditation at the expense of tied pubs with a restricted range of beers no matter how well kept the beer is.

We are all well aware of this trend, the tickers having long ago taken control of the asylum. The system whereby individual branches submit pubs from their area leads to the use different methodology and critieria across the country. Some branches use the National scoring system with a 1 to 5 scale of marking. My local branch uses the older 0 to 10 scale. I was formerly the beer officer for my branch and the fluctuations in marks from different members was noticeable. A drinker who regularly gave a score of 9/10 distorts the average score when others grant such a mark once every few years. Bias is inevitable, higher marks often given to a favoured local at the expense of a perceived rival. Last year, a manager from a local Wetherspoons turned up with a gang of cronies to attempt to railroad his pub into the Guide (he failed). Some branches don't even attempt to visit their pubs on a regular basis. A coach trip or two is arranged and the pubs are chosen on the back of one tasting session. Pubs frequented by young people are usually avoided.

What we have to remember that it is the GOOD Beer Guide not the BEST Beer Guide. The back page of the 2012 Guide states 'recommends pubs..........that serve the best real ale'. That is patently untrue. Firstly, pubs are selected in February/March 2011 for inclusion in a Guide that is valid for a year from September 2011. It is obvious that the Guide is out of date as soon as it is published and will become even less accurate during the months that follow. Guidelines concerning the minimum bedding in time for new pubs/managers mean that pubs selling the best beer are often not considered. Wirral is woefully short of good pubs but the Cock and Pullet which sells six beers from local breweries in excellent condition won't be included in the Guide until 2013.

Secondly, branches receive an allocation of pubs from HQ to include in the Guide. This is done to give an even spread of pubs across the country. Remember that the Guide is aimed at the traveller who wants to find a decent pint wherever he/she is. But good beer isn't distributed evenly. The result is that areas with a surfeit of excellent pubs have to omit some of them. I've mentioned the Lake District as being an example of this and there will be many others. Some areas have too many entries considering the quality of beer in their pubs. It is rare for a branch not to fulfill its allocation so mediocre pubs are included.

I find the GBG useful when I'm on unfamiliar territory but remember that not all pubs that are excluded have bad beer.

Friday 16 September 2011

Reaching the parts.........

So Lancashire finally won the County Chamipionship after 77 years of trying. It's obvious to me looking at the photo above what made the difference. It had to be sponsorship by a cask beer. Thwaites Wainwright can be a pretty decent IMO.

The message to all you under-performing sports teams is ditch the fizzy lager logo and proudly display proper beer on your chests.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Wetherspoon cask ale sales

I made an unscheduled call to Wetherspoon's Cherry Moon in Huddersfield last week. What surprised me was a statement on the chalkboard that the pub had sold 2315 pints of cask ale in the previous week placing it 25th in the Wetherspoon estate for cask beer sales.  2315 pints = 330 pints per day which is about 4½ firkins. This struck me as being a reasonable amount but nothing special considering that this is a busy pub open at least 14 hours per day.

Wetherspoon owns over 800 pubs. If that is the volume sold by the 25th ranking pub how much does number 815 sell?

Sunday 11 September 2011

The Grove, Huddersfield

I'd intended to report on a pub crawl yesterday of Huddersfield's excellent pubs. However, the Sportsman  showed total disregard for prospective customers by by disregarding its publised opening time of 11:00 a.m. I gave up waiting at 11:25 and took in a quick pint of Leeds Pale at Wetherspoons (please forgive me) en route to The Grove which opens at noon.

Once inside I realised that it would be very hard to to leave. The cask and craft beer range matches anything found in the trendy metropolis bars. Highlights of the cask range included the new Magic Rock brewery's hoppy, Thornbridge Hall Summer Ale, a collabaration brew from Gadd’s andd the Italian brewery Revelation Cat called Back to Basics Pacific Double IPA (9%) was a very impressive ultra-strong hop bomb. Buxton Moor Top was also very acceptable. Also, the Tim Taylor's lanlord was the best I've tasted in a many a year and reminded me why it was so highly regarded before it appeared it so many pubs round the country that don't really care about beer quality. The beers I've listed are just a smattering of the full range available which you can view here.

I tried a number of craft beers as well: Beer Here Dark Hops IPA (Denmark), Nøgne Ø Pale Ale (Norway), Flying Dog Raging Bitch (USA) and Brewdog’s Hardcore IPA. I didn’t get round the De Molen’s Op & Top (Netherlands) but there will be other opportunities during my trips to Belgium.

Chloe and Kerry provided friendly, fast and knoweldgeable service. A great pub.

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Unfair distribution

Why do some areas have better pubs than others? I’m asking that question from a cask/craft beer point of view. You’d expect our large cities to have their fair share of top pubs and bars and indeed London, Manchester and Sheffield for instance never fail to please the beer enthusiast. But what about Birmingham? The second city doesn’t get many mentions from the blogerati and wouldn’t be high on many peoples’ lists for a weekend pub crawl.

The question came to me a week or so back while spending a pleasant afternoon deciding which top pubs not to visit if I wanted to get the last train home. I could make a case for well over a dozen pubs within easy walking distance and wouldn’t object to a pint in a dozen more. On Saturday I’m off to Huddersfield which has a number of the pubs that would make the shortlist for the top ten in the north of England.

The Lake District has many pubs offering good cask ale from local breweries which don’t make the Good Beer Guide because the quota for the area sets the bar so high.

Compare and contrast with Birkenhead here in Wirral. Two good pubs have emerged in the last year which brings the number of god pubs to ……..two. The last time I went to Barnsley was a bit of a beer desert unlike its Yorkshire neighbours mentioned above and despite two good breweries.

Any other locations that the real ale (never mind craft beer) revolution hasn’t reached?

Thursday 1 September 2011

Join the queue

I love the Lake District. Wonderful scenery and any number of pubs serving good beer. However, the enjoyment comes at a price - literally. Pub grub is expensive. In most of the pubs that are worth visiting you'll be lucky to find anything around the £10 mark. £12 to £15 is not untypical with £18 the going rate for a decent steak. I'm not talking anything fancy here, fish and chips, Cumberland sausage and chips etc. For a family of four that's at least £50 without drinks.

So after a few pints of Cumbrian Five Hop and New Zealand Pale Ale at Hawkshead's Staveley Beer Hall we decided to stop off at the Wetherspoon in Kendal. I've been to the 'Miles Thompson' before and its better than the Wetherspoon in Wirral, i.e. they serve a decent pint. The downside at tea time on the Sunday of a bank holiday weekend is how long would it take to get served at the usual 50 yard wide bar with two bar staff.

I was surprised to find that there was a queue for service. That's a proper organised queue post office-style with no exceptions for alcohol only or 'just a bag of crisps'. it took about 10 minutes to reach the bar but I was happy with that. I got served in turn stress-free. Surely the only objection comes from those with no conscience/manners. Some social and night clubs have always used a queuing system but I don't think I've seen it in a pub before. I wish a few more pubs would use this system. Of course Wetherspoons could help matters by actually employing enough staff but that's never going to happen.

BTW four meals plus drinks cost £33 and my pint of Ruskins Bitter from the Kirkby Lonsdale brewery was excellent

Thursday 11 August 2011

Sun, Sea and Beer

It's good to get away from the British summer. Here in the south of France there is heat, swimming pools, the Mediterranean, good food and wine. There is a trade off though because the one thing that is usually missing from my summer holiday is good beer. I always endevour to take a few bottles of good British or Belgian beer for emergency use. the hypermarkets may have one or two passable beers. Jenlain, Trois Monts and La Goudale go well with the local cheeses.

This year I've struck lucky. Portiragnes Plage is a tiny resort which springs to life in July and August to service the large camp sites which are packed out at this time of year. I've been here before and had been pleased to find a bar with 20+ Belgian beers. The area is popular with Belgians so the likes of Duvel and Chimay are also widely available. I wasn't counting my chickens because bars come and go but a quick scan of the beer list reaveled over 80 Belgian beers some of which aren't that common in Belgium. I can confirm that after extensive sampling they all seem to be in stock and trade was excellent. I have passed so far on Bush Prestige at 25 Euros for 75cl. 13% barrel aged beer and 90 degree heat don't really go together never mind the price.

The bar is the 7eme Vague (translates as '7th wave'), Bvd Front de la Mer, Portiragnes Plage, Herault if your passing. Campers and Caravanners bookmark the excellent 4 star Camping Les Sablons just a five minute walk away.

Tuesday 26 July 2011

Who else isn't going to GBBF apart from me and Brewdog ?

There is a sense of anticipation in the air this week. Just a week to the start of Britain's premier beer festival, the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF). Accomodation is booked, milk thistle tablets and various hangover remedies purchased in industrial quantities.

Time for a confession. I've been a CAMRA member for over thirty years, am an ex branch chairman. I've mananged bars at local festivals and worked at festivals in Belgium, yet I've never been to GBBF. When I was younger I just wasn't that interested. I drank most days of the week anyway and didn't really see the need to waste money to do what I did all the time.

As I got older, gained beery friends from around the world and found out that London wasn't all bad I liked the idea of GBBF from the social and working point of views. The problem is I've had children of school age since 1993 and my younger child doesn't leave school until 2015. So the end of July/early August is reserved for family holidays so as not too much of the start of the football season. I'm off to the south of France tomorrow. I'll see you at GBBF in four years time.

Monday 25 July 2011

Safe drinking levels to be reviewed

The newspapers seize on any anti-alcohol propaganda but not given as much prominence to the Government's decision to review the advice on safe drinking levels with the likelihood that limits will be raised.
The existing advice is based on a recommendation from a committee of doctors in 1987. However, one of the members of the original Royal College of Physicians' working party admitted that the figures were 'plucked out of the air' in the absence of clear evidence about the quantity of alcohol which poses a health risk.
MPs are also going to compare the UK guidelines with those provided in other countries. It's ludicrous that the advice in Italy allows the equivalent of an extra bottle of wine per week compared with the U.K. guidelines. A small victory in the battle against the anti-alcohol lobbyists.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Beer is no longer food in Russia - Official

'Russian President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday signed a bill that officially classifies beer as alcoholic. Until now anything containing less than 10% alcohol in Russia has been considered a foodstuff. Vodka is well known as being the drink of choice for Russians but in the past ten years sales have fallen by nearly 30% while beer sales have risen by 40%. Beer can be sold anywhere 24 hours a day.'

I must admit that I have been known to forego a meal for a glass or two of beer and a strong trappist ale, for instance, packs more calories than those low-calories meals for dieters. Of course too many calories makes a Russian stout.

Tuesday 19 July 2011

Well done CAMRA!

I've criticised CAMRA in the past regarding their attitude to craft beer. This time I'm happy to praise them for cancelling the contract allowing Brewdog at GBBF.

It seems Brewdog didn't pay the bill upfront as required and wouldn't supply beer in kegs large enough to be practicable at a very busy festival. Brewdog are already putting their own spin on events but I'm tiring of their raucous proclamations and deliberate courting of controversy.

Its CAMRA's party and if Brewdog aren't on the list they are not coming in.

Monday 18 July 2011

South Lakeland for beer

I was back in Cartmel for another break last week. Apart from the many other reasons for visiting the area, there is the excellent choice of beers. Public transport links to Ulverston, Broughton, Foxfield, Kendal, Staveley and Ings are available giving access to some of the finest pubs in Cumbria. For instance I spent a beautifully sunny afternoon at Hawkshead Brewery Beer Hall enjoying all five draught beers on offer.

The Pheasant Inn, Allithwaite

However, a number of villages are within walking distance of Cartmel. Cark, Flookburgh and Allithwaite  have two pubs each and they all sell real ale. These are the cask beers that I drank in pubs within walking distance of my accomodation:

Hawkshead Bitter (to excess)
Coniston Bluebird
Corby Ale
Skiddaw Special Bitter
Stringers Best Bitter
Stringers Yellow Lorry
Loweswater Gold
Caledonian Deuchars IPA
Ulverston Celebration
Ulverston Laughing Gravy
Thwaites IPA
Winster Valley Cartmel Hurdler

That is not a comprehensive list of the beers available. I ignored the Robinson’s pubs and also gave two more Winster valley beers on the racecourse, Draught Bass, Cumberland Ale, Thwaites Bitter & Wainwright, Theakston Bitter and Taylor’s Landlord a miss. A special mention to the Pheasant in Allithwaite. Excellent beer quality and friendly service which must merit a GBG entry soon. There are plenty of other pubs in the area with good beer that can be reached with a bit more effort on public transport, foot or cycle or more easily by car.

Friday 15 July 2011

Why women can't read maps

There seem to be a never ending litany of  'Beer is bad for you' stories which the press are quite happy to lap up. Even The Independent has given space to an article headed 'Binge drinking is why women can't read maps, say scientists.'

American researchers found that heavy drinking during the teenage years when the brain is still growing, affects the development of spatial memory which is the ability to orientate oneself on the map and remember how to get from place to place. Although both sexes were affected women felt the effects more than men.

The scientists definition of heavy drinking is worth considering. ' The students were normal healthy teenagers who drank socially and might have four or five drinks at a weekend party and then not drink again for some weeks.' So that includes you and me.

Sunday 10 July 2011

Is Progressive Beer Duty all good?

The Morning Advertiser quotes brewers Theakston as stating that "The market is being distorted by progressive beer duty benefit for microbrewers."

The company further added: “The introduction of progressive beer duty in 2002 has led to the creation of unintended market distortions, which, as a consequence of the rise in beer tax [35% since 2008], offer an increasingly significant advantage to small scale, microbrewers of cask ale.”

It is generally accepted that PBD has been a good thing, allowing micros to compete on a better footing with  larger breweries that benefit from economies of scale. But if the regionals are squeezed by the ever increasing number of successful micros they could be ripe for mergers, or even takovers by the Multi-Nationals who are showing signs of re-entering the quality beer sector.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

A Summer's day at Brimstage Brewery

It isn't often that the planets align correctly and we get the idyllic Sunday that sums up all our hopes for the British Summer. The reality is usually a downpour or a blustery wind or both. That's how it is in the North of the country anyway.

Neil Young contemplates a pint of Scarecrow

Neil Young  at Brimstage Brewery pushed the boat out yesterday. He'd invited the great and good from Merseyside branch of CAMRA over for the afternoon. A bit of a PR job this, ther's always a bit of mutual suspicion between Liverpool and Wirral. CAMRA branch trips to the brewery are nothing new. Brimstage wins lots of 'Beer of the Festival' awards and branches like to present the awards in situ in return for a bit of hospitality.

This time though, Neil made use of the the paddock fronting the brewery to lay on a Jazz Band - suits the target audience unfortunately - and provide a hog roast. Amazingly the sun shone and we basked in this rural idyll. Trapper's Hat, Sandpiper and Scarecrow were the thirst quenchers for the 39 visitors from across the Mersey plus assorted friends of the brewery. Merseyside branch were due to visit a number of pubs that afternoon but enjoyed themselves so much that they stayed for an extra two hours. Well you would with free beer and glorious weather. Look out for Scarecrow at GBBF, it's a full flavoured 4.2% traditional bitter.

Sunday 3 July 2011

SABMiller commissions craft beer from Belgium

First Coors take Sharp's, now SABMiller have Steenberge done a deal with Belgian brewer Van Steenberge. I quote:

'SABMiller has moved into Belgium's speciality beer sector by signing a global distribution deal with the Van Steenberge brewery.
The Peroni Nastro Azzurro brewer will launch a speciality 'abbey' beer named St Stefanus in select markets, expected to include the UK, it confirmed today (1 July).
Its deal marks SABMiller's first foray into Belgium's speciality beer sector, where the likes of Anheuser-Busch InBev and Heineken already have a presence, and reflects growing consumer demand for premium, craft beers in mature markets.
“SABMiller takes a keen interest in the development and growth of the global craft beer market," said the brewer's MD for Europe, Alan Clark. "In St Stefanus, we have found exactly what we are looking for – a genuine abbey beer that has remained true to its heritage and offers a high-quality product to a niche, yet discerning, market.”
SABMiller said that the St Stefanus brand name derives from the monastery of Sint Stefanus, "to which the brewery is linked and which still houses an order of Augustinian monks".
Van Steenberge will remain independent, SABMiller said. Meanwhile, it will only make St Stefanus available in bottles, not on draught.
"St Stefanus is approximately four months old when it leaves the brewery, but the consumer can choose to mature the flavour further by continuing to ferment the beer in its bottle for up to another twenty months," said the brewer.
Jef Versele, commercial director of Van Steenberge, said: "As the industry continues to wake up to the potential of the craft segment, progressive agreements like this will ensure a broader and more varied portfolio for global brewers, product integrity and greater reach for craft producers and, most importantly, more choice for consumers'

So a global beer company commissions a bottle-conditioned beer. Whatever next?

Tuesday 28 June 2011

I saw you coming.

The title comes from the 'Harry & Paul' sketch where an unscrupulous shyster takes advantage of home counties women with far more money than sense.

I'm start to wonder if we drinkers are also being taken for a ride by the new generation of craft beer bars. I made my first visit to the Port Street Beer House last week. The cask beer was in excellent condition, there was an enviable range of world bottled beers and the staff were friendly and knowledgable. The price to be paid for this excellence was ........the price.

A pint of Dark Star Hophead was £3.40. That's way over the top in the north west for a 3.8% beer. A half of Odell IPA came in at £2.60. The bottled beer menu should be sponsored by American Express. There were numerous beers over £10 with a few approaching £20. Thornbridge Bracia was £15. it's a great beer but Dominic Driscoll nearly had a fit when I told him the price.

Is this a case of  'Emperors New Clothes' persuading us that high prices are acceptable or even desirable?

Friday 24 June 2011

Should CAMRA run a festival without beer?

Photo courtesy of National Association of Cider Makers
I was a bit bemused to find that the Greater Manchester branches of CAMRA have organised a Cider & Perry festival this weekend. No beer is on sale.

Funnily enough I read this while supping a glass of Odell IPA in the Port Street Beer House. CAMRA has set its stall out firmly against keg craft beer yet is organising a festival with no beer at all. Personally, I don’t much like cider in any form and don’t want to see CAMRA use its resources running a festival like this. I’ve said before that encouraging keg outlets to raise their game would benefit all discerning drinkers. Well that isn’t going to happen it seems, but now Manchester branches are actively encouraging punters to drink something that isn’t beer at all. I wonder how the local micros feel about that?

Tuesday 21 June 2011


A quick trawl of the Internet for Cartmel and you'll find words like historic, unique, charming, beautiful, picturesque and tranquil. Personally, I think a better description would be 'beery'.

Amazingly for a village with about 1,000 residents there are five pubs, all selling cask beer. Four pubs are longstanding features of the village with newly opened premises which has more in common with a restaurant/wine bar than a traditional pub. Nothing in the area from Stringers or HardKnott though. Maybe the esteeemed brewers can advise me.

Two pubs stand at 90º to each other in a corner of the village square. Backing onto the river Eea the Kings Arms has recently re-opened after the premature death of the previous licensee. It has been refurbished at some cost with the 70's seating, carpeting and horse brasses swept away and replaced with a new stone floor and a less cluttered feel. Hawkshead Bitter is the sole offering at the moment, but is selling fast and more beers will be added as the new owners find their feet.

The Royal Oak stands proudly towards the middle of the square. It is more like the perception of an old village pub with low ceilings and exposed beams. There is an extensive, sunny garden leading down to the river. The beer range consists of Coniston Bluebird and Skiddaw. A third beer is often offered. The garden is the venue for a beer festival in August.

All of sixty seconds walk round the corner and under the gatehouse arch and you come to the Cavendish Arms. The Lord Cavendish owns an extensive portfolio of land including his estate at Holker Hall and Cartmel racecourse. The Cavendish is an historic coaching Inn and still retains a rather superior atmosphere. There is a restaurant in one room and the beer range comprises Corby Ale, Theakston's Bitter, Deuchar's IPA and Cumberland Ale. At this point I'll mention the very upmarket L'Enclume restaurant nearby. The prices reflect the status conferred by a Michelin Star. I presume that no decent beer is stocked. Even if it was I probably couldn't afford it.

Double back through the square, walking over the bridge past the Kings for a lung busting twenty yards and you will encounter Rogan's. Under the same ownership as L'Enclume this was viewed as a cuckoo in the nest when it obtained its license in what is an over pubbed village. Anyway, it's here to stay as a pleasant, upmarket restaurant-cum-wine bar. Two beers, Lonesome Pine and the dreadfully named Laughing Gravy, are stocked from the Ulverston brewery.

You'll need your walking gear to reach the final pub. It is at least five minutes walk past the historic Priory before the Pig & Whistle is reached. This tiny village pub is the haunt of locals and has a cosy outside, raised drinking area which overlooks fields. The excellent Hartley's beers are now a fading memory so the drinker must make do with up to three beers from the Robinson's range.

Should you be visiting the village for the unique experience that is Cartmel races then the choice of beers has increased this year. The racecourse has commissioned its own beer, Cartmel Hurdler, from the local Winster Valley Brewery. The beer is available on handpumps in the course bars and the brewery offers its other beers in a beer tent in the centre of the course.

All the pubs serve meals and the Cavendish, Royal Oak and Pig & Whistle offer accommodation. Cark railway station is reached by a pleasant 2 mile walk along a woodland path. Bus service 532 to/from Grange-over-Sands serves the village on weekdays.

Sunday 19 June 2011

CAMRA Members' Investment Club

I attended the AGM and lunch of the CAMRA Member's Investment Club yesterday. It was held at the admirable Victoria Hotel, Beeston, a few miles from Nottingham, so there was a superb range of beers to drink from the likes of Castle Rock, Burton Bridge and Holden's breweries to name but a few. There was an interesting speech on the state of brewing from Paul Theakston of the Black Sheep Brewery.

The club exists to invest in real ale breweries and currently has a membership of c3,500 and the fund has grown to over £10 million. You must be a CAMRA member to join the club and the minimum investment is £5 per month and the maximum has just been increased to £166 per month or £2000 per annum. One member one vote is the mantra though.

Of course investments can go down as well as up but the Club has done an excellent job of outperforming the market even in these tough times for brewers. The committee includes such luminaries as Chris Bruton, Neil Kellett, Iain Loe, Dave Goodwin, Chris Holmes and Sean Murphy so it is evident that they are likely to have a greater knowledge of breweries' performance than the average stockbroker. Also, their services are given freely without even the payment of expenses.

CAMRA have not made new members aware of the Club as much as it could in the last few years so if you like the idea of investing a few bob in cask ale producing breweries you can contact the Investment Club here

Thursday 16 June 2011

Beer & Footy

Just one day to go to an important date in the calendar of thousands of real ale drinkers. One which will affect their drinking habits for a period of 9 months.

I’m talking about the announcement of the football fixtures for season 2011/12. I will be looking keenly for Tranmere’s away fixtures at towns with good beer. I will curse if one of my favourite jaunts falls in midweek, when I’m on holiday or at a Belgian Beer Festival.

League 1 has changed substantially for the better next season, from my point of view anyway. A number of southern teams have been promoted or relegated to be replaced by teams that involve less travelling and as a bonus excellent real ales.

Sheffield United, Preston, Chesterfield and Bury (change at Manchester!) are most welcome newcomers. It’s goodbye to Brighton, Bristol Rovers, Dagenham & Redbridge, Norwich, Swindon, Southampton and Plymouth. That’s a lot of miles saved for the committed fan.

Oldham (also via Manchester), Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield remain from last season. Walsall isn’t a bad trip, Charlton & Leyton Orient can be pleasant visits to the smoke if Virgin West Coast are behaving themselves.

So play fair you fixture compilers. No Tuesday nights, August dates, Tuesday nights or clashes with ZBF and OBER festivals please for the teams mentioned above. I don’t ask for much.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

RAIB in Aldi

I was surprised to find bottles of Welsh pride from the Conwy Brewery in Aldi.

Bottle conditioned, it sells for £1.39 for a 500ml bottle. Maybe Baron Orm will provide a review?

Monday 6 June 2011

CAMRA - Stuck In the Past and Complacent

I've had a few days to think about CAMRA Chair, Colin Valentine's rant against bloggers as publicised by Beer.Birra.Bier and Pete Brown.  I presume that like me most  bloggers are long standing CAMRA members, so it seems strange to criticise a section of your membership.

His comments have already been refuted by the aforementioned bloggers but one important point in favour of 'craft beer' went unsaid. CAMRA has consistently ignored the huge number of licensed premises which are resistant to cask beer. Clubs, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, theatres, concert venues and sports events mostly never stock cask beer mainly due to the irregular patterns of trading. CAMRA has never had a coherent policy for promoting bottle conditioned beers in these places which would be an improvement for the discerning drinker. In fact CAMRA branches rarely do much campaigning at all to increase the number of premises selling decent beer preferring to concentrate their efforts on disparaging the output of the larger brewers and praising the microbreweries.

The emergence of quality keg beer should be a cue for a concerted assault on the non-cask venues to persuade some to stock high quality British beers from the likes of Freedom and Meantime or any of the large number of good keg beers from U.S., Belgium or Italy. Some could even convert to cask further down the line. The truth is that CAMRA is ageing fast. They're happy with their 70s outlook hence the proliferation of Jazz Bands, Folk Groups (yes I know it's getting cool again) and Morris Dancers at beer festivals. How can the the Twitter generation relate to CAMRA?

Wednesday 1 June 2011

Hawkshead Brewery Beer Hall

Hawkshead Brewery goes from strength to strength. It has gained a deserved reputation for producing high quality cask beers which sell in increasing quantities in the Lake District and discerning pubs elsewhere in the country.

The brewery has recently completed the construction of a new Beer Hall at its Staveley base. It has a warmer feel than the old Hall (still in use on special occasions) and the bonus for drinkers is that the opening hours are extended from the usual 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. closing to 11:00 p.m on Fridays and Saturdays.

 The beer choice on offer has been extended too. Windermere Pale, Bitter, Red, Lakeland Gold and Cumberland Five Hop (aka Citrilla) were all on top form. The Bitter is surely one of the best session beers brewed anywhere but is has strong opposition from the hoppy and citrus Windermere Pale  Ale which drinks well above its 3.5% strength.

I was lucky enough to obtain a few of the remaining bottles of the whisky cask-aged 8.5% Special Brodie's Pride. Only 500 bottles were produced.

Hot food is now available and there is a beer shop stocking an excellent range of beers with many from Belgium. Staveley can be reached by train or the 555 bus from Lancaster via Kendal or Keswick. The superb Eagle and Child is just a few minutes walk away and the home-brew Watermill at Ings just a few miles away. Start planning that weekend in the Lakes now.

Monday 23 May 2011

Cask & Kitchen mark II

Cask Pub & Kitchen licensee Martin Hayes is spreading his wings by opening a second specialist beer bar. The former 'Clockhouse' in Clerkenwell will open in June with a huge range of craft beers.

“It will be the largest selection ever seen in the UK with 16 handpumps for British ales, 21 international beers on keg, and around 300 bottled beers,” said Hayes.

Friday 20 May 2011

Cottage Loaf, Llandudno

 I made a trip over the border into Wales the other night. The Manic Street Preachers were playing in Llandudno so I took the opportunity to take in a few pints in the Cottage Loaf. This friendly pub is tucked away down a side street (Market Street, LL30 2SR) and has the dubious pleasure of standing next to a Wetherspoon outlet. It a part of a small chain of eight pubs in Wirral and North Wales owned by Stange & Co.

A stone floor, low ceiling and a large fireplace form an inviting welcome for the drinker and diner. To the side of the bar there is a higher level area with a more modern appearance. To the rear is a large outside drinking area which one presumes is very popular with tourists on warm summer days.

There are four handpumps offering two local beers, usually from the Conway brewery. During my visit the other two beers were Courage Directors and Coach House Innkeeper's from Warrington which seemed to me to be an unusual choice for the area. The beers were well kept and selling well. Food from an extensive menu was popular - Welsh Rarebit starter is an unusual offering but one which impressed me.
This is a friendly, well run pub with a good cross section of customers with cask beer of reliable quality.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Gallagher's Pub and Barbers, Birkenhead

Gallagher's (20 Chester Street, CH41 5DQ) is the deserved Wirral CAMRA Pub of the Year for 2011. Frank Gallagher (!) was formerly in the Irish Guards and had recently run two barber's shops in the area. He wanted to run a pub and with wife Sue they decided to juxtaposition a pub and traditional barber's shop on
the same premises.

Originally called the Hamlet, it enjoyed a renaissance under Cain's ownership as the Dispensary until the brewery lost focus following a succession of financial problems. A stone's throw from Woodside where the Ferry Across the Mersey there is an impressive view of the Liverpool waterfront as you enter/leave the pub. Buses stop nearby and Hamilton Square railway station is just around the corner.

The pub has now been fitted out with numerous military artifacts to reflect Frank's background. The emphasis is on cask beer from local breweries. Brimstage Trapper's Hat is de rigeur for any self-respecting cask ale pub in Wirral and impressive sales are clocked up here. Liverpool Organic and p
Gallagher's (20 Chester Street, CH41 5DQ) is the deserved Wirral CAMRA Pub of the Year for 2011. Frank Gallagher (!) was formerly in the Irish Guards and had recently run two barber's shops in the area. He wanted to run a pub and with wife Sue they decided to juxtaposition a pub and traditional barber's shop on the same premises.

Originally called the Hamlet, it enjoyed a renaissance under Cain's ownership as the Dispensary until the brewery lost focus following a succession of financial problems. A stone's throw from Woodside where the Ferry Across the Mersey there is an impressive view of the Liverpool waterfront as you enter/leave the pub. Buses stop nearby and Hamilton Square railway station is just around the corner.

The pub has now been fitted out with numerous military artifacts to reflect Frank's background. The emphasis is on cask beer from local breweries. Brimstage Trapper's Hat is de rigeur for any self-respecting cask ale pub in Wirral and impressive sales are clocked up here.  Liverpool Organic and Peerless beers are also regularly stocked.

The Gallagher's have done an impressive job in reviving this much loved pub and hopefully it will continue to thrive.