Sunday 30 January 2011

Saltaire Brewery Beer Club

Saltaire Brewery in Shipley is housed in a solid limestone edifice that in a previous life provided electricity for the local tram company. The last Friday in the month is Beer Club (no membership needed) when from 4.00 p.m. onwards customers can drink the beers and those of other micros for a bargain price of £2.00 a pint. Real cider and perry is also available.

There is no dedicated drinking area. The brewing equipment is all around.

These photos were mostly taken in the first hour of opening and gives the impression of a quite and relaxed atmosphere. However, by 6.00 p.m. the brewery was jam packed with drinkers to the extent that getting served was a monumental chore.

I was told that it was not usually so busy. It was the first beer club after Christmas and for many people the first pay day ditto so that may have something to do it with it. Anyway, it must be a very profitable venture for the brewery.

The beers on sale included South Island Pale, Blonde, Cascade IPA, Crystal Red and Triple Chocoholic. Guests beers were Dark Star M & M Special Porter Acorn Ginger. We couldn't sample them all on this occasion, it was just too difficult to get served, an opinion served by numerous other punters. So it was a short walk to the Junction in Baildon for Derwent Carlisle State Bitter and Oakham JHB!

Thursday 27 January 2011

Fuller's Vintage Ale

Fuller's have gained a deserved reputation in recent years for high quality, bottled conditioned beers. They include 1845, Brewer's Reserve and the new Past Masters range. Eagerly awaited each autumn is Vintage Ale now in its 14th year.

This year's brewing notes state "Crafted with the highest quality Tipple malted barley, this ale's main hop character is derived from traditional Golding and Fuggle hops and further enhanced with dry hopping, using a blend of the choicest Golding and Target hops. Coupled with the unique Fuller's yeast strain we expect this beer to mature into another 'Classic' Vintage!"

Would you like to see the production figures? Of course you would!

1997                 85,000
1998                 85,000
1999                 85,000
2000                 85,000
2001                 30,000
2002                 50,000
2003                 50,000
2004                 95,000
2005                 95,000
 2006                 100,000
 2007                 150,000
 2008                 145,000
 2009                 160,000
 2010                 125,000

Why the sharp drop in production in 2001? I'd like to know. What is evident is that demand has been bouyant in the latter part of the last decade. It is certainly a beer that I make an effort to seek out, difficult as that task can be up here in the frozen wastelands of the North. I suggest you do likewise.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

More bad news

Beer sales fell by 3.9% in 2010 according to the British Beer & Pub Association. No surprise there, the brewers and Pubcos have been warning us for months that sales were down. The worrying thing is that beer sales in pubs dropped by 7.5%.

© Renjith Krishnan
Shop sales actually increased by 0.6% which confirms what we already know. In a declining market cheap unregulated supermarket booze is holding its own at the expense of highly regulated, expensive-to-run pubs.

Beer duty rose by 5% in April 2010, VAT increased from 17½% to 20% earlier this month and the duty escalator introduced by Labour which this Government has retained, means that the annual RPI increase of 4.8% may well result in a 6.8% duty increase in September 2011. These are hammer blows to pub owners and tenants.

Microbreweries have done well as the larger brewers have ignored real ale and punters have tended to gravitate to specialist real ale pubs. Continued job losses and excessive price rises must surely halt this boom sooner rather than later. Unless there is a drastic change of tack in the treatment of pubs they will survive in ever dwindling numbers. A bleak future for all beer lovers.

Monday 24 January 2011

New beers from Thwaites

I tried one of Thwaites' new beers at the weekend. They've spent some money overhauling their seasonal range and designed some pretty natty pump clips which will attract attention at the bar.

The first one to be brewed is OBJ. This is a name that had a good reputation in bygone years and was used by other breweries in Lancashire as well if I'm not mistaken. Please feel free to enlighten me. It is a strong, darkish, warming brew which I'll certainly look out for in future.

Thwaites' have installed a line for bottle conditioning also, which is a move to be applauded. 'Old Dan' has been produced as a trial run and I hope to sample that soon.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Back from the Winter Ales Festival

I'm feeling a bit fragile as I write this. I arrived at the Winter Ales festival at 1:30 p.m. yesterday and promptly launched an assault on the strongest beers on sale viz. Fullers Brewers Reserve No 2, Coniston No.9 Barley Wine and Strand's Barley Wine. Its not a sensible move to start with the rocket fuel brews but there is always a danger that they will sell out early so it had to be done.

Following them with Robinson's Old Tom and Thornbridge St Petersburg was maybe a mistake though. By the time I left for the late evening train to Liverpool I was aware that I may have overdone things a little.

I bumped into old friends from Bruges, New England, Luxembourg and.......Warrington. The mythical beer Monster was in attendance putting the consumption of we mere mortals to shame.

Well's and Youngs would't be my ideal choice for shirt sponsor. Not really the beers you'd look for at this festival.
Steve Nettle AKA The Beer Monster. Accept no substitutes.
 As I've said before, the new venue is a big improvement. There's plenty of space to move around even if seating is still at a premium. I'd like to see some butties or rolls on sale. There is an emphasis on curries which doesn't suit everyone and the other dishes on sale such as pork pie slice didn't quite do it for me.

Nice to see plenty of healthy eating options
 Don't remember much about the journey home. Next year I must book a hotel room.

What's the collective name for handpumps?

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Going to the National Winter Ales Festival?

By the time you read this, the National Winter Ales Festival will be underway.  I was invited to the Trade session (honest!) but the thought of getting up for work tomorrow put me off so I'll be there from early afternoon on Friday.

The name always seems wrong to me. The first time I went I was thinking how can Thwaites' Mild be classed as a Winter Ale? Shouldn't the name be changed to the more accurate National Ales Festival in Winter? That would really trip off the tongue.

Also, I haven't fathomed out how the beers are chosen. There are a number of mediocre beers from mediocre breweries and some very good breweries are not invited - in my opinion, and that's the one I respect. Grouse over, the new venue The Sheridan Suite is much better than the impersonal 70's office block that was the venue for a number of years. I'm sure that I'll enjoy it and I'll be making a beeline for XX from the Fuller's new Past Masters range hoping there is some left.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Thomas Hardy's Ale

The more observant amongst you will have noticed that I have a passion for Thomas Hardy's Ale.

At the birth of CAMRA there were four classic bottled conditioned beers in the U.K.
Hardy’s Ale was one, the others being Gale’s Prize Old Ale, Courage Imperial Russian Stout and Guinness.

Russian Stout disappeared in 1993 and Guinness has not been bottle-conditioned for donkeys’ years. The name Prize Old Ale lives on but Gales’ has closed and new owners Fuller's brew it at Chiswick sans the iconic corked bottles. Hardy’s Ale limped on until 1999. Eldridge Pope couldn’t even be bothered producing a vintage for the Millennium.

The final vintage from Eldridge Pope
Thomas Hardy’s Ale was brewed to an impressive 12% strength. This robustness explains why it is still sought after today, over 10 years after the last bottles were filled.  More of a barley wine than an ale, (that isn’t a cue for an argument please), I’ve tasted examples from the mid 70s which had matured beautifully like vintage port. I suspect that corners were cut in the final years which don’t have the same depth of flavours. Note though, that I’ve rarely had a bad bottle no matter how decrepit or faded the label may look.

The prime reason that Hardy’s Ale was never a commercial success was poor marketing. The original commemorative vintage from 1968 had a sticker on the bottle stating ‘DO NOT OPEN BEFORE JULY 1969’. When the ale was revived as a regular brew in 1974 the sticker said ‘DO NOT OPEN BEFORE JUNE 1978’ and by 1979 it stated DO NOT OPEN UNTIL 1989. Yes, you were told not to drink it for a whole ten years!! What terrible fate would befall anyone who ignored this doom-laden warning is unclear, but it meant that Thomas Hardy’s Ale was a museum piece from the start. Many people bought a bottle or two to stash away as a souvenir for a future event but few people actually drank the stuff. I know that this is true because I’ve still got two bottles purchased in a London branch of Waitrose in 1988. Of course, this has become a blessing in disguise for a new generation of drinkers because there are still numerous bottles hidden away in nooks and crannies and which are regularly advertised for sale on eBay. I’ve learned that brewery employees were given cases of the ale in the 90s as gifts, presumably because they weren’t selling in the pubs and off licenses. A lot of these cases are still intact lurking in pantries and garages.  By various means I’ve managed to amass a collection of about 200 bottles which will keep me going for some time yet.
In the 80s the brewery presumably saw the error of its ways and merely advised that the ale would keep for 25 years. However, the damage had been done and the perception remained that the ale shouldn’t be drunk too young. Sales in Britain were rarely exceptional and it was the export market, in particular to the U.S. that allowed production to continue as long as it did.

My sort of party ¹
  The demise of Eldridge Pope saw the right to the Thomas Hardy’s Ale name purchased by the American company Phoenix Imports. There was much rejoicing when they commissioned O'Hanlon's with a brief to re-create the ale as faithfully as possible. This they did with details that included the much-loved neck medallions and individual bottle numbers which had both been lost as Eldridge Pope cut costs. However, the joy was short-lived as the new ale lasted only 4 years before O’Hanlon’s pulled the plug citing the expense of producing a specialist ale in small quantities. It is believed that they were pushed into this decision by advisors after taking part in a reality-type TV programme.

Given the increased interest in unusual and rare brews mostly of high alcoholic strength it is to be hoped that Phoenix will resurrect Hardy’s Ale for a second time in the none too distant future.

Photo courtesy of Stan Hieronymus

Sunday 16 January 2011

Pub Trip - Old Dungeon Ghyll & Wainright's

Accompanied by Mrs Birkonian we spent Saturday night at an upmarket 'Resort Hotel' in the Langdale Valley in what tourist boards call the Lake District. The definition of a resort Hotel is that your room is not in the same building as the facilities i.e. you get wet when it rains. It rains a lot in the Lake District.

We arrived early which gave us time to carry on past the hotel and rectify a glaring omission on my beer c.v. Yes, I'd never been to the Old Dungeon Ghyll. Well I wasn't disappointed. The Hiker's Bar was probably little changed apart from the vinyl covering the stone floor and the Mars Bars in a cabinet behind the bar.

A rare wet day at The Old Dungeon Ghyll
A few (fool)hardy walkers were trying to dry out in front of the welcoming ancient range. We settled down on one of the stone-partitioned benches where I could enjoy the best pint of Yates' Bitter I've had for a few years followed by a stronger malty offering from Yates', Best Cellar.

The Hiker's Bar at the Old Dungeon Ghyll
In the evening, following the pleasant discovery of Marston's EPA in the hotel bar, although slightly deflated by its lukewarm temperature, we braved the monsoon for the 5 minute walk to the GBG listed Wainwright's in Chapel Stile.

Wainwright's, Chapel Stile. Still raining.
Under the same ownership as our hotel the GBG doesn't do it full justice. 3 beers from the marston's stable plus 3 from smaller northern breweries undersells its range of Marston's Pedigree, Jennings Cumberland Ale & Snecklifter, Ulverston Fra Diavolo, Kirkby Lonsdale Monumemtal, Hawkshead Lakeland Gold and Loweswater Gold. I had time for those last three and enjoyed their different takes on blonde hoppy beers.

The famous Britannia Inn at Elterwater is a short walk away so there is plenty of good beer to recommend a trip to the Langdale Valley.

Friday 14 January 2011

Yorkie bars

Life is unfair. I’m stating the obvious there. Beer is unfair too. I’ve stated previously that Wirral isn’t awash with great beer. I may be wrong but I have a perception that there is a county that has more than its share of great beer and pubs and that is Yorkshire. I’m not making distinctions between North and South Yorkshire or East and West Riding. As far as I’m concerned they are all the same and can’t play cricket as well as we Lancastrians (guilty secret – I was born in Ormskirk and only became Birkonian at the age of six).

The aptly named Junction, Baildon
Anyway, I’ve spent a lot of time in Yorkshire in the last few years and have grown to be envious of its inhabitants. If I wanted to be brief I could sum up my case for Yorkshire pubs and beers in two words: Huddersfield and Sheffield. Both are meccas for beer drinkers and have more of their fair share of top-class pubs. But there is good beer all through the county. For instance my brother-in-law lives in Baildon and has a wonderful award-winning pub the Junction in walking distance and the fast-expanding Saltaire brewery in Shipley not much further away. Bradford can be reached by a short journey on bus or train and has a number of pubs that would grace any town.

Sturdy pubs built from limestone with cosy rooms and coal fires seem to abound in Yorkshire and the keen sense of local identity demands that they sell local beers. It is these local beers that most impress me about Yorkshire. All make excellent beers, with the pale hoppy beers that I’m a fan of well to the fore.  

I’ll be writing a bit more on Yorkshire in a week or two following a boozy week end away. Until then is this a White Rose-tinted view of Yorkshire? Is the beer scene not quite as I describe it? After all it is Yorkshire that seems prepared to lose iconic Leeds-brewed Tetley bitter without much of a shout. And I’ve been careful not to mention Hull.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

In the Beginning

I think we've enough beer for the first hour
I remember well my first beer festival. It was1974 I think, or maybe 1975. A friend turned up in the pub one night and handed each of us a small card and demanded £2 each or whatever the price was. It was a long time ago.

He told us that his work colleagues had put him under pressure to buy them and he was now doing the same to us. “What’s an ‘Exhibition of Fine Ales?” I asked cautiously. The premise was explained as comprising lots of beer served in a big hall. Good enough for me.

The venue was the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool. At the time it was no different to many auditoriums up and down the country. Slightly down-at-heel, investment was much needed to enable it to survive. It was lucky in that the investment would arrive a few years later and it now enjoys a well-earned reputation (and sells good beer in the downstairs bar).

As a beer festival venue it wouldn’t pass muster in a Health & Safety inspection nowadays. The casks were down the left and right hand side of the stalls, where the seats remained intact. There was no circulation area, so when a scrum formed at the bars we had to pick our way across the rows, glasses in hand to find a seat as if we were about to watch a production. Many spillages took place as punters continually had to stand up to allow others to pass.

My knowledge at the time consisted of two facts. Beer in pub ‘A’ might taste different to that in pub ‘B’. Secondly, it was difficult to find Mild down south. I was hardly a budding Michael Jackson. This was different though, a Road to Damascus. The beers had taste. I hadn’t know that real ale existed or that there were so many breweries. Higson’s, Wilson’s and Burtonwood were my new heroes. I became a convert on the spot.

Those early beer festivals seemed very different from now. Each was an opportunity to try something new, to blag bar towels and ash trays from the brewery reps, to get very, very, drunk by 10:30 closing time. I still remember the pride at meeting Bill Tidy (another Birkonian) and persuading him to draw a Kegbuster cartoon on my CAMRA membership card. I still treasure it.
My first Membership card. I'm not telling you which year.
Present day beer festivals mostly preach to the converted. Their purpose is to raise funds for CAMRA or charitys and the focus is on obscure beers to attract the train-spotting wing of beer drinkings. We all know a lot more about beer than we did then, or at least we think we do. I don’t go to many beer festivals in Britain now. The quality isn’t always great. Unproven beers and poor practices by some wholesalers may be to blame. I have an idea for a good beer festival. Decide on the best breweries and offer only one beer from each. The one judged to be their best. Simple!


Monday 10 January 2011

Gone and soon forgotten

You don't need me to tell you that pubs have been closing at an alarming rate. What I've noticed is that a disproportionate number of newer pubs have closed. A period of approximately 15 years from the late 1950s to the start of the 1970s was the last era of pub building on a large scale. The brewer were granted licences to replace those pubs demolished because of inner city clearance schemes. The new pubs were of a substantial size with large car parks sited on main roads or on new housing estates.

                                              THE LIVINGSTONE ¹

These new pubs paid lip service to tradition, usually comprising a bar and separate lounge. Fittings were luxurious (tacky?) but the layout was usually stark with drinking areas comprising utilitarian rectangles. Note that most were built without cellars to save money. A storage area was provided on the ground floor for kegs and the tanks that were the future of beer dispense. They thrived at first but the rush to 'open plan' that soon followed resulted in large drinking barns which lacked atmosphere and became a breeding ground for rowdy behaviour.

                                                     CORSAIR ¹

Unemployment and drugs made the situation worse giving many of these pubs a deserved bad reputation. The typical design of these pubs provided living accommodation on the first floor that had a smaller floor area than the pub below. This made the pubs vulnerable to robbery with an inviting flat roof  allowing access to less secure windows.  Cheap supermarket booze and the Wetherspoons effect has been the final nail in the coffin for many of these 'community pubs' and their design  and situation does not readily lend itself to other uses. This means that they are more likely to be demolished that older pubs that become shops or apartments. Without the history of our Victorian pubs they won't be missed.

                                                  THE ABBOTSFORD

The photos of demolished or soon to be demolished pubs are in Birkenhead but they are representative of an urban area. I lived in one of the pubs shown, The Abbotsford, for a number of years. It was new and well maintained at that time. It was obvious in recent times that the pub was on its last legs, with dwindling custom and a seedy atmosphere. It's still standing, but not for long.

¹ Photographs courtesy of The Lost Pubs Project

Friday 7 January 2011

What's in a name?

Since the first wave of guest microbrewery beers surfaced ever more exotic names have appeared on pump clips and bottles.

Hilarious names have abounded such as Dog’s Bollocks and Old Fart. Hilarious if you have an I.Q. of under 80 that is or went to a public school. Or both. Puns like 'Quacker Jack' or 'Hung, Drawn 'n' Portered'. Forgive me while I split my sides.

As brewers endeavoured to produce ever more special and interesting brews, i.e stronger and more expensive, they have attempted to come up with names with suitable gravitas. No, I wasn’t thinking of Brewdog. Fuller’s Vintage Ale and Brewers Reserve spring to mind. Some are given obscure names to add an aura of mystery. Ola Dubh may not be obscure to Gaelic speakers but it's all Greek to the rest of us.

I was thinking of beer names earlier this week while enjoying numerous excellent pints in the Marble Arch, Manchester. Marble have gained a reputation for high quality draught beers and a range of classy brews presented in 75cl champagne corked bottles. So why the name Utility Special 2010? Dominic Driscoll told me that Marble's original end of year 2010 special ended in failure when the Duvel yeast expired part way through the brew. So they quickly commenced brewing a replacement, presumably using a pre-existing recipe. This utility beer is now on sale in draught form and in bottles. Simple!

Thursday 6 January 2011

Wirral Whisperings

I live in Wirral. There is perception in Liverpool that the peninsula is a leafy oasis inhabited by posh types who look down their noses at the scousers over the water. Well, the well-heeled residents on the Deeside may think like that but the conurbations of Birkenhead, New Ferry and Seacombe on the banks of the Mersey form one of the most deprived areas in the country.

This divide impinges on the beer scene. Conservative West Wirral has numerous country inns and suburban pubs offering real ale, although it is only since the emergence of Brimstage brewery in 2007 that that the market for beers from micros has taken off. Peerless brewery in Birkenhead followed and is expanding its market while breweries from the Liverpool and Chester areas are starting to make their presence felt.

The working class conurbation centered around Birkenhead is a different matter. 10-15 years ago there was a decent real ale crawl to be had in Birkenhead town centre The long term decline of the area has resulted in the sad state of affairs whereby this town of over 80,000 people has no pubs in the 2010 or 2011 GBGs. Hope may be on the horizon with the re-opening of a couple of pubs offering a choice of beers (see Cock & Pullet) but the overall situation is still bad.

Wirral suffers in beer choice for two main reasons. Historically, Wirral pubs were owned a few large players. Birkenhead Brewery was the largest player but was swallowed up by Threlfall’s in the early 60s which was itself already a part of the Whitbread ‘Umbrella’. These keg and tank beer pubs resisted the march of real ale in the late 70’s and early 80s longer than most.

The remaining pubs were mostly former Bent’s and Yates’ houses which eventually became part of the Bass and Allied-Tetley empire. Real ale was hard to track down in these pubs. The only shining light was Higson’s which had a smattering of pubs throughout Wirral, mostly with good beer. Unfortunately, Higson’s were taken over by Boddington’s who themselves were swallowed up by Whitbread, delivering a further portfolio to the bloated behemoth.

Although sales of pubs in the 80’s introduced pockets of exotic beer from Wilson’s and Wolverhampton & Dudley, the dismantling of the big breweries left most of Wirral’s pubs in the hands of the new pub companies. To this day there are few true free houses in Wirral, restricting the choice of real ale.

The lack of good beer in Birkenhead and parts of Wallasey may also be down to the proximity of Liverpool. There are any number of excellent pubs on the other side of the Mersey with superb rangers of beer. A five minute train journey from Birkenhead means that the town is by-passed by drinkers looking for a good pint. Not until critical mass is reached with enough good pubs in a small area for a night out will Birkenhead have reason to be proud of its beer culture.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

The Cock & Pullet, Birkenhead

I'm preparing a blog which discusses the quality of beer in Wirral with emphasis on Birkenhead. It's a little out of date already because a new real outlet has just opened its doors. That statement is incorrect on two counts. It's always been a pub and always sold real ale. But the change is definitely worth shouting about.

The Cock & Pullet on Woodchurch Road used to be called The Royal. It was a slightly shabby locals' pub that somehow retained a market for John Smith's cask bitter. The 'For Sale' sign appeared in the summer and there were were soon whisperings that it was going to be a dedicated cask beer pub. The rumours were correct because the Cock and Pullet looks destined to be a much needed addition to the local real ale scene.

Owner Alan Tuohey tells me that the pub is a true Free House, rare in these parts. There are three handpumps to start with, although he hopes to increase this in future. One pump is intended to dispense Brimstage Trapper's Hat on a semi-permanent basis. That would be note-worthy in itself. Pump two will offer a beer from Liverpool Organic brewery with a rotating guest beer from the third pump. This afternoon St Austell Tribute was on sale, a beer not often seen in Wirral.

The pub is still a work in progress with re-decoration continuing during closing hours. The refurbishment is tasteful utilising traditional pub colours of dark reds and browns.  At first glance the situation doesn't seem that inspiring, on a main round surrounded by run down terraced housing. However, bohemian Oxton Village is less than a quarter of a mile away so the market is there. Birkenhead desperately needs this pub to succeed.

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Death of the Local

My son is 22. He doesn't have a local as such although his group do frequent our nearest pub from time-to-time, co-incidentally.

His age group don't view pubs in the same way as previous generations. An occasional visit to watch football on Sky, but hey, it cheaper for them to get a carry out from Tescos and watch it at someone's flat. They all have Uni degrees, but there are no proper jobs for them so they don't have the disposable income we had so mid-week is out. Saturday is still the big night out but again it's cheap supermarket alcohol to get tanked up before jumping the last train to go clubbing.

We went to the pub for company, darts, juke boxes and to meet the opposite sex. The alternative was BBC and ITV on the telly or playing music on the record player. No contest.

This generation don't play darts or pool. They have social network sites to meet and talk to people. Their iPod contains every tune in the universe. The pub is uneccessary, dispensing expensive (in their view) alcohol and closing just when they are getting ready for action.

When the baby-boomers are no more and my son's friends are older will their view of pubs change. If not, the current round of pub closures may just be the start.

Monday 3 January 2011


The last day of the "kill your liver" holiday and I'm off to the match. Looking forward to the compulsory pub visit afterwards to celebrate or drown our sorrows.

It's a GBG pub with seven handpumps. The quality is not bad for Wirral (more on that later). So what's the problem? It is the beer range. Landlord and Bombardier chase the 4.3% "I've heard of that one" market. Abbot and Hobgoblin are there for the "Get drunk quickly" gang. Jennings is there, but it's the insipid Cumberland Ale not the tasty Bitter or Mild. Also Flower's IPA. You didn't know that was still brewed, did you? In Cardiff of course! That leaves one handpump of hope. 50% of the time it's another over-strong malty offering, but otherwise, joy of joys, it's a brew form the excellent Brimstage brewery just down the road. Usually the refreshing and citrus Trapper's Hat. Best enjoyed in quantities of five pints or more.

However, it is still Christmas and I have a forebodeing. It will be 4.5% plus, dark, sweet, possibly spiced and with 'Santa', 'Jingle' or 'Yule' in the name and I won't like it.


No Trapper's - "It's only just been delivered". Weetwood Cheshire Cat instead. At least it's only 4.0%. Trouble is, it's slightly bitter but sweet and a little thin. Never mind, we won. Home for a Bocq Christmas, Moinette Brune and suitable cheese. Happy New Year!

Sunday 2 January 2011

2011 Poll

You've no doubt seen the end of year polls on all the other beer blogs. If you're like me you find it hard to remember what you drank yesterday never mind last January. What do you mean "Don't you keep a record on your smartphone thingy complete with marks out of ten?"

So here's my easy peasy Best Brewery of the Year 2011 Poll. Complete it now and save valuable drinking time next December. As any fule kno there are now only four breweries anyone is allowed to vote for. You would be open to ridicule from the Beer Cognoscenti for thinking otherwise. So the nominees are:

1. Brewdog
2. Thornbridge
3. Marble
4. Stinking Sheep (U.S.) This one's a made-up name but if you all disseminate it round the interweb their 23% Balsa Aged Quintupel IPA will soon be name-dropped in the Euston Tap and The Rake.

Happy New Voting!