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 90ยบ 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.