Tuesday 31 December 2013

Expensive 'craft' beer

There have been plenty of comments regarding the price of 'craft' beers and the perception that the mark up is excessive.

A seriously weird beer label
I was in Port Street Beer House on Sunday and would have been tempted by the X-Mas Zinnebir from the excellent de la Senne brewery in Brussels. However, the blackboard was showing a price of £10/pint! I know it's imported but I've seen plenty of other foreign beers on draught at different location much cheaper than that. I think a lot of Londoners would baulk at that price never mind Mancunians. The beer is 6.5% so it is not rocket fuel. I'll be interested to compare the price of say the 10.5% Gouden Carolus Christmas at the Manchester Velodrome festival next month, granted there will be lower overheads.

Monday 30 December 2013

Why I don't like the Sheffield Tap

In Sheffield for the footy yesterday. The Sheffield Tap was the obvious first stop as long as we hide our football shirts. Why is such discrimination allowed? They have no problem with Rugby shirts and allow children in but they view all football fans as sub-normal IQ psychopaths.

That is a niggle but not my main grouse. The bar may have a superb choice of cask, bottled and 'craft' beers and has been extended to provide more seating but there were only two staff  serving a bar that contained about 80 customers. I managed to get served - note that the barmaid wasn't making any attempt to notice who had been waiting the longest - another bugbear is when she said "who is next?" but when my friend went up to get the next round it was obvious that there were dozen punters were waiting to be served because one of barmaids had gone out to collect empties.

The number serving in such a busy pub made Wetherpoons look over-staffed. So we gave up waiting and went to the Devonshire Cat where service was prompt and the cask beers excellent.

I don't think that this was a one-off because I've struggled to be served previously in the Sheffield Tap, so come on, show some consideration for the customer and employ more staff.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Inappropriate Beer Gifts

This is the time of year when the male of the species receives socks, after shave and deodorant. I've no problem with that. However, if you are recognised as liking the odd pint of beer there is a chance that you'll also receive an Inappropriate Beer Gift from a well meaning relative or friend. You force the false smile as you unwrap the Gift pack of 'World' lagers (nanufactured in South Wales and Northampton) or cans of Bombardier/Old Speckled Hen.

Those of us who take pride in a modicum of beer knowledge will be fully stocked with more suitable beers and will wait for a suitable opportunity to jettison the unwanted gifts at a party or pass them on to the less discerning (i.e. non geeky) drinker.

Today, I received a supposed example of the Unwanted Beer Gift, or so I thought. But upon opening I found a gift set of the Maredsous range of Belgian beers complete with beer glass (which I've wanted for years despite owning far too many glasses). I won't embarrass the givers of this excellent and unexpected gift by naming them here but Thank You and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Beers for Christmas

I've chosen some suitable beers for tonight and Christmas Day. It's a mixture of Belgian Christmas beers, some of which have been aged. For instance Stille Nacht Reserva 2005 which clocks in at a whopping 12%.

I've included the odd English special beer as well. A 75 cl Meantime IPA will offer a nice contrast to the heavier beers and I've also got a few Bateman's Vintage Ales which are good value from Aldi.

I've got plenty of other 75cl bottles for later in the week as long as I've got someone to share them with. It's just greedy drinking a 13% Winterkoninske on your own.

I always have a good of stock of special beers in for Christmas but presumably most people drink the same beers that they do the rest of the year; just more of them.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

The end for Trappist beers?

Sorry, it's another post about Belgium. I will start drinking and talking about British beer again soon. On Friday to be precise, before and after Tranmere Rovers' home match. I probably won't want to talk about the football.

An article in the Indy highlights a problem  that some of us were discussing in Belgium over the weekend. Put simply, the Trappist monasteries in Belgium are running out of monks. The Good Lord is claiming the older ones but not enough novice monks are replacing them. Achel, who only started brewing again about 10 years ago after a lengthy break are down to six monks, five of whom are over 70. Orval, who have been struggling to keep up with demand anyway have 12 monks, down from 35 a few decades back.

While all Trappist brewers employ secular workers to do most of the work, they must nominate at least one monk to supervise the brewing otherwise their beers will lose the Authorised Trappist Product denomination. At least there are new Abbeys starting to produce beer. Stift Engelszell in Austria (Gregorious), Maria Toevlucht (Zundert) and even St Joseph's Abbey from U.S.A have been granted the ATP logo. Inevitably, beer geeks are paying over the odds to purchase these 'desirable' beers.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Reality bites

My five days in Belgium flew by. Two nights in the perfect Christmas city, Bruges, an evening with friends from far and wide in bustling Antwerp and then two days at the finest Xmas beer festival in the world set in the unlikely setting of Essen, an otherwise boring dormitory town on the Dutch border. I also put in two shifts behind the bar at the festival, slightly daunting where the pre-requisite is a knowledge of all the numbers in Dutch from one to one hundred and eighty - the number of different beers on sale.

I drank a lot of superb beers and a few rubbish ones too. A few hundred came home in the boot of my car. That's Christmas over for another year in my book. At least I've booked my room in Essen for next year.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Christmas Beers

I'll be setting off to Belgium in the early hours. I've got a couple of days in Bruges followed by the weekend at the Kerstbier festival in Essen (no, not the one in Germany). The festival is expected to have about 180 different Christmas beers on sale. Most of the bars in Belgium will be stocking one or more festive beer.

Here in Britain we are pretty crap at producing beers for the deep midwinter. Some breweries think that it is sufficient to produce a sickly, malty beer in the 4 to 5% range and give it a jokey name. I know one pub that orders far too many casks of Christmas beers with the result that they are still on sale in mid-January when no one is slightly interested, the beer already turning to vinegar. Furthermore, it's strange that the so-called 'craft' breweries who are used to producing strong beers don't seem interested in this sector. Presumably, they deem Christmas beers as a bit naff.

Sunday 8 December 2013

To Blog or Not To Blog

The trouble with blogging is that you have to blog regularly. Readers expect new content even if they don't think much of what is written. So even when I've been tempted to blog during the last few months at he back of mind I've thought "If I re-start can I continue?" The answer's been 'No' but I thought it was time to make an effort again.

What sustains the beer blogging world is the discussion of 'craft beer'. What it is, what it isn't, where it is found, who likes or doesn't like it and if it even exists. What many bloggers fail to realise is that the vast majority of beer drinkers aren't aware of craft or if they are, don't have the chance to drink it/ignore it in their local pubs - I use the word 'pub' because bars are still mostly found in large cities.

I was out in Liverpool on Friday for my firm's Christmas lunch followed by the obligatory piss up. Now Liverpool has been a little bit slow in grasping the craft mantle. Scousers aren't slow in responding to new trends but they mostly like to drink their beer in pints - low gravity and lots of them. Being a sociable animal I was resigned to being dragged wherever the group took me. I knew the beer would be crap but the company of numerous drunken women was one consolation.

The meal was booked for 2:00 p.m. so there was time for a few drinks in a pub of my choice with a few like minded souls. The Lady of Mann was the choice. near to the restaurant and decent beer. I started with a pint of a hoppy beer from a new Welsh brewery who's name escapes me. Very nice too. I then decided I should try a half of a keg beer which is very much in the craft category. Magic Rock's High Wire was available and the pub enhanced its craft quotient by offering the choice of half pint or schooner. Another excellent beer.

On to the Bar and Grill for food. A slightly upmarket venue where it's not unknown for Premier league footballers and other 'celebrities' to be spotted. No beer of note but the bosses had paid for the wine so no problem.

After the food came the difficult bit. The Slaughterhouse is an iconic pub name in Liverpool, but despite it's resurrection as a comedy venue it no longer has any atmosphere and has no decent beer at all. I even sneaked over the road at one point to neck a half of Greene King IPA in the Cornmarket. Desperate measures.

Next was All Bar One. Not my sort of pub, but surely there will be at least one handpump? Surveying the bar my hopes were dashed but there was consolation. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale amongst the keg fonts. £4.50 a pint is extortionate for Liverpool but beggars can't be choosers.  An hour and a half later to time to move again. 'Matthew Street' is the call. The tacky, drunken touristy centre of Liverpool with it's homage to the Beatles and fake Irish bars. A glimmer of hope though. A few of the pubs/bars stock the odd cask beer. My hopes are dashed again when I realise that the Revolution Vodka Bar is our destination. I'd normally not be seen dead in there but on we must go. But perusing the beer menu I'm mildly surprised. Curious IPA, Duvel and Chimay Bleue are listed. Pretty average apart from Duvel but better than the poxy lagers on draught. Three hours in there and I've seen off the stock of Curious so finish with Duvel. Time to move on is the cry but it's the last train home for me. You can't walk across the Mersey and I don't fancy forking out a fortune for a taxi just to have more beer that I don't need.

The moral? Slowly but surely the rise of craft beer is improving the choice of beer in venues you wouldn't expect to stock anything drinkable.

Friday 21 June 2013

Threat to Trappist Brewer

I read the following report on the Flanders News website:

The monks of the Notre-Dame Abbey of Saint-Remy are deeply concerned about the quality of their famous Trappist Beer Rochefort. The source providing the water for the making of the beer, is bound to dry up due to developments in a limestone quarry nearby. The abbey is situated 5 kilometres from Rochefort, in Namur province in the Ardennes.
The Walloon group Lhoist has been exploiting the limestone quarry since 1956. However, Lhoist has plans to extend its activities further and to make the quarry some 60 metres deeper. This will cause the source that the monks are using to make their beer, to dry up completely, studies reveal.
Lhoist wants to go ahead with its plans, and suggests creating three new wells nearby, in order to pump this water to the original source. However, the monks are afraid that this will not be the same. "We only have guarantees about the quantity, not about the quality of the water", spokesman Christopher De Doncker told De Standaard. The monks are concerned that the taste of their beer will be affected.
As a compromise, Lhoist has offered to carry the extra cost of the new wells. However, the company still needs a permit to get the green light for deepening the quarry.
It would be a great shame if the Rochefort beers were affected. Co-incidentally I drank a bottle of Rochefort 10 last night; a sumptuous end to an evening. Belgian beers have taken a back seat recently behind the juggernaut of heavily hopped beers, but I am a big fan and consider a Trappist or Abbey style beer to be the perfect accompaniment to cheese. Traditional gueuze is an acquired taste they say - well I acquired it many years ago and find it the most refreshing beer on those rare summery days.

Monday 17 June 2013

The White Queen

I recorded the the first episode of The White Queen on BBC last night but having read the reviews probably won't bother watching it. However, I did check out a few scenes because the series was filmed in my favourite city Bruges.

Anyone who has attended the Bruges Beer festival in recent years would have spotted that the courtyard that featured prominently in the episode that of the 'Hallotoren' or Belfry which is used to provide outdoor seating and a smoking area for the festival. This is it below.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Not all members enjoy real ale admits CAMRA

I received my new CAMRA membership card today complete with the Wetherspoons vouchers that will no doubt rot away in a drawer for the next year. There was a letter from CAMRA thanking me for my support etc. but one paragraph caught my eye and I needed to read it again because I thought I must have mis-read it. I quote:

'We understand that not all members enjoy real ale (my capitals) but love real cider. We are continuing to work with JD Wetherspoon on this matter however all of their locations sell real cider. This could lead to confusion with Managers/Staff offering discounts on ciders such as Strongbow, Magners or some Westons products that do not fit with CAMRA's definition of real cider. We can only advise that in the interim you speak to the manager at your local JD Wetherspoon.'

I was astounded to read this. I thought that CAMRA existed to promote and protect real ale but I'm obviously wrong. My first thought was that the cider drinkers don't appreciate the voucher scheme then tough, they are in the wrong consumer group. However, on reflection what is more ridiculous that CAMRA happily accommodates members who don't like real ale, but when those who do suggest that CAMRA recognises craft beers which are a lot more similar to cask beer than any cider they are cast as traitors.

Friday 12 April 2013

Cains Brewery in Last Chance Saloon

So Cains are pulling out of the supermarket canned beer market and are hoping to develop a 'Brewery Village' with a hotel, cinema, supermarket and apartments. The brewery tap will be extended to allow increased number of brewery tours and the brewery itself will be modernised and re-positioned as a 'craft brewery'.

I have to say that I'm not a big fan of Cains. As part of the CAMRA Members' Investment Club I saw a large sum of our money go down the drain when Cains went into administration not that long after offering a share issue. Surprise, surprise the owners purchased the company for a knock-down price and started up again. Nothing illegal, it happens all the time, but it cost me money. Also, their beers are pretty rubbish in my opinion. Bland throughout the range the Mild was the one beer of theirs that I liked so they promptly scrapped it. They were the obvious future beneficiary in Liverpool of the Locale campaign but took their eye off the ball and the likes of Liverpool Organic stepped in. You'd be hard pressed to find their beers in any of Liverpool's better real ale ale pubs.

Their real problem is the size of the brewery. It is a huge site and operates at a fraction of capacity. I doubt if it was fully utilised when its predecessor Higsons was at the height of its powers. I very much doubt that Cains will ever be successful in the cask or craft market.

Wednesday 27 March 2013

Holiday season

My first holiday of the year starts tomorrow. Where better for the beer lover than Belgium, where the appendage 'brewer' is highly respected by everyone and the alcohol police are yet to hold sway.

I'm staying with my family in Sunparks,in the quaint, slightly up-market resort of De Haan on the coast. Sunparks is a sort of League 2 version of Center Parcs. It's under the same ownership as Center Parcs and bizarrely was re-branded as such last year only to revert to its former name again this year. It isn't in the middle of nowhere  - the only partly true strap line is 'In the Middle of Everywhere' - but that's a plus point for me. A semi-detached house, tropical pool complex and excellent transport routes including a bus to Bruges and the the wonderful coastal tram which runs every 15 minutes from the French border in the east to the Dutch coast in the east.

'De Torre' in De Haan. A stylish Art Nouveau bar, typical of the architecture of the town, just 18 steps from the tram stop.

There's a couple of very good bars in De Haan, and plenty of others along the coast and my day out in Bruges will be especially beery. Op uw gezondheid!

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Minimum Pricing latest

So David Cameron climbs down on minimum pricing for alcohol. A battle may have been won but certainly not the war.

We know that the health lobby don't just want to tackle binge drinkers but won't be happy until all drinkers are cajoled into paying more and drinking less.

A newespaper advert from my local 'health provider' last week even inferred that reducing alcohol consumption can help people find a better job.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Global Burden of Disease Study 2010

Many of you will no doubt seen headlines today proclaiming Britain as one of the unhealthiest developed countries in the world with lower life expectancy than many of those countries. As you would expect, alcohol was identified as one of the problems.

I spent some time examining the report and discovered some interesting facts. There is no denying that liver disease has become more prevalent in the UK over the last 20 years and that certain sections of society do not treat alcohol with the respect that it demands. However, looking at the statistics the UK now ranks 11th of the 19 countries surveyed for deaths from cirrhosis of the liver. Despite Belgium's multitude of extra-strong beers their level of cirrhosis is lower than the UK. We have less deaths than France, Germany or USA. The level of deaths in the UK is statistically indistinguishable from the mean for all the countries.

While I don't deny that there is a problem with some people binge drinking in the UK, to say that the problem is unique to the UK is wide of the mark. That won't stop the health lobby making life difficult for the vast majority who drink responsibly

Thursday 28 February 2013

Watering the beer

Anhheuser-Busch InBev (such a catchy moniker) is being sued in the US for allegedly watering down it's Budweiser and Michelob beers. The lawsuits claim consumers have been cheated out of the alcohol content stated on labels.

I presume their defense is that they were trying to improve the taste.

Sunday 24 February 2013

More on Chester

It's worth noting that Sam Smith's 'Boot' is selling an excellent pint of Old Brewery Bitter for £1.80. The majority of beers in Brunning & Price outlets 'Old Harkers Arms' and the sumptious new 'Architect' are £3.60/pint. You pays your money..........

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Liverpool Craft Beer Expo

Anyone know anything about this?


Who's organising it and why would I risk my money on advance ticket sales?

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Liverpool Beer Festival 2013

I'm not the only one who's commented in the past on the method of selling tickets for the Liverpool Beer Festival. No pretence at attracting new blood, Liverpool & District CAMRA sell a limited amount of tickets by post, while the majority, including all Friday night tickets, sell out in an hour or so to those who queue up on a Saturday morning in December. Only those in the know and/or committed get tickets.

I forgot to apply on line this year and have better things to do with my life than queue up from the crack of dawn on a freezing cold winter's morning. So I was pleasantly surprised last week to see a supply of Thursday night tickets on sale in a Wirral pub. Is this some sort of unofficial, alternative market at work (tickets were on sale at face value) or the sign of a more enlightened attitude?

Sunday 10 February 2013

North/South Divide

I was in London yesterday. Lunchtime was spent in William IV, Leyton High Street. Standard strength cask beers were £2.45/pint and a bottle of The Kernel Double Scanns IPA 10.1% was a bargain at £3.50. The Euston Tap had a number of exclllent draught beers at £3.20/pint.

Later that evening and back in Chester the cheapest guest beer in Harkers Arms was £3.40. Checking the website of Manchester's Port Street Beer House, Double Scanns is out of stock but '#100' which is also 10.1%  and from The Kernel is listed at £6.50 per bottle.

Time to move down South?

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Still hope for pubs

Perceived wisdom is that street corner locals and estate pubs are lost causes. The 'experts' say that only pubs/bars in densely populated city centres and food-led pubs will survive.

In one of my earliest blogs I celebrated the fact that a run down pub surrounded by terraced houses in Birkenhead had re-opened as the Cock and Pullet. It introduced a range of cask beers and has thrived from day one. I was in there early on Saturday evening and marvelled at how busy it was. Even though the numbers were swelled by post-match Tranmere Rovers fans drowning their sorrows it was genuinely packed with a mix of young, old, male and female, from all social groups enjoying drinking in a pub just like thirty or forty years ago.

Although there was plenty of real ale downed from the five handpumps this isn't a 'pub for beards' as a certain blogger might say. There were lots of lager and alcopops drinkers too but the unifying factor was the atmosphere. It's an old fashioned noisy boozer where people go to have a good time. Many more pubs used to be like that.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Drink driving's ok for oldies

An article in this week's paper states that a local council in Ireland has approved that the drink driving limit be raised for older drinkers in rural areas on the grounds that they wouldn't be able to go for a drink otherwise presumably because of their reduced mobility.


 A councillor said that the country roads are deserted anyway so they wouldn't be much of a danger. The fact that a number of councillors who voted in favour are pub owners is surely not relevant.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

National Winter Ales Festival


I'm off to Manchester tomorrow after work. It's the last one before it moves to Derby in 2014 - I'm not sure why. I've enjoyed the festival since it moved to the Sheridan Suite even if I find the beer list a bit strange. There seems to be a lot of lesser known beers aimed at tickers and not enough cast iron classics which I like to mix with new beers. For instance, there are four Acorn beers but no Barnsley Bitter. Five from Hawkshead but no Bitter. Where is Thornbridge? I admite bias but where is Brimstage, the must have brewery for real ale pubs in Wirral, just 40 miles away? I'm just being perverse, I'll find plenty to drink. Of course, there's the odd reasonable pub in Manchester city centre. So I've booked two nights in Travelodge do do the festival justice. I might even visit Brewdog Manchester.

Monday 21 January 2013

Not always better at home

I enjoyed my day out in London on Saturday. Wary of the weather, I was up well before dawn to get the earliest possible train. Even with a 40 minute delay I stepped on to Euston concourse at 09:30 and after a quick bite to eat was in the Harp, Chandos Place soon after its opening time of 10:30.

A couple of quick pints from Harvey's and Sambrook were good if expensive to a northern lad at £3.60 and I was off to meet some London friends in Cask, Clerkenwell. I was very impressed with the beers from Redemption and was far from surprised to be told the next day that they have the same brewing consultant, Dave Smith, as my excellent local brewery Brimstage.

Much as I wished to linger the main point of the trip was to watch Tranmere Rovers at Brentford so a train from Vauxhall was required. There was just time for a pint of London Pride from a plastic glass in the Griffin before kick off. The lads 'done well' as they say and three points keep us top of the league. Seven minutes injury time were unwelcome but a supreme effort meant that I made it to Brentford for the 17:00 back to Vauxhall and from there straight on to a tube to Euston. It was now 17:40 and even though my ticket was valid for any train to Chester or Liverpool a quick scan of the delays and cancellations on the destination board made my mind up that I should head north on the first available train.

I just had time for quick pint in the Euston Tap. Marble Draft on the blackboard was a no-brainer for me and it was the right choice. In fact, it was in better condition than I've ever found in the Marble Arch. I don't know if it's because the beers on sale in the Marble are very young. That's a pure guess and I may be wide of the mark. Whatever the reason it contradicts the 'Landlord is better in Yorkshire' and 'Adnams is better in Suffolk' type of comments that we hear so often.

Sunday 13 January 2013

Bottle or can

An  American friend gave me a can of Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA recently. In the UK the perceived wisdom that all canned beer is rubbish. Until Brewdog came along no brewery with a reputation to uphold would dream of canning their beer.

USA brewers don't subscribe to this view. Across the pond beer is commonly drunk al fresco, often at sporting events where glass is banned. Americans are happy to pack the cooler with a few cans of their favourite craft beer.

I thought I'd pick up a bottle of Torpedo from my local Tesco and compare it with the canned version to check my prejudices. Visually, there was little between them with the bottled version showing the slightest of yeast hazes. The bottled version also had a slightly hoppy nose whereas the beer from the can was almost odourless. Tasting the two glasses there was little between them. The bottled beer had a little more flavour and a bit more mouth feel. Overall, I preferred the bottled beer but the canned version was quite pleasant and if I didn't know I probably wouldn't have guessed that I was drinking a canned beer.

Monday 7 January 2013

How good is Derby?

Until Saturday I'd only visited the two pubs in Derby closest to the railway station - Alexandra and Brunswick. I'd booked a cheap Travelodge room and was able to make a good effort at sampling some of the best pubs in the City. I was very impressed with the choice, quality and price of beers. £2.70/£2.80 was typical and many of the pubs gave a 20p per pint discount to CAMRA members.

The pubs were well grouped too. Apart from the two mentioned above I visited Wetherspoon's for any early start, then Olde Dolphin, Five Lamps, Flower Pot, Brewery Tap, Silk Mill and the Smithfield and didn't seem to spend much time on foot.

Five Lamps
There was a friendly greeting in all the pubs and choosing a favourite wasn't easy but I can see why the Five Lamps was voted Derby CAMRA POTY. A well chosen list of beers - obscure isn't necessarily best with beers from as Acorn, Buxton, Derby, Roosters and Whim for example. I don't really see why the CAMRA Winter Beers Festival is moving to Derby. They've enough good beer as it is.

Thursday 3 January 2013

Batemans Vintage Ale 2012

Batemans look to be apeing Fullers by brewing the first of a planned annual brew of a vintage ale. The box states 'A long matured, oak aged VINTAGE ALE with flavours of plums, port, malt, brandy, vanilla and almonds.'

It isn't bottle conditioned but certainly looks classy. Also stated on the box is 'Best After 2012' and 'Best before 2037' so the brewery must be confident that they've brewed a decent ale. It's on sale in Aldi at £3.29 which isn't bad at all at 7.5%

STOP PRESS: I've just noticed that the vertical red flash at the top of the box states 'STICTLY LIMITED RELEASE'. I hope their brewing is better than their spelling.