Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Open It Big Lad! Open it man!

Good evening,

  there I was Saturday night, preparing myself for a very important early kick off in the realm of association football the very next day, and I decided to unleash the wild exotic flavours of one of my old stored beers, maybe as an emboldening of will, or a pre-emptive soother of hurt feelings. As it turned out, this random unplanned decision seemed to accidentally tie in with an event on that Twitter.

Despite not being a Tweetoid, I noted from reading a couple of beer blogs (the first two both in dear old Sheff) that something was on the cards, or rather, that it had been and was now finished. Over the next few days I noticed that a lot of prominent bloggers had partook. The event?  #Open It!

Now, putting aside my pickiness about the hash key* (!*=x#!) I perceived that this event was recklessly encouraging the despoiling of a treasured collection of ales. My collection is nearing 20 years old now and is continuously added to. The above justification for opening my bottle reflects the daunting magnitude of the coming event, but I was a little uneasy about the idea that all of a sudden half of the world's aged beers would be lost in a drunken tweet induced haze.

That said, this is not the root cause of my lack or partaking, that lies expressly in my lack of Twitter registration. But it still serves as a rubbish excuse for my being out of the loop, and reporting on something almost a week late....

Anyhoo, to clarify, Open It saw lots of folks across Twitter opening their saved bottles of beer. For more details and a handy logo see the article at the excellent Barl Fire blog (Open it at Barl Fire ). Now I was clear what the idea was, I could rejoice in the random happenstance of my opening an aged beer at the very same time as bloggers and tweeters the world over were accessing their hoards of special occasion bottles. And now I had a beer to tell you about into the bargain. Happy days.

My first offering was Abbaye Des Rocs Speciale Noel, 9.0% from Belgium. I bought it at ARBS yonks ago, and it may be from 2007. Maybe 2008.

It pours dark chestnut brown, almost black, with a thick consistency. It smells like all good aged beer does, but there are a lot of complex alcohol hints in there, particularly brandy, and sherry. There is also marmalade, orange zest and malt. It says "sit down fat boy. You 'll need a rest".

The taste is almost overpowering but quickly becomes sensational with tangerine, sweet alcoholic bite and sherry tones. This initial burst peters out a little and balance comes from the strengthened malt overtones, and a complimentary yeasty taste, which seems to make the mouthfeel warmer and somehow, more alcoholic. As you continue drinking the alcohol is most detectable in the nose.... and the legs. The overall might of flavours is simultaneously enjoyable, but lets you know you have had a strong beer.

There is no head retention until you add the yeast - arguably the yeast perhaps ought to be added in the first instance.

Overall - 8.8 - a scintillating lesson in layered flavours and complimentary ageing of an ale, in the redoubtable Belgian style.

After that joyous experiment I decided to find out what others had experienced whilst joining in. Reading some of the beers that other bloggers have dispatched in the name of Open It, its clearly been a celebration of some of the best and alas, the worst, of beer bottling from around the world. This made me think that I should perhaps open a second of my collection..... So, next up is a beer that I bought from the Dram Shop, Commonside.

I bought 3 bottles of Old Bear brewery beer at the same time. I have had two (both Bruin mild, and WF had one; they have all been rank, undrinkable caskets of cack). So, I thought, I had nothing to lose. I knew Dave had opened his (bottle of this) and poured that away as well, so all I was doing in opening this beer was saving myself disappointment later on.

So the beer chosen was Old Bear Capstan F.S 12.5 %.

My concern was immediately roused by the Best Before date. Given that a 12.5% BCA beer should last about 4 to 20 years with the right yeast, September 2011 seemed a little cautious - granted I don't know when it was bottled, but I only bought it in 2009 or 2010. What could explain such reticence?

Well, all too quickly, my trepidation was justified.

Firstly, there was no carbonation. It poured, clear, and I was able to leave the yeast in the bottle, bar a few clumps of odd coloured detritus that sunk to the bottom of the glass. The smell, whilst I was (essentially) photographing the brew, was initially pleasing. A whole surge of aged alcohol and malt came to the fore but all too quickly was tinged with yeasty badness.

The colour however, was a revelation -  a vibrant chestnut brown, with dark amber notes, but with almost no head, except for a microfiine Disprin tidemark as you drank.

In reality Disprin would have been a delicious addition to this one dimensional morass of grim features.

The aroma has quickly shifted form friend to foe. The strong alcohol waft does not dissipate but too soon the yeasty sour fruits arrive and you are left wondering where the hints of balanced malt and bitter in the initial aroma have gone. All these jarring grimace inducing pongs assemble in the first taste. And worse is to come.

Once sips two and three pass your lips you're moustache deep in a trough of sharp yeast. Now the subtle hints of orange and remaining alcohol notes give way to a more prevalent off beer hum. Fruit flavours become soured and apart form a suggestion of peach preserved in alcohol, its yeast in the driving seat from now on.

Its neither as good as it looks or originally smelt. Its unsubtle and utterly one dimensional. As I offered the beer to Chala to get a fresh palate assessment, she refused even to taste it, but said the smell reminded her or sour cherry - I thought of rotting plums when you tip them in the compost bin. Adding the yeast in a desperate attempt to coax some balance from the tangy soup only serves to exacerbate the problem. Its simply an unpleasant beer, half of which I pour away...

So there you have it.

Storing beer for a special occasion (or social media experiment) is a joyous and disappointing experience, depending on which beers you try. Its been encouraging to see good reviews of beers I still have stored, as well as evidence that some beers don't age, or that the yeast is not up to scratch.

The major downsides are pertinent though.

Who says this is real ale?

Firstly, people usually buy strong bottled beer at a premium price, and many years before they intend to open it. Receipts are tricky in such cases, especially if you get them off a market stall or when on holiday.

Worst of all though, this dreadful offering proudly proclaims "CAMRA says this is real ale!". Once more, the folly of encouraging brewers to pour beer and yeast into a bottle  and allowing the label to pronounce that this is how beer should taste is writ large. This bizarre promotional claim is either misguided, arrogant or stupid. If I didn't drink real ale and tasted that beer, what conclusion would I draw? That real ale was a nice drink?

Of course not. Its the most damaging idea CAMRA have had since they pursued taking pubs out of the GBG that sold fake-pump Addlestones. And in the end, they get to share the shame of the brewer for producing a product not fit for sale.

Lets try a new scheme instead - "The brewer of this beer wants you to tell them what you think".

To avoid the prevarication and timely efforts of finding the brewers address and wording your letter to suit, just bang some brief comments on a specially set up website or postal address, for all brewers foisting BCA's on us to see, and let them read (or hear) just how crap their offerings so often are - and then publish the results each month. Soon put off the hobby bottlers and novelty short run brewers.....


Wee Beefy.

*(surely any title starting with a hash symbol or octothorpe means its a measurement of something - in America it can relate to the cost, I see it as a number in a series, but the twitosphere intend it to mean a keyword or phrase about something. In my day (etc).....) 

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Forum Bars Broadfield Ale House - Reprise

Good afternoon all,

    over the last couple of months I have been to the recently reopened Broadfield on Abbeydale Road a few times. Its been a mixed bag of experiences, mostly good but plenty of irritating niggles to contend with that have refused to go away. Earlier last week me and Chala ended up popping in and to my delight many of the annoying failings had been ironed out.

No Broadside for Broady...

Literally,since I doubt the Adnams beer of the same name would feature on the bar, with its emphasis on local brews and breweries production. But a reflection of the fact that I am taking this opportunity to praise the Broady, not pick holes.

First things first, when we came in, there was a board, albeit small, proclaiming real ales that were on. At least, I think it did. Its ironic that I moaned that they hadn't done this, only to find that when they do, its too small for me to read. However sharp eyed folks can, and in case of eyesight problems you could always ask a member of staff to tell you which beers were on sale on the 125 yards of bar that is the hub at the middle of the pub.

In addition to the usual suspects, i.e Bradfield and Kelham and Acorn, there was the excellent Pure Gold, an easy drinking session beer from Partners Brewery in Dewsbury ( see Partners tell you what they brew . Canny readers will recognise some of the beer names from Anglo Dutch brewery. I knew this already but it puts me in an awkward camp here - I liked the Partners porter a lot along with another beer of theirs I had at Cropton beer festival, and I liked this one as well. However, I was expecting more hops. One of my complaints about Anglo Dutch beers was that they were vety samey and lacking any definitive character, apart from the stronger ones. They particularly lacked sharp citrus hop flavours and it made their beer a bit muddy to my mind. I will still try their beers though, and am especially looking forward to trying their porter again.

Anyhoo, I digress, I had the partners beer and Chala had a very large glass containing a very average measure of wine. I am going to suggest this is a letting the drink breathe plan on this one. We've never been blown away by the wine choice here but this Pinot Grigio was remarkably good. Meanwhile, 1 pint turned into 3, and similarly Chala kept up with her wine. We enjoyed these in spacious luxury in one of the booths to the far right hand side.

Crisps were purchased, and we even ventured to try one of their range of gins. This is a weird decision, since, erm, neither of us like gin; but it sounded so damned interesting. Luckily we had the cheerful patience of the lass with the tattoo that served us the first time we both visited so ended up with an interesting if not particularly moreish drink. Since we didn't expect to like it I think that says a lot. By this time crisps seemed a poor choice, so we caved in and got a table to eat at.

Admittedly, there is still the rigmarole of finding one that isn't reserved, but we found one in the far left corner that suited us perfectly. We ordered a bottle of the wine and I a half of the Wentworth Oatmeal Stout. This was in impeccable condition, so I had another half whilst we awaited our food.

Heres where the Broady ramps up brownie points. My £6.95 steak and ale pie with mash peas and gravy was a sensible size and really really tasty. Chala splashed out £8.50 or so on the Ham hock which came with veg and mash and more delicious gravy. And it was absolutely Hyowg. Probably enough for two in terms of the hock, and cooked for about a day it seemed, so tender and succulent as it was. We both finished our meals full to bursting, having had some excellent food and delicious beer and wine along the way. (I eventually ended up with two pints of the fantastic Stout, I couldn't resist)

However, the real winner here is the fact that they have now caught up with the York and particularly the Old House by having a drinks menu, always helpful, and which sparked our gin interest, and a comprehensive whiskey list, which with such a huge range, is arguably essential. Finding these improvements early on put us in a good mood, , as well as finding that the cask ale board idea had been taken on. These three elements were the final cogs which made the whole experience now run smoothly instead of being a jolting stuttering mixture of highs and lows.

One final point, on the right hand bar next to the Partners was the True North First Born beer. Its a shame I didn't opt to try it - what with one of yesterdays posts, it would have been the icing on the cake if I could have sampled it myself as well.

Overall a good showing, which warrants a return.

Wee Beefy

Cause for concern

Good morning,

   I had decided to go through the engaging Classic Basic Unspoilt Pubs of Great Britain (2004) list to make sure by way of Internet searches that (given no English Heritage/CAMRA pub group updates have surfaced in February), all is ticketyboo in the world of unspoilt pub gems. Yet, a fleeting search on my first pub reveals bad things.

Now its useful to issue a caveat here. I am not technically minded enough to work out when the following website entry was created. According to clicking properties its today, but that could be an Internet or computer "in joke" that refuses to list the time the content was originally uploaded.

Either way, if said link is to be believed, bad things are on the horizon for the National Inventory Part 1 listed New Inn at Hadlow Down, Sussex.

Now, its awkward for me, because its chuffing miles away so am unlikely to be down there any time soon to seek clarification to this story. But if you put that inconvenient truth aside for a while, I can plough on regardless with the following scare mongering.

According to an architect, there are plans afoot to completely ruin the New Inn. See crap idea to homogenise otherwise outstanding pub , for a balanced and unbiased opinion on the proposals for this earmarked for destruction pub. Basically, it seems someone (no clients listed, but I assume that's industry standard) wants the pub to be a thriving accommodation and dining venue. Which is fine. Ironically, the pub was a hotel not that long ago, and there is always money to be made in food. although as Tim Martin of Wetherspoons points out, you are taxed on food as well as beer...

Anyhoo, the architect suggests the pub should be turned into a rented rooms atopped restaurant with an unchanged public bar. Now I have been in said bar, *and its fairly unique. Even if it was retained, I can't see it being a good idea to then context-fuck the rest of the building with imported Mediterranean shrubs, glass and wood, and "contemporary" features that leech authenticity from the location as a single, historical edifice. Hence my catchy subtitle for the link. If you are interested to see what the pub looks like at sort of now, here is a much more enjoyable link, to its listing on the National Inventory : New Inn, Hadlow Down exterior and interior .

Not that the tinterweb hosted plans have much detail, but we've all seen the same listless, unremarkable, modern by numbers drivel played out across the UK's pub stock, so why would we think the plans here are any different? Like I say, this plan may already have been dismissed, but if the threat exists that they haven't been, then its imperative to say that this is a truly gross idea.

I am acutely aware that when I visited in  2008 the pub was quite down at heel, presumably struggling, but even though there is optimism for the architectural features preservation (such as the curved bar ceiling), I am failing to see any positive indicators from this plan, and instead perceive that this is a precursor to the pub being turned into another foodie place with an unavoidable  embarrassing nod to its past attached, much like the dreadful Hatch at Colemans Hatch not too far away. Mind you, unfriendly restaurant or not, the Hatch does at least still look like a chocolate box country pub. As a forewarning of what awaits, if the plans for the New Inn are followed, the assessment of both pubs by comparison would be this. One pub will lose its reason for existence and outward and much of its inward appearance, whilst the other retains its outward charm, but has already lost its soul. So nobody wins.

So does anyone know what the plans are for the New Inn?

If this is the actual intended demise (sorry, money soiled renaissance) of the pub, could you let me know?

many thanks

Wee Beefy.

*see Wee Beefy's Kentish Casks in the drop down list of posts on the left. Its the first one I posted....

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Beefy win-wins

Hello again

    as an update to my earlier post alluding to the speed of info on the world wide Tinterweb versus the ink that lands on paper, I noted the following.

On reading WF's copy of What's Brewing for February 2012, I noted, to my amusement, the following blob of gen. On page 6, under the title More for "capital" (assumedly a sly dig at sheffield's beer Mecca status?) it said that the Forum cafe bar chain is due to launch a "North Star" branded beer called First born, contract brewed by Brew Company.

Now, I don't want to end up hoist by my own petard, but I think ye'll find that the cuckoo brewery name is True North. I accept that the "theme" may be the North Star, but even so its a bit "guessy".

Anyhoo, the reason for my smug celebration was that, even considering that the February issue may have been printed at the very beginning of February, my post "Forum bars real ale"  (see I notice a beer is brewed, and everything.... not only correctly identifies the beer using the pump clip, but crucially....

was posted on December 27th 2011!

So, er, I win.

It also generates more stats than any other mumbling (post). And its correct. Its that childish, honestly.

Wee Beefy

What's Brewed

    earlier in the week WF gave me a copy of his latest What's Brewing to read. I had a flick through, and was surprised to find that, erm, I kind of knew all the news already.

Old News?

This was a bit of a shock. Granted I am spending more and more time reading about beer on the Internet, but it was surprising to what extent the online world had covered these stories already. When I read Beer Matters there are always snippets of pub info or brewery news that I haven't picked up on, or clarifications about rumours doing the rounds in the pubs.

Yet Beer Matters is really the local What's Brewing. All local CAMRA mags carry a few stories borrowed from CAMRA HQ or campaigns teams, but then fill the rest of their copy with relevant local details. That the editor is prevalent on Sheffield Forum may or may not be relevant here, (I could likely create a whole new blog called "Beer Rumour Mill" based on stuff read on there) but WB (that's What's Brewing, not mi sen) seems to be a slightly redundant read in the Internet age.

The Smoking Gun (and other stories)

So does this mean the Internet has killed What's Brewing? Or have the restrictions of publishing and the printed medium simply made the internet and its hosted content the only viable means of communicating up to date knowledge and information?

Well, I can see straight away this may form part of an endless debate on the merits of paper versus webpage but in order to clarify, I am interested purely in the web's role in writing about beer.

Firstly, lets not forget, not everybody is on the Internet. Not everyone can get on the Internet. Not everyone would entertain the idea of getting on the Internet (ironically, one person I have in mind is Wee Fatha, who of course bequeathed the copy of WB that started this idea going). So before we even look for an answer to the above, I'm not suggesting CAMRA or any other organisation stop printing altogether. Lest we forget, the interneet is a mere bairn in comparison to the printed word, a suckling one at that. And its a long way from perfection.

Secondly, lets also remember, the printed word, or getting your own words printed, is arguably much more out of reach than the Internet. Setting up a blog takes 30 minutes. Getting published is a gruelling task.

I have tried to get printed a few times. Not very successfully. In fact, that's kind of dressing it up a bit. In my first foray I contributed some spoof articles to a comic (described rather incongruously as a fanzine) called The Pulp, in Sheffield, in the early 90's. For a start, I never got the stuff back (am over it now though, those 17 years have more or less slipped by) and only two issues were ever printed. It was a dispiritingly costly, complicated and difficult exercise, so bereft of guaranteed readership that it wasn't worth the effort.

A few years passed and I wrote up a couple of beer walks with poorly hand drawn maps that Del at the Hillsborough Hotel used to put out in his local info box for drinkers and hotel guests to use (thanks Del, by the way). Given that I never heard of any pub rambling deaths attributed to a poorly drawn route map I have to assume that even if not enjoyed, these didn't lead directly to a  loss of life.

Later on I succeeded in getting articles printed in Beer Matters. So I did get my words printed on paper and seen by real people (its weird and perhaps a little sad, but I once sat in the Fat Cat watching and listening to a couple reading one of my articles. It was simultaneously enjoyable, and interesting, and, erm, a bit unsettling - God knows what would have happened had they not liked the article!)

However, the story takes a crucial twist here. I fell out with Beer Matters because they printed parts 1 - 3 of a 5 part article I wrote about my trip to Kent,* but then the article simply stopped appearing, mid story. So annoyed was I by this snub (and the damage done to the story by what at first seemed like a 2 issue break), and then the fob offs I got about when it was to be re-published in full or even the remaining parts, I decided to set up this very blog. So this tome you read is a fruit borne of anger and disillusionment with the printed word, and the embodiment of a determination to show an editor that I could strike out on my own.

The funny thing is though, whilst the blog has afforded me great freedom and provided valuable focus of late,  frankly, I would give my right arm to see my work printed on good old fashioned fine smelling paper. A Wee Beefy book? Come on! That would be like a dream come true.

So arguably, it isn't the case that one of the Internet or the printed word kills the other, but actually that they are both equally essential, often to each other, but in their own different way. 

I am not going to get rid of any of my books even if E-books come to contain every copy ever printed - I will still have my old tattered copies of the GBG, and my copy of "The Death of the British Pub" by Christopher Hutt. Also, Beer Matters still gets almost all its articles by email, and PR info is sent by email, which then ends up forming the basis of printed material, so there is still a working relationship between the two mediums.

And if I was writing a book about beer or pubs, I would need the Internet, if nothing else to aid planning of trips to places I may wish to write about. For example, on my first list of Britain's National Inventory pubs, the Cider House entry simply said " Cider House (Monkey House) Defford. I tried directory enquiries, as you would, and they had no number. The wanted something as absurd as an address for a start. I even went through Defford in the car with Wee Keefy and still contrived to miss my destination even with a description provided by the pub 400 yards up the road. Now you can look on the inventory website and I'd be amazed if you didn't find it (always assuming you heeded the opening times!).

And finally, the Internet continues to be a forum for inspiration provided by books. Tandleman and Boak and Bailey and Curmudgeon all recently posted about or commented on a book called "The Traditional English Pub" by Ben Davis, from 1981. (see Tandleman and the book about pub design ). A fine example of the printed word being brought into the dizzying theatre of the worldwide web to everyone's benefit.

Now I'll just re-read that WB article about online updates......

Wee Beefy

* Wee Beefy's Kentish Casks was my first ever post. Awwww. It's on the list down the side.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Wee Tweety?

Good evening,

    sitting here ruing a lack of necessary funds to go out on a Friday night, I found myself doing a bit of unrewarding pub research, and looking at a few beer blogs. After a comment I made on a post about Public Relations, bloggers and blog types, (see P.R, and the lesser spotted blogger by Boak and Bailey ) they asked me if I was on Twitter.

As if to validate my claim that I am always last man to arrive in discussions, I contrived to miss this question, since I don't always remember to check up to see if anything I write generates a response. So how I am unsure of how best to give my answer.

Granted, I could reply to their comment, but in the uber fast world of beer blogging, that post is nearly 3 days old man! Its so last Wednesday! And since I fail to monitor my comments based on them being somewhat thin on the ground, I have to assume that they follow the same approach (but for radically opposite reasons)

Despite this I mulled over the phrasing of a response, and , having considered my never to be given answer I realised that there was a certain contradiction at work. My reason for not going on Twitter is a refusal to have to communicate in precisely the type of short, punchy style that makes B+B a good read*.

For the record my Twitter-unsuited answer would be:

" No, sorry, I am not on Twitter, because I would be sent daft trying to get my comments within the character limit. Besides, I enjoy the freedom to indulge in the type of reckless outpourings of slightly supercilious over-detailed reportage that my blog affords me. And whilst I crave interaction, I can't bear to suggest a theory or even pose a question without first dissecting it and then repeating it smothered in a cloying blanket of caveats, justifications and example similarities, which, is a self defeating strategy, as it then makes it much harder for people to comment on said idea"

Now compare the above outlook with a quote I read on a website that made me think I ought to have a look at B+B's blog (alas I can't recall the name of the site I read it on or the exact wording, so have recolluggested the content for your convenience) :

(unq) Boak and Bailey don't say very much but you can't help wanting to read them (unq)

So, I refuse to sign up to Twitter, yet a few lessons in editing or carefully selecting the most concise yet interesting ways of communicating ideas might make my blog more accessible. How we are mocked by the extent to which we understand ourselves, readers.

Wee Beefy

Example caveat 1 :
*(am not comparing their output to some of the text speak and dumbglish shorthand that I understand Twitter is famed for, rather the knack you would have to have to get across what you were saying well, but in the shortest possible way)

More Wee Beefy's unspoilt pubs.


Lost, even on the Internet

  firstly, can I make mention of the fact that I am aware that changing my blog name to be just a beer and pub blog from "Unspoilt British pubs and Cretan kafenions" has ironically ended up generating many more articles about unspoilt pubs. Granted, kafenion coverage is intermittent, but its still a typical scenario whereby you ditch something only for it to return to bite yer on the bum.

Anyway, I had been once again to the Classic Basic Unspoilt pubs of Great Britain list, and was struck by one entry, the Fir Tree at Cornsay Colliery, Co Durham. Not only is it incongruous in the list as it seems to be in an industrial area (almost every other listing is in a small rural location) but its not a million miles from the Dun Cow at Old White Lea. Also, it was similarly noticeable that almost nowt seemed to be findable on the tinterweb about this pub. Even if it closed in 1994 ( after the latest (ish) copy) its surprising that no-one has chosen to remember it.

I have managed to find a few vague references - a man in Oxfordshire references the pubs list, even if not the specific pub, and a local walker to the Cornsay area recounts some details at A rare reference to the Fir Tree (paragraph 7),  and local parish records reference the owners in days gone by as being (Fir Tree P.H.) Archbld. Dundonald Tomlinson. Yet, thus far, that's it!

I make reference to this only because, whilst am sure the tinterweb existed, albeit in a foetal form in the early 90's, am guessing that the author RWC didn't or could find no point in using it. So it would appear that he fulfilled his search and compiled his list on hearsay alone. If so, what an inspiration that he could have made such comprehensive investigations on this basis, even though of course, the GBG would have listed some of them. I find it a struggle to unearth unspoilt pubs now using the might of info on the WWW, but even though the passage of time will have put paid to many, its highly probable that in addition to some canny research, much of what the list author knew came from asking people.

Perhaps some choice personal hearsay could unwrap some facts about some of the pubs on my list earlier this week. I would be eternally grateful for any info on open or closed "gems" if anyone has any.

In the meantime, given that I have no image of the Fir Tree since I found out about it only 3 years ago when it was, as tinterweb confirms now, likely a farm,  here is a pic of the erstwhile classic that is (was) the Dun Cow at Billy Row, Co. Durham,visited by me, WF and Mr P some months after it shut...

(I recall that another sign, perhaps on the side, proclaimed the "famous Dun Cow Inn". It was a target of mine on 3 trips North but I was scuppered twice by time constraints and unreasonable mileages, and lastly, by it closing down. An account of a visit to the pub was posted by one of the Southern CAMRA branches around 2007 but I can't find it anymore -  since then its a patchwork of forlorn memories, not least for me, given my wretched record of visits.

Wee Beefy

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Wee Beefy's pub bites. Again.

Good evening,

   heres just a few crumbs of info on some Sheffield pubs.

Unchanged Cranes

Rumours of uncorroborated difference and unsettling unusualness in the 3 Cranes appear greatly over exaggerated. By myself. In on Tuesday evening with Waaarf, I noted Moonshine, Camerons Strongarm and Doom Bar were on out of the regulars, so I went for Moonshine. However, Luke confirmed that there was a Blue Bee Tangled Up IPA on the way, and a dark and a light Welbeck Abbey brewery beer to come. If I get chance to get in Friday or Saturday I hope I'll have chance to sample one of them. As an aside, in case not previously reported, there is a card machine at the Cranes, albeit with a £5.00 limit, but as more and more pubs are catching on to its convenience, that can only be a good thing. I was able to go straight in from work without detouring to a cash machine, and thus not wasting valuable beer time.

The Lescar, Sharrowvale.

Not been in the Lescar Hotel for a while, not since a leaving do in August. I can't really escape form the fact that i have had a mixed bag of experiences in there, with some fascinating approaches to keeping and serving beer, but also some notably excellent pints, like a pint of White Shield on my first visit, and a bevvy of stunners last night (Chala, Jacqui and Mandy, you can all share this accolade with the beers....).

First up was a pint of Box Steam Tunnel Vision, a refreshing, delicate but not weakly flavoured 4.2% session beer which lasted an expensive dearth of time. Next up I had a pint of Mike Halls (Dark Angel Brewery/Cropton) Cherry Porter, which was powerful in the roast malt and creamy in the finish, and had just enough cherry to be honest, but not enough to make me cringe. Brilliant.

I also tried the Wold Top Grain of Truth, which was a typical Wold Top offering (and I mean that in a good way), but alas it was quite "advanced" in proceedings by the time I did, so my recollections amount to it being a nice beer! Even so, that's an excellent range (also York Terrier and I think Moonshine); not least because I only got to try the Box Steam brewery's offerings for the first time in September at the excellent North Star in Steventon Oxfordshire, so I consider it a rare visitor to these parts.

We were sat at the right of the bar near the doorway to the back room and there is a very large blackboard on the wall advertising current and upcoming beers. On this visit every one was served in tip top condition, and the breadth of choice seen and promised persuades me I'll be back again soon.


I have written their name different to normal because of some Thornbridge promo material I spotted printing the name as above. I don't care which way it is personally, but I wouldn't want to be getting it wrong. That would be too much to bare...

Not that there is any such clarity on the outside of the pub mind. Anyarr, beers wise it was as you were the other day in terms og "guests" ( I consider left hand pumps 3 and 4 thus), but on the regular pulls Wild Swan replaced Sequoia and Lord Marples the Black Harry. I obviously had the rather more scintillating delights of Pollards coffee milk stout, a kind of disorientating beer manna that makes me smile and cancel plans, and another half of their oddly enjoyable pecan and oyster pale ale Puja. This time the perfumed notes were lost a little, but its still an interesting beer. The fact that I insist on taking the piss out of the concept of the ingredients and then insist on buying it should perhaps demonstrate that I am trying to pretend I don't like it...

Jamie informs me that some of them thar Magic Rock beers will be on the bar soon including Cannonball, on cask. Am looking forward to trying that since it was only available in key keg on the brewery launch night. Worth a pop in if only to get the Pollards which I predict the Magic Rock will dislodge.


Wee Beefy

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Wee Beefy's unexpectedly open pubs, sadly closed pubs....

Good morning,

  I wrote a piece yesterday about classic basic unspoilt pubs. I waxed lyrical about some of the many gems that are still around just waiting to be visited by the likes of you readers. I also lamented the death of some of the unspoilt treasures that I had hoped to visit, but never got to. One such pub was the Buck and Bell in Long Itchington Warwickshire. It appeared (or rather I first noticed it) on the National Inventory when I first got interested in the magical list about 1995, which was about when it started appearing in the GBG. I had already drawn up a shortlist of dreamt of visits but I was intrigued that the entry that i saw only ever, prior to it disappearing, said "currently closed".

All Well in the Bell

I was somewhat intrigued by this concept - when was a pub still a pub, and at what stage does all hope become abandoned, the entry struck off and the pub regarded as not being so for evermore?

Well, I don't know what the answer is but I noted today that an ex pub can become a pub again. I was looking at my stats (yes, that's right. My hits. Its tremendously shallow of me, I concede). I noted that the very last "hit" was for yesterdays post, and was referred from Google based on a search for the Buck and Bell Long Itchington. My interest was sparked straightaway. It was over a decade since I last heard the pub mentioned and I wondered if maybe there were other references to it, maybe an old photo or some stories of its glory days. Imagine my surprise then, when I found it had a website, and was now very much open again!

Firstly may I extend my deepest apologies to the lovely folks running this pub. I didn't mean to tell, erm, a handful of people you were shut. It looks from a few photo's that it may have slightly changed since the eighties or nineties, but this is an assumption based on having never got to the original. It seems also to sell real ales and food. I think that this is a massive improvement on it being closed and forgotten. If it ever was?

Interestingly, the website mentioned that the owners were thankful for CAMRA for their help in keeping the license going during the pubs long period of closure. This made me wonder then when you decide that a pub has finally closed? Especially one so important as to take its place on the national inventory? The note above suggests that someone saw something worth saving in the pub. Not having been, I can't of course say to what extent anything has or hasn't been saved, but the name and the building is  a bonus in itself.

The website address is The decidedly open Buck and Bell Long Itchington . You may wish to have a browse and see what the pub is about. Looking through the about us section is info that suggests the pub would have been long closed by the time I first saw it on the National Inventory. Which makes me even more intrigued to find out what it would have looked like back then.

Below is a pic of an entirely different pub, as am short on stock National Inventory pub photo's.....

In my "N.I" lifetime I have seen pubs close and disappear from their hallowed place on the inventory (indeed, I think one of the best investments the Inventory website owners could make would be an archive of former pubs now closed). I can't think of many pubs that have survived on the inventory long after closure if not at the centre of a spirited public and CAMRA campaign to block their conversing to other uses. One thinks of the sad almost inevitable now, demise of the Eagle at Skerne, East Yorkshire, and the long running fight for the Crook Inn at Tweedsmuir in the Borders. The Dun Cow in Co Durham struggled on awaiting confirmation it was closed, but it's only the Buck that has appeared so many times whilst no longer a pub. So what has been missed?

Request for Info please!

Well, at this point, even though I celebrate and search out open unspoilt pubs as a hobby I wanted to extend a request to you readers.

I am going to list some classic pubs, not all of which made it onto the Inventory. These are hostelries that I know or am fairly sure have closed, and whether by visit or reputation I believe would have warranted inclusion on the inventory, and certainly a visit.

After reading this roll call, I would like to ask you to suggest anymore now closed (or better still now reopened) pubs that fit the above criteria, or at least, in your own opinion, definitely fit the criteria of being basic and unspoilt. Alternatively, if you know that any of the below listed are now open again, I'd be really interested to find out.

In no particular order, please see a written mausoleum of the best British pubs now lost :

Hop Pole, Risbury, Herefordshire
Dun Cow, Old White Lea, Billy Row, Co Durham
Plume of Feathers, Whitchurch, Shropshire
Eagle, Skerne, East Yorkshire
Palace Hotel, Bristol
Tibbie Sheils Inn, Borders
Robin Hood, Little Matlock Sheffield
Fox, Bix, Oxfordshire
Setter Dog, Walker Barn, Macclesfield
Plough, Elmley Castle Worcestershire (long gone, see 1975 cider house photographs
Cupids Hill Inn Grosmont, Gwent
Seven Stars, Halfway House, Shropshire
Welcome Stranger, Herstmonceux, Sussex
Paul Pry, Worcester
Berkeley Hunt, Purton, Gloucestershire (not to be confused with the still open Berkeley Arms in Purton....)
New Inn, Springthorpe Lincolnshire
Holly Bush, Greenhaugh, Northumberland
A pub that opened only occasionally, usually at village occasions, in Yeavley, or Wyaston or Edlaston or nearby environs. A while ago. That's all I have...
Any more?

As an amusing aside, returning to the subject of the Buck and Bell, for many years after I read about that pub on the Inventory (in so far as that was possible given that all it said was that it was closed, in pre website days) I noted the GBG recommended a pub called the Harvester in the same village. To give you an idea of the fanaticism of the unspoilt pub hunter, I have to confess that I hated the Harvester, unquestioningly, with a passion, for no other reasn than I blamed it entirely for the closure of the Buck and Bell. 

Am off now to contact the owners of both Long Itchington pubs to explain my error....

Wee Beefy

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Legendary houses that sparked my interest in unspoilt pubs

Good evening browsers,

  I was going to post a comment on the Boak and Bailey blog (see: Boak and Bailey answer a query about traditional pubs.) but, as is usually the case, I only really go on tinterweb in the late evening, likely at gone 22.00, by which time the beer blogging community has got in there and made most of the worthwhile salient points, and the blog authors, have, gawd blezzum, most likely gone to bed. Or the pub. Usually, if you find a comment of mine on a blog post, its number last. People have already moved on by the time I've dragged my sorry arse on to the topic....

So, this time, I thought, No! I'm not going to be Billy no follow ups.

Instead, I'm going to tell you something that I was inspired to think about by reading the comments in the above post, which has formed the cornerstone of my endless search for amazing pubs over the past 20 years.

End of Memory Lane

When I was 18, maybe 19, WF took me on a day out, or rather a hastily arranged afternoon and evening out, to that Manchester. We were to have a walk in Daisy Nook country park, and hopefully climb the tower at the very top. There was snow on the ground and it was cheerlessly cold as we set out from a dark car park which was crying out to be locked on our return, or the scene of a car theft. Great.

We yomped through the park in fading light roughly following the river for some part, but we had taken a little longer to arrive than anticipated and it soon became clear we wouldn't reach our destination. Besides which said edifice wasn't lit so it seemed unlikely we would get access to the tower at all. We returned to an intact car and drove towards the top of the hill. Wee Fatha mentioned a pub he hadn't been to in decades which was really unspoilt and well worth a visit. Even at my tender late teensage,  I had got used to this phraseology. Usually we arrived at a private house. Or a car park. But ever so rarely, very occasionally, we would hit pay dirt. And we did then.

Colliers Arms

The Colliers Arms at Mossley was a legend. Certainly to anyone who knew it - certainly to my Dad who took me there about 20 years after his last visit, and absolutely, to me. I was bowled over by this time warp, this enchanting oddity, this echo of the past. This treasure.

Basically, we turned down a mostly surfaced lane which became a track and then a path. Before the road stopped, on the right, was a cottage, with a low light outside, and a dark almost unreadable sign across it. There were 3 vehicles parked at the lane end with their lights on. People were having a pint in these vehicles. As we parked up amidst a sea of potholes and track lakes, someone got out of one of the cars and said "evenin" as he headed to what looked like an outhouse. He wasn't of course. He was off t't loo.

We entered through a door with another sea like puddle in front of it and I thought we had gone into an adjacent house. A bell sounded, I think, and we saw a corridor to our right. WF reckoned there was a room down the end, but couldn't remember the location of the bar. As we pondered in the dim light the landlord came out of a door on our right.

Apart from saying hello, I kept quiet because I was a bit slow taking this all in. WF on the other hand didn't even blink an eye when the landlord opened up a stable door to his kitchen (you know, whats it called, a two piece door? You get the picture) and proceeded to inform us that Toby light was the beer of choice. There was a font or possibly a handpull (it seems unlikely you could have got cask light, but there you go) on the kitchen side, which me and WF both got a pint from, and being a yoouv, I had to get crisps as well. These were kept in his kitchen cupboard.

Once we were served, and having established that he'd been forced to stop using the room down the corridor because it was too cold, we  were led into the living room. He cleared some personal mail and some newspapers off a large table and we sat down with him to watch TV. As you do. So as not to make the experience too incongruous WF set off on his trademark detailed breakdown of our route so far, and to come, and tried, with encouragement but resigned lack of confirmation form the landlord, to recall exactly when he had last been in.

Meanwhile I recall it was something like That's Life that was on, but that's impossible to be sure of, and I  didn't really know what I should be doing in this alien environment. So I thumbed through the Radio Times. Meanwhile, The beer was grim and the crisps had more salt than a Utah lake but I didn't care. I knew I was going to have to remember every last detail of this visit. And I think I managed it.

After we left, one of the blokes from the car came in for a sit down, and there were still two left outside supping a pint at the wheel. Its probably a heinous crime, but thinking logically, they were parked up on the pub premises. Really they were in the beer garden. No-one was driving with a pint in one hand. So I guess that was OK... Later we went to the Vale Cottage in Gorton and a rough as you like Holt's pub where we were roundly mocked for having a half. I just wanted to buy a half for under 50p. But to be fair I'd had my highlight already.

Grand old Duke of York

From this point on, I wanted to visit pubs that the very occasion of going in was like a magical story, a yarn in the making. In fact, originally, I even named this blog after my interest in just that type of pub experience, and just that type pf pub.

To tenuously draw you back to the Boak and Bailey link, I should explain that at no point was I going to mention a closed pub ( we went back to the pike about 3 years ago and the pub had been closed a while then) in response to their hosted questions bout homely, traditional hostelries in the UK. I was however reminded of a list of Britain's unspoilt pubs that I had. Now you may think this is another subtle hint about the National Inventory (see my Friends and Links page), but its not.

Although, that and various descriptions in copies of the GBG have been my planning apparatus, it was on my first visit to the brilliant Duke of York at Elton in 1999, (above) some 6 years later, that I was handed a pamphlet by a one time visitor that listed his choice of the finest basic unspoilt pubs in Britain. The thing is, I still have that list but its in a box of paperwork somewhere I guarantee.

So imagine my delight about 3 years ago at finding that someone had hosted the most recent list (updated in 1994) on the internet. I can see from the web version that I had a more up to date version, probably reflecting the author's continuing research, and the fact that some of the pubs on the link below had shut, such as the incredible Hop Pole at Risbury, and the Maenllwyd, at Meidrim in Carmarthenshire. (its not been a pub for a long while, but here is a pic I found on Geograph, submitted, if not taken, in 2007 : Geograph picture of the Maenllwyd Inn, Meidrim.  He had also, by that stage, added the Duke of York, and the fabulous Turf Tavern in Bloxwich. Just to throw you off the scent, below is a picture of a pub that isn't on the National or this inventory...

Anyhoo, here is the link of the Internet copy: Classic basic unspoilt pubs of Great Britain 1994 . Given that the authors own introduction suggests that he only started his research in 1993, its perhaps not surprising that some truly brilliant hostelries are missing from the list, although he does claim that he only includes those selling real ale, which regrettably bars some of the more basic entries, and he doesn't appear to have ventured into Scotland, for instance to the Fiddichside Inn at Craigellachie.

Gems to find

Either way though, this is a truly fabulous list, and in some ways, because its not purely architectural as the National Inventory is, its a more vibrant and interesting list, and its very personal attributes are what make it such a treasure.  I'd love to think that if RWC was still trawling the UK for examples of basic pubs he or she'd have come across the Butchers Arms at Reapsmoor, Staffordshire, Milbank Arms at Barningham in Co Durham or the redoubtable Cider House in Defford, Worcestershire or the 3 day (maybe only 2 ) a week opening Royal Cottage at a remote crossroads on the Staffordshire Moorlands, (although I concede, he or she would have had to relax their no real ale rule in all but the Butchers!)

Its a sad tale that so many of the pubs on that list and later and which could have been inlcuded have now closed. I note that the Maenllwyd, which I never had chance to visit, was a listed building from April 2002. It seems very surprising then that it was allowed to be converted into  a house. Since that list was compiled,  The Red ion, Stoke Talmage, the Horse and Trumpet, Medbournbe, the Buck and Bell Long Itchington, the Slip Inn Inn, Barras, and the Queen Adelaide Snelston Common, even the Lodge or Bill and Ben's above Stretton in Derbyshire, have all closed. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

So if nothing else, whether you recognise any of the places on the list, or which I have described, or even if you don't, I can't recommend a better use of your time than to do a modicum of research on the tinterweb, and go out and visit an unspoilt pub today.

Happy hunting!

Wee Beefy

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Shakespeares Sheffield 3rd real ale & cider festival


  last night I dragged my sorry self down to Gibraltar street to sample some of the delights on offer at the Shakespeares beer festival. 

Ironically I had contrived to forget that it was on at all. Me and my friend Middlemarch were out to find somewhere for a sit down and a catch up - but on arriving about 18.30 it looked like we might be standing in a crowd for the evening. Luckily, we spotted a table in the left hand room (we'd already been offered the chance to sit upstairs in the Bards bar where the stillage was) and grabbed ourselves a programme and a drink.

Middlemarch is firmly a fruit beer and cider lass so it was Timmermans for her and for me a tasty pint of Blue Bee Two Bee or not Two Bee. It was light bodied, and served almost like it was lively but had been drawn from gravity. That siad it was very fresh and there was a very pleasing flavour in the aftertaste that made it refreshing, and in the end I dispatched this rather more quickly than I had intended.

Next up was another Timmermans for Middlemarch and I tried a beer I sort of expected to be a stout but wasn't. The Brew Company Xiberia was a light pale beer with an interesting texture, and for them no face pulling hops to fight through, which made a nice change. I had of course contrived to pick a beer on the downstairs list that wasn't on, so this was a table service pint. Mind you, not all of the beer programme leaflet details were accurate - the front proclaims the festival took place in 2010....

By this time we had made the corner our own, nicely ensconced in relative peace and quiet whilst the tide of incoming and outgoing groups of festival goers ebbed around us, with some quite large groups in attendance. Our next round was another Timmermans and a pint of the Copthorne Black Beauty porter. I was a little reticent to try this because I have tried 3 of their beers now and not really liked any of them. However, the rather in your face malt, light bitterness and cereal flavours that let their beers down seemed to work well with dark and roast malts and this was a very rounded and enjoyable beer - even fruit fancier Middlemarch gave it the thumbs up.

At this point it was me who was setting the pace so the next round was just mine. I tried the excellent Steel City Brewing Black Hops 6.9%. This proved to be an interesting exercise in understanding high alpha dark beers, or Black IPA's. Back in January it was suggested to me that a firkin of a strong Steel City beer might be put aside and as far as I know this was it. If its not this is going to make my review a bit stupid, so I'll stick my neck out on this one!

The extra alcohol compared with their dark funeral, and probably not detectable from ageing, helped to take some of the edge off the hops. They were more sharp and citrussy rather than dry, and blended into the overall beer far better than in some of their other offerings (which makes Xiberia all the more impressive in terms of balance). Interestingly though, the feature that stood out for me was the battle between the aged flavours and alcoholic notes, and the bitterness of, even though perhaps subdued, the high alpha hops. One of the joys of an aged beer is how rounded it becomes, how much the malts and alcohol are mixed and come to the forefront with hints of butterscotch and other added sweetness. Its the job of carefully chosen hops to then work with these flavours and in the aftertaste come through to remind the drinker that the beer still has bite. A classic example would be Burton Bridge Empire Pale Ale or, maybe with less hops, Lees Harvest Ale.

This beer was delicious, and very enjoyable, in fact very easy drinking for its strength, but the power of the hops was at the forefront of the flavour, with the rounded sweeter attributes afforded by ageing fighting through at the back. So arguably it was very different to your average cellar matured beer, but none the worse for it. Its also possible that the ageing made for a much more palatable product than the original, however this was my first taste of Black hops so am unsure about that. A great beer nonetheless.

Middlemarch had to depart at this point so I decamped upstairs to try some of the gravity offerings in the upstairs bar. On the advice of the barman that the Arbor Citra was on its way out I had a half of that, and was struck by how dry and citrus hopped it was for a 4.0%  beer - perhaps this explained its shortened tenure on the stillage.

I also tried but turned down the chance to have a half of the Harwich Town Bathside which wasn't really in possession of the strength of flavour I desired. I also had a belated taste of the Elland Robust Porter, but by now I had a half of the Tynebank Piccolo porter, a 5.1% dark beer with bags of flavour. This proved to be my last beer as I fancied a return to the cranes and some Deception up at Harrisons.

Its a shame am so short on funds this month as there were beers from many breweries that I wanted to try. The only real duff offering I think was from the dreadful Landlords Friend brewery and their Stupid Cupid offering. My friend JB was at the bar ordering when I heard him order it but by the time I had cautioned how awful it would be, he's already had it poured. Suffice to say we both tasted it and it was grim. Much like my review of one of their beers "its not off but its not a good beer" was JB's review!

So after this, I did get to the Cranes and saw both Luke and Rick (not Rich as erroneously suggested last time), so it seems the same people are in charge after all. I had the Hartleys Cumbria Way this time which made a nice change.

I also got up to Harrisons 1854 but maybe my imploration to folks to sup the Deception had backfired since it had run out. In its place was an equally decent pint of Farmers Blonde, which was a really enjoyable final beer. Alas I had only a brief stop here as my body was making it quite clear that I needed to go home.

Overall this was really impressive festival, just the right size, with  plenty of seating (winner!), a good mix of breweries, and a decent range of ciders to tempt the drinker. Well worth a visit if you find chance, I understand its still  on until Sunday.

Wee Beefy 

Friday, 17 February 2012

Wee Beefy's pub bites

Good airvernin readers

   tonight I have a few details of some pubs I have found myself frequenting of late.

     Harrisons 1854

A little less real ale than usual on offer but Harribob had managed to create another outstanding pint of Abbeydale Deception in the 1854. This poured a trifle cloudy, but mainly due to carbonation and slight coldness, but slowly cleared to reveal a lustrous pale gold body, and on tasting, a meritable hoppy bite and slight malt balance. If you are on West Street, get to the 1854 for some of Sheffield's best Deception I suggest!

Dada Trippet Lane.

All thoughts of rating beer here were of course lost when I realised the impeccable Pollard's milk coffee stout was on draught again. Having contrived to miss the Fyne stout and their Black IPA I was hoping for a distinctive taster to tide me over. Disappointingly all the beers on offer were Thornbridge, but that said the range was faultless - Black Harry, new lavender and marmite IPA Puja, Sequoia and as above my absolute favourite Pollards.

I had to sample a pint before I started on a half of the 6.7% Puja Jasmine IPA brewed in conjunction with Dark Star. This had all the hops I wanted but also some thankful balance and a velvety smooth texture making the harsher notes a little easier to ignore.  The taste was. well, Jasmine, but am sating that only because it says it on the label. If am to be honest, am unsure what Jasmine tastes like. Instead it had a weird perfumed lavender taste, which was partly but not entirely obscured by the hops, which was perhaps for the best - a single jasmine shot giving way to an excellent hoppy pale ale would have been the best design I think. Still an enjoyable beer though.

Dog and Partridge - Rallying call!

I called in the D&P on the random off chance that some real ale might be on, and to take the opportunity to talk to the man steering this ailing ship. As it turned out a cask of Tetley's was ready, if a little fresh off the waggon, but perhaps due to having been caskless on my last 4 occasions I was offered my half at a severely discounted price.

Paul who is running the pub actually does so on behalf of a holding company. So really, he doesn't work for |Punch at all. He struggles on with an absurd surfeit of stock and limited availability of cask to keep the business afloat. I have noted, and reported recently, that his efforts appear to be failing but it seems he is aware of the burden of responsibility, and the fact he manages to keep the joint trading at all given Punch's disinterest in the venue means he's probably doing as well as he can.

Granted, its not a real ale mecca, but neither was the D&P in the Flynn's time, and neither is The Grapes now, although it does sell local ales. In deference to the obvious level of expectations placed upon him, bar warder Paul told me he has set up his own website at http://www.dogandpartridge-shefield.com/, alas, on trying this tonight it seems not to be available. That said I know he set it up through Yola.com and if you want to get in touch and find out about offers bands, music etc you can call 0114 4180 441.

I say you should at least try and find space in your Trippet lane drinking for a pint if you are in the area. There are no guarantees that doing so would save this venerable old institution but its got to be worth the chance to spend time in the many authentic and once characterful rooms before its too late. Good luck to Paul in his attempts to keep this pub afloat.

Three cranes

  My last brief stop for a half was the Cranes. Things seemed different and the beer range seemed a little Lancastrian in its slant what with two Robinson's beers on, Double Hop and Robinson's (Hartleys) Cumbria way. I opted for a half of the Moonshine and wondered where regular barkeeps Luke and Rich were. I realise they could have been having a day off but something seemed different and I get a niggly feeling the difference may not be good. I hope I am proved wrong!

All in all I tried a great range of beers, crucially many local, and all in excellent condition, especially the Pollards in Dada and Deception in Harrisons 1854.

More updates soon.

Wee Beefy

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Cameron to sort out scandal of drink abuse - seriously, now we really are all doomed....


never read a tabloid newspaper (even a free one). Its scaled down fact light style means you are guaranteed to swallow the negative  or positive flavours they desire without being able to taste the story for what it is, as (attempted to be) demonstrated below...

      Minimum thinking

I read in a rag, sorry, newspaper, this morning, that Moon faced Old Etonian man of the people David Cameron is going to use his position, power and legislative might to "tackle" the scandal of alcohol abuse. Having seen the Con-dems fuckwitted approach to HSBD, I had very grave concerns even before I viewed the copy that this was going to be the mother of all sledgehammer and nut, misguided, ill thought through knee jerk, health lobby stained, unrealistic, ignorant stabs in the dark ever. So what does this pampered aristo really have in mind for the unwashed proletariat ?

Well, firstly, for legal reasons, its probably only fair/safe I link you to the article, and apologise to anyone who thought that I was a reasonable minded man, for reading the Metro, which as any fule kno, is the Daily Mail in disguise. In my defence, in these hard times, its free. And am usually barely awake reading it. I still feel I ought to apologise for being such a wannabee fascist though. See tarticle at : Metro report slapdash irrational swiping at anything that will grab headlines, or Con-dem policy, article.

Said article also showed that Cameron had taken the "tackle" battle cry a little too literally, and behaved like an absolute cock.

Worse, the feature highlighted figures exclusively relating to the cost of alcohol abuse, and the wider costs to the economy of excess, which is an admittedly cringe worthy sum in the £billions. So I thought that the only acceptable approach to tackle these cstly ills would be to announce measures against the binge culture, specifically, I imagined,  the ease with which you could get hold of cost price or loss leader alcohol, often if you are underage, and crucially, I expected the mooted action to use law and legislation to improve stabilise and empower the places where it was statistically more likely that you would be drinking responsibly. That's right - back supervised consumption, support the British pub!

In doing so, any rational human would expect that the Government's plan would, having taken advice from all interested parties (i.e not just the lobbyists acting for the soon to be privatised health industry) introduce taxation to manage the supply of drink at home alcohol, whilst simultaneously allowing and pursuing a reduction in alcohol duty for certain drinks types, meaning it was more enticing to visit the pub on cost grounds.

I know this won't be easy. For a start, our friends in the multiple tiers of pub ownership would have to be on board - after all, alcohol tax relief alone can't free tenants from the absurd demands and unjustifiable double figure percentage rent hikes of the pubco's. Its obvious that the resultant unbalanced sums being asked for over the counter in such pubs deters those watching the pennies, but at least a duty or tax cut would see to half of that problem.

And then' having correctly identified the source of alcohol misuse, (a-la scandal of drink abuse) and the requisite parts of the drinks sector that facilitated this, maybe the plan could include measures such as toughening powers for license revocation of problem bars, and effective action on errant sellers of alcohol to minors, and cutting off the supply of illegal imports.

So, having idealistically and perhaps emotively cobbled together my own plan to address "the scandal" in my head, I hoped the article would be chock full of pertinent info from the Government about how they would go about achieving at least some of the above, and hopefully, provide firm details of the measures they had in mind.

But no.

 Hyperbole, scaremongering and health profession sanctioned guilt trips : Yes.
Rational arguments for reducing the tax and duty burdens on brewers and the pub trade so a higher percentage of those consuming alcohol do so in a controlled environment - No.

To illustrate the kind of sensational shock headline accompanying the report, below is a picture of a man who may have been a trifle refreshed on his stag do. To be fair it was Wee Keefy;s fault that, erm, whoever this is got covered in ale, owing to an "Am I videoing/Am I taking a picture" mix up. So there.

But don't despair, fighting to get seen in amidst the insinuation that all consumption was scandalous was an actual suggestion. Naturally Cameron, flanked by someone no doubt far too well paid to have lowered themselves to visiting a public house, or to understand the percentage of an average wage taken to buy 568 ml of beer in a pub versus the same in a supermarket, mentioned precisely nothing that would be done, in real terms. It was left to his party line towing sidekick to mention the only actual detail of the plans (or lack of them) the holy grail that is minimum pricing.

Yep, thats it. Just minimum pricing. Thats the magic carpet thats going to fly us from unaffordable social and medical meltdown apparently.

Laughably, Cameron even implores the bars supermarkets and drinks industry to "make responsible drinking more than just a slogan" when, er, as a two word soundbite referencing the widely complex myriad of factors considerations and assessment present in the study of alochol consumption, thats precisely what it chuffing is.

Better still, in true right hand wipes arse and left hand eats from right hand political campaigning, some Tory MP and GP (two masseev salaries? Thats just greedy) creates her own throwaway moralistic slogan -  "these figures show that cheap alcohol is anything but" she whines, through a haze of self congratulation at her wordsmithery.

Minimum Pricing  - means what?

So, in essence, a wearying display of flim flam and worthy hot air is the premise to another raft of shitwitted legislation, and the only fragment of thinking to make it out of the cauldron whole is the unbalanced idea of minimum pricing. In short, this suggests you regularise the minimum alcohol unit costs in all sectors. This means that pubs don't get any relief but supermarkets have to hike prices, rather than bringing pub prices in line with supermarkets so there is no massive financial reward for drinking at home.

At this juncture, I should point out that a quick read of Tandleman's blog on the subject highlighted to me many of the glaring problems with yet another sledgehammer to crack a nut bill of unjustifiabl unfairness, the bare bones of which I have tried to put my own spin on above. To make this a fair and honest post, and since I am too lazy to read the relevant tinternet coverage of the idea, I will link you to Tandleman's post on the subject. Tandleman deciphers minimum pricing .

Anyway, since the idea I proposed will never happen, and remembering that I firmly believe that driving growth and sustainability in the "drinking when supervised" market (pubs etc) is the only way forward, the more logical alternative, as alluded at points through my jibbering, is to reduce the amount of tax paid by and in licensed premises (maybe the reduction to 5% tax mooted by Robinsons).

This measure would have to be taken simultaneously with targeting the freedom to import and thus ease to sell unregulated alcohol out of the back of  a van, and, by banning the sale of alcohol at cost and as loss-leaders. All of a sudden (well, Christ, many decades away I suspect) you can go out and enjoy the social side of drinking in a controlled environment without bankrupting yourself and paying towards the UK's contribution of 40% of all Europe's beer tax. What fun!

So, what if none of these points is taken up and minimum pricing becomes the central plank of Government alcohol policy? Well, individuals will have no cheap options to get alcohol legitimately in the UK since supermarkets will be as expensive as pubs and pubs, as so often demonstrated, are already well outside many people's price bracket. So illegal and black market selling will flourish, and both the supermarkets and the pub indistry will suffer. Even if you dislike retail behemoths as I do, the flipside effect of not improving the lot of the British public house is too costly a risk.

And then we really would all be doomed

Wee Beefy.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Bottle conditioned beer - we're all doomed!


  I have made many references to the purveyors of good bottle conditioned beer. I have also alluded to some of the more rubbish ones, but rarely have I mentioned quality bottle conditioned beers or ales (BCA) without mentioning Durham Brewery. I think they are shit hot at the old BCA. Along with Dunham Massey, strangely, Thwaites and Coors (only one BCA each but never lets me down) I consider that they are the sort of brewery who's beers you should give a BCA doubter to try - let them see for themselves that BCA does not need to be sour piss like (insert name of almost any small brewery who's bottle conditioning experiment consists of bravado, guesswork, and hand bottling without any prior knowledge or later product testing)

So, against this paean to Durham's merits, what do you expect would happen then if I tried a crap Durham bottle conditioned beer?

Well, put simply, the world would end.

It went a little like this :

Brewery : Durham, in Durham
Name : Temptation (2008 or 2009 vintage, whichever was the first batch to not confirm the year of brewing)
Strength : 10.0%
BCA/none BCA? : BCA.
Purchased : Archer Road Beer Stop Sheffield.

Pictured below is the beer with the bottle, helpfully demonstrating the noticeable lack of any head, although also its jet black colour, and a few white bubbles have formed at the beer's edge.

Colour : as above, black. Absolutely black. No fannying about with "hues" or nuances of colour shades, this is black as coal and proud of it.

Carbonation/Pouring : no sound on opening - quite worrying since its a good three years in the bottle so you would expect a bit of carbonation. Pours silky smooth but ultimately flat.

Aroma : This is the 5th or 6th Temptation I have had, of varying vintages, and everyone carries a strong chocolate coffee malt aroma and sweet nose that tells you its rounded and alcoholic. This hints at that, but there is yeast. And molasses. I am concerned.

Taste : There is an enormous initial mouthfeel but its not well balanced. Yes, there are roast malts, smoked chocolate hints and warming alcohol in there but there is a niggly piquant bite of yeast, and a big dumb lumbering brute of molasses in the aftertaste. I am starting to worry that this has not been a successful bottling.

On the second taste you get more molasses and despite the pleasing strong alcohol and aged beer flavours which light the beer up its very one dimensional and worse still, slightly sour. There is a strong coffee and roast malt flavour struggling to the front again but all too soon its lost in the sledgehammer of thick vinous and unsavoury malt and yeast in the aftertaste.. As we get further down the glass the aftertaste becomes more prevalent. Below is a pic which shows the enticing velvety black ocean of tempting stout loveliness. If you didn't read this review, and just looked at the picture, you'd probably fall in love with the beer at once...

At this point I assume its just my keeping the yeast aside which has caused the problem so taste it separately. Doing so immediately confirms my fears and explains the problem. In essence, the yeast has died, not activated in the bottle. Its the yeast that has created and generated the off flavours as well as the beer stagnating rather than living since it was bottled.  Its nasty enough, when it should be drinkable, to leave in the bottle.

Head retention - its not really appreciably a head at all. There are some game white bubbles that pop up now and again but its like a tar lake, and this is not how Temptation should pour. The fact that none of the strong flavours are lost in the head is a detriment on this occasion.

WBrating : 3.5.
Alas this is a BCA fail. The yeast should be the main player in the ageing and conditioning process and it has not managed to do that. As a result, the remaining beer gets to go off and slowly lose any of its redeeming flavours in the face of the sour molasses hit of the yeast.

In all honesty, I poured half of the bottle away. I could see that no temperature change or yeast addition would save this brew. It only manages to muster 3.5 because even though the beer is dead it is still from a recipe good enough to demonstrate what the real flavours should have been.

So what does this matter you may ask?

Well, its gutting for me, because I always tell people that not only are Durham Brewery the best bottle conditioned ale purveyors in the UK but that Temptation is their showcase. Its like my signature BCA argument - " I think its a shame that the bottle conditioned beer you tried was crap, but you really need to try something great instead like a Durham" The thing is, really, who is going to have this same experience? Will it be everyone I have proffered that advice to?

Well, I guess not, but this is genuinely the first bad Durham BCA I have ever had, and the fact that I kept it carefully for 3 years prior to opening (I considered in light of recent events I was entitled to a reward) just makes it all the more difficult to swallow. Literally.

I'll go out and buy a white stout instead. The only lingering gripe I have, is that I do still have 4 different Temptation vintages in my beer cupboard. So I will need to be open minded when anticipating sampling one.


Wee Beefy.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Consistency versus expectation - a self damaging dichotomy

Now then
         whilst recently reading up on blogs on tinterweb and on dear old Blogger I noted one from Rob at Robs Beer Quest (see : Its Rob at Robs Beer Quest, and everything ) which contained his musings on why beer he himself had reviewed tasted different, indeed so different, and was rated different, on separate occasions.

Being a brewer he concentrates on many different technical issues, but also, an interesting psychological slant. Which immediately made me think about the brain trick of Expectation.

The Brain trick of expectation...

How often, I wonder, do I say in a post "not how I remembered it" or "not what I was anticipating", or "I was expecting a...(but)". It seems on this basis and the evidence on the  RBQ blog that our dear old friend expectation is at work and at large in the beer blogging world.

Because you can't help but expect a beer to taste like it did last time. That, is a normal reaction.

And any number of different factors can come into play that mean that your expectationn isn't met. Ultimately Rob is interested in why he reaches different conclusions on the same product but at different times, and his conclusion is conciliatory, steering one away from worrying about how your brain and tastebuds combine to reach different conclusions at different times. Conversely however, my thinking is concerned with the extent to which what you expect taints your beer assessing experience, based precisely on the riddle of how your brain and tastebuds combine to reach different conclusions at different times..
 I don't think its just me that expects a particular taste experience or level of pleasure from a certain beer each time I encounter it. I think its a universal facet of drinking experiencing that taste alone is only one of many influences. In fact, I like that expectation trips me up by creating a muddling sensation of seemingly knowing something will be good, but then messing with my mind by using that same illusion to tell me that something which does taste good doesn't!

So does this mean its impossible to be a sentient being and review the same beer twice?

No. Its just means you can't expect to write the same review twice. See. Expectations are at work again folks...


Not the beer style, but our feline companion of 13 years who looked like a baby bear as a kitten, and was the colour of a Belgian Brown ale, hence his name, and who departed the earth today. This dedication is completely separate from notions of expectation, and entirely in respect of the fact that there will no longer be a faithful consort sat at my side whilst I write these posts.

Wee Beefy.

Wee Beefy's beer review bites

Good evening again,

    on Friday, having recovered from my arctic trek, I had the chance to visit Davefromtshop at Davefromtshop's shop, to sample a few beers or 10. Arriving about 10 minutes before closing meant we could quickly get down to the serious business of reviewing the handpicked selection of offerings, which were shared between me Davefromtshop and Andrew, which meant we could have a few more than usual.

Starter for 10PM.

We began with a sensible pint of real live actual real ale from the handpumps in the shop. Alas the tasty Thorne Pale Ale had run out so it was a toss up between Farmers Brown Cow and something from Cottage. This posed a little dilemma for me - am not overly smitten with brown ale at all, and despite Dave's encouraging promises, I refused to believe that I would like the Cottage beer, since their output is so unfailingly poor or odd. In light of which, I decided to "go brown". (this is not a euphemism)

The Cow was in decent form, and being served slightly flat it allowed some of the flavours which may otherwise have been hidden in the foam to come through. This whetted our appetites for an eclectic selection that, relying on my decision to draft text the beer list being a sensible one, should be written below (Bottle conditioned ales are marked BCA):

Moor Brewery Somerland Gold 5.% BCA
Coors White Shield 5.6% BCA
Summer Wine Brewery Covenant Aromatic Red Ale 5.2%
Holsworthy Muck & Straw 4.4% BCA
Isle of Mull Terror of Tobermory 4.6%
Oban Bay Skelpt Lug 4.2%
Harvey's Imperial Stout unknown corked vintage 9% BCA
Summer Wine Brewery Teleporter 5%
Chiltern Anniversary Ale 6.1% BCA
Summer Wine Brewery Cohort Double Black Belgian Rye PA 7.5%
Durham White Stout 7.2% BCA
Nogne Porter 7% BCA

Its worth pointing out that the Holsworthy beer was a gift from a mysterious stranger, so its not on sale in the shop, which is a shame. Also, the Harvey's is a survivor from a long ago delivery - more about that in a bit.

Top beers were possibly the Holsworthy, the White Shield, the Teleporter, the White Stout and definitely the Nogne, somewhat expensive but price worthy porter from deepest Norway.

The devils in the (lack of) detail

The Somerland was also nice but not really what I was expecting, in that it had a very light bitter flavour that I hadn't really expected of a West Country Ale. That doesn't make it a bad beer, just a surprise. The Shield was a very well rounded but slightly less hoppy than I remembered beer, but scored well on the night owing to it having been brewed with impeccable malt balance, and also for containing very palatable drinking yeast which ironically you were always meant to keep aside with White Shield.

The SWB Covenant was a red ale (I think!) and was as bitter as you'd expect for one of their beers but it may be that I was expecting more identifiable red malt flavours. Instead I was slapped in the face by the hops and then spent time waiting for another layer of flavour to appear and make itself known, but it just never happened. Which was a shame. Mind you, this was the first beer displaying uncompromising hops that night so the change was noteworthy at least.

The muck and straw would likely horrify any hophead,citrus fiend or Simcoe addict but it was more West Country than the Moor offering whilst managing to be very drinkable, and if you forgive an understandable reliance on malt, was a very refreshing session beer.

The Isle of Mull offering was much anticipated, especially since I thought they had closed down, but alas this was a very weak flavoured one dimensional beer which failed to really have any winning characteristics. There was a hint of peat in the malt but no hops and it was, an overriding, really thin brew. A terror indeed.

The Oban Ales was memorable only for having a really strange malt flavour, and by simply failing entirely to be a dark ale - Bradfield Yorkshire Farmer is probably the same colour - not that I am sure now the cloud of grog has cleared where exactly I got the idea it was a dark beer from! It won a few extra points for having ensconced some peaty malt notes hat may have been present in a bottle of Islay ales, but again failed to carry much flavour, and it was the deceit of its alleged dark character that let down its score.

Not Grimstad but Grim stuff

By this time I was desperate for a real live dark beer, so we dusted off the last ARBS stock bottle of Harvey's Imperial Russian Stout, Gales brewery corked, with a label proclaiming that it was from 2001 but a 2002 brewing awards reference on the back label, meaning we have no idea when its actually from. Suffice to say however, what we do know is that this is one from a batch of Harvey's Imperial Stout that were sold at the shop, 6 of which me and Dave bought between us based on the ultimate excellence of previous vintages. Every one so far has been flat, with no life or work from the yeast, and sour, tasting of yeast and molasses only. Suffice to say they have been poured down the sink.

And, quelle surprise, this one was also a container of foul flavours. If you fought through the grim sour yeast and nasty bullying molasses you could detect a hint of how the beer should, have tasted, but it was too small a reward for such hard work.

What's incredibly frustrating is, I wrote to Miles Jenner at the brewery in 2008 after bottle number 3 came out crap and he confirmed that there was an identified problem with the yeast, that it hadn't worked or started or done something, and the beer had therefore not developed or indeed, remained drinkable. Which is great, but even considering that he took my address and promised to send me two of the new batch of bottles (now out, as per Boak and Bailey at : Harveys Imperial Russian Stout new crown capped brew ) no recall of the known duff beer was mooted, no replacements were sent to me, and all the customers who bought bottles from ARBS will have opened them at any stage after purchase and found them crap, with Dave and myself's rigorous and passionate endorsements ringing in the ears no doubt.

A hugely disappointing show from Harvey's, and one which affords them no credit at all.

Our next offering was thankfully very nice, and it was a dark beer - it was the excellent Teleporter from Summer Wine Brewery that I have reviewed before. Have a look at the tags list down the side to find my sober review of this ale!

The paper wrapped Chiltern Anniversary Ale was next up and  was a trifle disappointing. Much had been said at the brewery shop about the might of its taste and how it was a true celebration ale, in honour of the brewery's anniversary. Except, when we poured it out and drank it down it lacked much oomph. It was a pleasant palatable pale beer. Like an IPA. There is nothing wrong with that, except that their Beechwood on draught and the 300's Old Ale we had last time are eminently better beers.

Next we had our final Honley Heaven, the Summer Wine Brewery Cohort, described as a Double Black Belgian Rye PA. This was not a beer fearful of hops and had sacks of the buggers in it, making it a very astringent bitter beast. My only gripe however was the very ascorbic dryness presented, which was not mellowed by other ingredients, which is a facet I have noticed in a few SWB bottled beers. I concede I may have made a dumb schoolboy error in thinking it was a dark beer exhibiting all the warming characteristics of a traditional burnt roast flavoured porter or stout - when its clearly another take on the Black IPA. That said though, I don't think I was in the mood for another hop demon and this may well have tainted my review. It was like the initial taste of Brewdog Physics, but followed by their Punk IPA. That is not a good combination, however clever it may be, or however impressive the hopping may seem. I think I need an SWB night to sort this out!

The End of all beers?

Our penultimate tipple was the eagerly anticipated Durham White Stout. As per much sales blurb and innovative media coverage it has been made clear that this is an old style of ale - in that, any strong flavoured and high alcohol beer used to be called stout, irrespective of the colour or nature of treatment of the malts used. I intend to post a full review of this beer in the coming weeks so will say only that it packed in a lot of hop flavour, and was replete with oily resonances from hop resins.

Finally, as the night and to some extent cogent thought and consciousness ebbed away, we had our final beer, Nogne Porter from deepest Norway. Their porter, a product which attracts an authentic Norwegian take on alcohol pricing, is labelled as an English style porter. It certainly ticked all the boxes, and was, even if you may wish to discount my appreciation based on the tumult of ale and alcohol that forwent this sampling, one of the most enjoyable beers of the night. It was a North European take on the glorious UK/Baltic dark beers of the past, but not as strong, and was as rich, rewarding, unctuous, creamy malty and vinous as I had hoped. For more information about this beer see : Nogne with that "o" I can't do, blog. .

At this stage young Andrew had gone home and I was ready for a long sleep so it was the end of beer tasting that day. I would certainly go back and try some more of the SWB bottles and a couple of Nogne's, plus a Durham White Stout as implied above. In the meantime, I can recommend you get to the ARBS and take a look yourself. There are huge numbers of UK and European bottles to choose from, plus very reasonably priced real ale on draught to take away.

And if you want something special, even though the Nogne - O, Moor, the Brampton Bock and some of the new French beers are sold at a premium price as a result of the idiot-hate-fest of HSBD, you should still ask Dave about the product and you'll find that there are always treats to be had. This is a completely independent praise fest driven by a desire to preserve one to one retail I should point out.

So, that's all for now, enjoy your haul of bottled beers from wherever they may emanate, and I will be back on soon with more info on the beautiful drink.

Wee Beefy.