Thursday, 31 January 2013

Country Practice


    Sunday was meant to be a day of rest. Not in a religious sense you understand, just, simply, a day off the poison and a lie in, followed by an early night. With no suggestion of my going outside. However, a chance visit by Wee Fatha presented the idea of soaking up the scenery and sunshine and popping into a warm building along the way. Using all of my legendary will power I heartily agreed.

We'd been planning for a while to go to the Anchor at Oakerthorpe. Having drunk their very palatable beer at the New Inn Cropton beer festival for the past couple of years, and enjoyed their excellent bottled Blackout, the long standing Cropton outlet was a very tempting stop off. I quickly read up on a few nearby attractions, you know, in case the scenery observing became less important, and we trundled off onto the A61, heading through Higham, and a lake sized flood in a dip before reaching the Anchor.

I was in first as WF was painstakingly photographing the large boozer, and was, not unsurprisingly disheartened to see.....3 handpumps, sporting 3 Greene King beers. I was quickly glad that I hadn't tagged a walk to the Anchor onto my last visit t the area, which I think would have made the spectacle even more disappointing.

The barman explained in great detail that they'd sold Cropton for years but had stopped because it had become rubbish, and no-one liked it. It dawned on me that the "transformation" into the Great Yorkshire Brewery may have played a part, especially since my initial reaction to their range of beers was unenthused puzzlement.

I had a half of the Abbot Reserve (not actually a bad beer, it pains me to admit) and WF a half of Olde Trip, and we set about having the same conversation twice - once with the barman, and then again, with the landlord who had joined us at the bar. It seemed quite a personal fall out so its not really appropriate to share too many details, but in essence the beer quality had dropped sharply, the locals don't like the new recipes and the new brewer brews poor versions of old favourites.

Luckily, the GK isn't a permanent replacement, and some Phoenix beers are on their way, so all is well on the beer front, but I can't help thinking that what is essentially a very large quite expensive restaurant selling 3 national brands isn't going to see a huge upturn in trade as a result of putting a couple of different beers on. The Cropton link was our only reason for visiting - and I wounder, despite the obvious potential for disappointment, whether this is why the website still proudly proclaims their ale, some 8 or 9 months after they stopped regularly selling it.

Off towards Derby next and we were trying to find the local CAMRA pub of the year, a boozer that has eluded me for some time now. Luckily, despite a diversion, we got to the Hunters Arms in Kilburn in daylight (for a pic), and better still went inside and drank beer. From an impressive line up of mainly local breweries (Welbeck, Thornbridge, Kelham, Blue Monkey, Dancing Duck) I went for a pint of Blue Monkey Infinity and bought WF a half of Dancing Duck Dark Drake, which he enjoyed.

Sat down in comfy seats (alas not near the roaring fire) we were quickly given a whole bowl of tortilla crisps. A nice touch, because irrespective of whether they might be a dry and salty encouragement to drink more, they normally have to be paid for.

The pub was busy with a varied clientele and it seemed friendly and warm and comfy - admittedly this makes me sound like I'm 70, but its nice to have the above facets in a boozer on a cold winters day. And the beer wasn't a bad price either - the Welbeck Abbey Cavendish which I also had a half of was £3.10 a pint, the Infinity and Drake £3.00 and £2.90 respectively. Not exactly Spoons prices, but inexpensive for that Derbyshire. Can't wait to get back into the Hunters Arms.

It was getting dark and WF is no fan of night time driving these days so we headed off for a last stop. Despite my suggestion we visit Waingroves, or if not the Crown at Higham, we opted in the end to visit the Shoulder of Mutton at Hallfieldgate. A first visit for us both (a full hand of new pubs, get us!) this wasn't a disappointment. Kelham Easy Rider, Caledonian Flying Scotsman and Welbeck Cavendish were the beers on offer and both me and WF had the Cavendish. It was on good form, and had we had more time I'd have tried the Caley beer as well.

The pub was quiet but then it is quite isolated, and the friendly landlord was playing pool with a customer (not literally...) in the right hand room whilst we sat in front of the bar. An interesting slightly retro selection of music was playing, and it was one of those exhale and slump pubs where you could quite happily settle down and spend many hours there. Another great discovery.

So, as well as being an excellent way to ease slowly off the beer before Wednesday's revelry, this  enjoyable surprise trip out round Derbyshire ensured we got to three new pubs and drank locally brewed beer, erm, plus Greedy King, and pricked our interest for another mini tour of the area some time soon. I can recommend all three pubs, but the Hunters especially.


Wee Beefy

Monday, 28 January 2013

A lush week - part 2. Louche in the slush.

Hello again!

      to quickly get you all right up to date with the thirsty life of Beefy, I'll take you through Thursday to Sunday, a period of time when more than one drink was bought, more than one bottle was opened, and more than one toast to a poet's favourite stomach was mooted.

Thursday was application form day. End of. Work, then writing, then fretting, then 5 hours kip. Friday night, hours after submitting my form, I was off on the omnibus to the wilds of Westfield to celebrate Burns Night with Wee Fatha. A mountainous haggis and mercifully fewer neeps and tatties helped us toast the Alloway wordsmith in style, accompanied by a dram of Edruador and a hefty taste of 20 year old Bladnoch.

Beers were bottled obviously, and came at opposite ends of the colour spectrum - Harviestoun Bitter and Twisted, Schehallion and Mr Snowballs plus Williams Caesar Augustus provided the crisp and refreshing pale coloured foil to the malts. Still pale was Brew Dog Punk IPA, which reminded us of some rather unfortunate aromas, but tasted fine, and the surprise turn of the night was a bottle of Traquair House Jacobite, a heavy spiced dark Scottish Ale of 8.5%. Complete with about 4 years date left, and tasting fairly damned incredible, though not always a style I like this was a welcome beer on a wild snowy night.

Saturday was breakfast - (which became dinner) in Hillsborough with Mumrah Martin and Wee Keefy followed by a few stops in rather too many pubs. Starting at the Hallamshire House there was nothing on offer that exactly blew my mind but I do love Thornbridge Pollards, so it was a welcome return to the bar for this old favourite.

I went to the Nottingham House in Broomhill next, if nothing else to see how it had improved since October 2011. I say that because it can't possibly have not improved, and stayed open. Surprisingly, for the first time in years I was stared at by 4 barflies (complete with, one imagines harmless and friendly, dog) when I entered, making me feel quite uneasy. To distract me from the atmosphere I opted for a half of Moonshine from a choice of that and Taylors Landlord. The Nottingham is still an unprepossessing transient pub but at least you can drink real ale in it, and it seemed busy enough. Just not my scene.

The University Arms beckoned and any ideas of a short stop were shattered based on an excellent line up on the bar. I started with halves of Welbeck Abbey White Canon, a 2.8% pale beer at £2.25 a pint, with plenty of hop character and thankfully no cereal or biscuity malt, along with a half of the Raw Endeavour. This was another excellent Raw outing, but their Dark Peak Stout was also on so I had a half of that and the Redemption Brewery Big Chief IPA at 5.5%. So moreish was this excellent beer that I stopped for two more pints whilst chatting to a former colleague at the bar. A great way to spend an hour or two.

A brief stop at The Bath Hotel followed, this time to sample an excellent pint of Dark Star Darkness, before I headed into the Devonshire Cat for the first time in about 6 months. From a decent range I had a half of mystery obfuscate fragment, a memory description intended to cover up my woefully bad recall. I do remember it was rammed and I couldn't get a seat though.

I headed for Henry's next where, noting that I was feeling a bit tired again I opted for a half, this time of the very palatable Dukeries Gold - the first beer I've tasted from that brewery and a notable start.

Talking of starts, its been a rocky one in terms of renown and well, consistency for Wood Street Brewery, and a quick visit to the Roebuck did nothing to help change my mind about their beer. My half of Buabob was returned having nearly knocked me out before I'd even tasted the beer (I did by the way, it was vile) so I swapped it for a half of Sparkleberry, which was drinkable, but that's all I can say. Once again a serious dearth of customers makes me wonder if the Roebuck is a step too far, especially given that the brewery can't seem to get the beer right.

I stopped off briefly in The Red Lion next to sample a commendable half of Moonshine, but I was craving sustenance and a wider beer range so headed quickly on.

Into a rammed Rutland Arms next and despite my phone battery suicide plot I managed to guess I was in time for food, and having secured a quarter of a table I got sat down with a beer. Its shameful to admit that, despite the good company of JB and having a tasty sandwich to fill me up, I can't remember which beer I had, or if it was responsible for my nodding off slightly. Not an impressive Beefy display. Hopefully starting there on Wednesday will enable me to pull off a slightly less embarrassing performance, and, who knows, maybe recollect the beer?

I finished my trek in the Sheffield Tap where I was delighted to find an Outlaw beer I had been wanting to try, but also a new brewery that had somehow slipped under my radar. Apparently, a brewery has opened off Rutland Road just past the Woodside Inn (formerly the Forest). Who was to know?! Well, I didn't, but enjoyed drinking the Sheffield Toolmakers Brewery Razmataz Blonde, along with a fairly hefty Gadds Black Pearl Oyster Stout and a pint of the oddly enjoyable;e but surprisingly not that refreshing Mad Hatter, Outlaw's much discussed Jasmine Green Tea IPA.

So, a slightly silly night of drinking, but one for the most part of which was very enjoyable. Luckily I haven't time to drink tonight what with blogging, but tomorrow is a Wanderians event, Wednesday a Twissup, and Thursday is payday, so anything could happen!

All the best

Wee Beefy.

A lush week - part one.

Now then,

     its been a busy Beefy week and, apart from doing meaningful stuff like filling out a job application, am afraid much of my endeavour has been in soaking up various potations in pubs. You'll quickly spot that this is not actually a new development - so I'll elucidate.

Tuesday saw me completing the tasks of shopping and filling out a job application form by starting in the Bath Hotel. Ruefully short in opportunities or inspiration to do either, I ended up simply "drinking" and having a conversation. Yeah, I know. Nowhere near as much fun as writing out examples of experience against a competency framework. Beer was excellent Amber Ales offerings, a pint or two of Derbyshire Gold, and half of their slightly odd (but better mixed with the Gold) Jasmine IPA.

I popped in Betty's for a now noticeably smaller fishcake butty before struggling up to Harrisons for a chat with Bob, Linda and Dave and a pint. Bradfield Farmers Blonde, was, unsurprisingly, mu tipple of choice. The countdown begins to the imminent departure of Barraharri - seems another night out will have to be had.

Down to the Red Deer and it was quiz night, hosted by a man who, alas, since the subject was enquiries and acquisitions (or similar), couldn't pronounce enquiry.being a bit sad and petty, I sniggered a little. Beers wise I had halves of Oakwell Dark Mild and Hook Norton Cotswold Lion, with the Dark probably edging it.

Rumour has it I ended up at DAda next, which makes sense since i have a hazy recollection (this is nearly a week ago, come on!) of speaking to Jamie. Luckily my camera remembered to take a pic or two, nudging my memory sufficiently to recall a pint of Hophead Galaxy, a tremendously tasty refreshing hoppy beer from Dark Star, and a half of their Smoked Porter, which isn't particularly smoked. Or portery.

My final stop was to ahve been the Church House but approaching the doorway at 22.00 I found the sugn being taken inside. Apparently they were closing early due to there being no customers. Granted it was quiet everywhere and dire weather but this is not a positive sign.

My last drinks were in the Rutland, where I had a pint of the Chantry Dark, which was excellent, and half an Ilkley Big Chief IPA, which was...enormous. I also had a chat with a bloke called Ken form Chesterfield about pubs, which is a fine way to pass half an hour, before I escaped to do the shopping that I had planned to definitely do. Alas the form would have to wait.

Wednesday was a DAda day again, this time Annie and Ems were the bar masters and I was meeting up with old friends for pints and catching up. Christingpher, Suooz and Angie made up the thirsty foursome (although some were thirstier than others, myself being in the first camp) and I enjoyed many pints of Hophead Galaxy and half a Partridge from Dark Star, plus a very slowly drunk Thorngbridge Thorny Goat on Keykeg.

I think what with recent thoughts about dispense methods its worth pointing out that it is about a pound dearer than on cask, and its extra cold chill negates the more rounded elements of the flavour. Remember - not all good beer, is good on Keykeg....*

Spo that rounds off part 1 of my weeks round up, more news later. Cheers.

Wee Beefy

*It's perhaps a cheap shot, but my spell-checker does not recognise Keykeg, instead it suggests I write EKG. Perhaps the ElectroCardioGram (ECG is the English version) is pertinent given the palputations you might feel at paying 20 or 25% more for colder beer. Ahem. I'll get me coat....

Sunday, 27 January 2013

All hail to the Lords of the Manor House....


      following my lengthy yomp around the countryside (and A-roads) around Stretton to find "The Lodge" I have finally managed to put a location to the elusive pub known, correctly but colloquially, as Bill and Ben's.

However, this wasn't the result of toiling down muddy footpaths and haranguing Wee Fatha to drive me out to the wilds of Tupton, Wingerworth and Press. Oh no. Somewhat shamefully, the answer to the mystery lay at my fingertips for weeks. I, in fact, had the evidence all along. And only a misconception stopped me from finding it.
You see, when WF kindly lent me his copy of the Chesterfield Round Walk original guide, he had kindly and thoughtfully placed the "relevant" Ashover New Road/Stretton to Woodthorpe Mill section at the back. Because we both thought the pub was virtually in Handley it seemed that all the info I needed was there on that single page.

As it turned out of course, I succeeded only in finding "The Hideaway" on Highstairs Lane, and The Buck at Henmoor. Even when I was told that Bill and Ben's was at Press, I never thought to see where the walk went after Woodthorpe Mill. However, when copying the guide prior to returning it to WF, I noticed the next page went to Stone Edge. It is, after all, a round walk. So I looked, on the off chance, to see if it passed near Press.

I can now reveal it goes...through Press. Not only that, it passes Press Farm, as I had noted on the modern map, but better still, en route to Wingerworth and Stone Edge, it goes right past Bill and Ben's. And its even marked on the 1980's OS map as a pub!
What's more the guide dates the building to 1669, and confirms its proper name. The Manor House Inn, which it describes as a farm/pub, is between Bolehill Lane, just past the hamlet of Press, and Birkin Lane, on a track linking the two roads which is even shown on the road map, overlooking Press reservoirs. A brief Internet investigation reveals that the building is probably now Press Manor Fisheries, although its a bit up the hill, and there are buildings nearer by so am not sure.
So irrespective of whether it was called the Press (that's the only bit I haven't verified) it certainly wasn't called the Lodge.
Hopefully me and Wee Fatha will get out that way soon and at least get to look at the building, so that I can stand in the same position looking at the farm from the same angle and reassure myself that I didn't imagine the whole episode. Even better, would be if the pub opened again, but that seems unlikely. At least I know where the bugger is now.

Wee Beefy

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Oh dear. It seems CAMRA doesn't say this is real ale....


     the subject of the CAMRA campaign to, in essence, endorse a bottle conditioned beer as being just that is widely recognised to be a well meant disaster that is unhelpful and counterproductive. A slightly negative outlook perhaps, but as someone who has drunk and sold Bottle Conditioned Beers (BCA's) for years, I've had first hand experience of the toxic stock of affirming that something you can't hope to know the taste of is how you define real ale.

Not being a member of the CAMRA (you've seen the CAMRA) I decided to look at their website regarding the above subject here. To be fair, assuming you can get over the sloppiness that leads to them writing "bottle beers" instead of bottled beers, there is a lot more information and useful clarification than I was expecting.

It all sounds very positive and there are good reasons listed for supping a BCA. Disappointingly though, there is  no mention of how a brewer gets their product stamped with the logo, and therefore no suggestion of a quality processes. And more damning is reason number 10 for drinking real ale in a bottle - that it tastes better.

To avoid going over old ground lets just remember that a lot of BCA, or, if you must, RAIB, tastes like drek. Sour, soupy, frothing, blobbing, earthy, tart murkiness that usually ends up making its final journey down your sink.

Against that backdrop its notable just how many breweries stick the logo on their bottle labels. What I hadn't thought about was, quite a lot don't. Why?

As you know, on Sunday I held a beer tasting at Beefy Towers (not sure about this moniker...) and we drank some stupendously good beer. What struck me today putting the empty bottles in the recycle bin (ooh get me!) was that only 2 of them carried the CAMRA logo. That, despite the fact that 9 of the 16 beers we drunk were bottle conditioned. Worse, but almost predictably so, the 2 that carried the logo were the least enjoyable of the night.

Admittedly I don't know when the logo started to be used so perhaps the 2006,2007 and 2008 Thornbridge and Fullers beers did not have it to use but Kernel's beers were all BCA as was Ilkley's. Fullers continue to produce their Vintage ale and I don't think I've spotted the CAMRA logo on it.

All sorts of contributory factors can lead to a BCA being a disappointment but in this line up the BCA's sporting the logo were the poor cousins of some impeccable bottled royalty.

Given the huge number of dire producers and products proudly informing the consumer that this is what CAMRA thinks beer should taste like (because its not immediately obvious that its an indicator of secondary fermentation) is it possible perhaps that Ilkley, Kernel and Thornbridge don't think the logo is necessary?

Or do they just not want to be associated with a white elephant concept synonymous with hobby bottlers and undrinkable beer?

Wee Beefy

Monday, 21 January 2013

Beer tasting 2013 - night of the imperial stouts.


         last night I managed to finally get together 3 friends to help me sample a range of bottled beers, some bought over the past year, some in 2006 and in between, and all promising to be rather good. Postponed from November when I caught housemaids knee or similar, not even the snow and ice could scupper our plans, and since everyone brought along contributions of their own it was clear that we'd need a good go at getting through what was on offer.

We started low with a bottle of O Hara's Irish Red, a 4.3%, erm, red ale that was exactly that. Recognisable red malt made an interesting comparison between this and the more hop forward reds I have seen, meaning you could taste the malt a bit better.

Up next was a Bottle Conditioned Beer (BCA) from Ilkely Brewery, their Holy Cow Cranberry Milk Stout. There was much anticipation but little agreement on what we would find in this beer - in the end it was a pleasant milk stout with a fruity flavour, but not really cranberry (although Steff insisted she could taste it). Odd but enjoyable.

Anchor Brewing 2012 Christmas Ale followed. A reliable old favourite with a good blend of spices which I understand changes every year. An enjoyable reliable Christmas beer that was true to style.

Up next was the first disappointment. Kernel India Brown Ale, 5.6%, initially started well by being incredibly brown! Having been brought only an hour earlier the sediment couldn't be separated, but if anything slightly improved the flavour. The let down was, this was just a decent brown ale with a shit load of hops thrown in. Much debate followed about the laziness of taking an ordinary beer and ramming it full of hops, and also the important element of balance. This was not a balanced ale. We hoped the two Kernel stouts wouldn't be ruined by the same process.

Up next was disappointment number 2. I was looking forward to introducing my fellow drinkers to the delights of Dunham Massey brewery, since its not often you can buy it in Sheffield, and the Porter, which is usually excellent (and which I had already drunk 6 bottles of) was off. That's now the 3rd Dunham Massey BCA that's been off in a row. Not an impressive display, all yeast and sour acidity, but with plenty of date on the bottle. Quite a bit didn't get finished.
Next up was a slight ABV hike, what with two pale hoppy beers still to come before the dark monsters appeared, we tried a bottle of Thornbridge Imperial Russian Stout. This 9% beer is a recreation of an 1850's Courage recipe, no doubt similar to the Courage Imperial Russian Stout which they brewed until the mid nineties. It smelt of that beer straight away, but to be fair the taste was much more complex and intense, with a good balance of traditional imperial stout roasted malt and a licorice like flavour in the after taste. Excellent.
Flying Dog Raging Bitch was next, at 8.3% we figured it could stand up to the stout, although Ems passed on this one as she knew she didn't like it. I had reservations, but it was quite a pleasant Belgian style IPA, the Belgian yeast being prominent in amongst the punchy hops, but reminding me of the one flavour that I dislike about American IPA's, that sweet, yeast heavy background. Not bad.
The last "weak" (!) beer of the night was the Dunham Massey East India Pale Ale at 6.0%. I intended it to be an interesting comparison in IPA styles, and it was certainly that, but mostly because it was not well conditioned and again slightly off. I think the stronger alcohol perhaps carried it through, and it tasted better than it smelled, but this was another disappointing show.
A slight climb in ABV accompanied our tasting of the Kernel Export Stout (London 1890), a 6.7% stout with an amazingly smooth and satisfying burnt toffee aftertaste, which swiftly allayed any fears we had about any needless hoppyness, although, there was hop flavour in there. The sweeter malty aftertaste melded with the burnt roast malt flavours brilliantly. A really well executed beer.
From this point on, with the exception of the saison I'd put aside for cleansing our palates later, it was all very strong beers. Our next beer, Thornbridge Imperial Oatmeal Stout was 11% and quite simply stunning. Incredibly easy to drink for its strength, full of glorious roast malt and a milk chocolate almost burnt sugar aftertaste made all the more palatable by the oatmeal. Much debate ensued following the claim of a hint of coconut by Steff but nothing could detract from how brilliant and accomplished this beer was. Fantastic.
We then tried Fullers Vintage 2008, which nicely demonstrated that in some ways the earlier aged bottles highlighted more of the hops that are showcased, this time being Challenger and Northdown. That said though, this was an immensely well balanced orangey (Fullers yeast I reckon!) beer with a detectable alcoholic nose and satisfying malted barley aftertaste. Only Ems had tried this before, Jamie and Steff were new to it, and everyone seemed to agree that it was a fine beer.
Kernel Imperial Brown Stout London 1856 quickly showed up the holes in their India Brown brew sheet. This was a fabulously smooth roasted malt and bisucuity sweet stout, with some hoppyness and a fabulous vanilla aftertaste. At 10% it shows a heck of a lot of alcohol in the mix but is perhaps less easy to drink than he stronger Thornbridge Oatmeal. An excellent satisfying beer.
With tiredness setting in and weary palates, I introduced the Fantome Saison to give us a refreshing break. In the fridge for some 5 hours now it did exactly what it was supposed to - and, whether as a result of the beers tried prior to it or not, was as refreshingly lemony as I had hoped. Very little of the odd orangey bitterness that I had noticed before was present. All agreed that this was a much needed and highly enjoyable diversion. My faith in Fantome is restored!
The snow was falling faster now so we agreed to select the last two beers from quite a lot that were left. The first was the 2007 Thornbridge and Brooklyn Alliance PX Strong Ale Reserve. I had tried an Alliance not long after it was brewed and was disappointed by its fairly clumsy, overly sweet face-smash of unsubtle flavours. Now, after more than 5 years in the bottle it was simply stunning. The sherry cask flavour came through on a sumptuous base of malt and hops, with a sweetish, but not overly so, finish, perhaps reigned in by the massive alcohol present. The best bit is - I have two bottles left!
The final beer of the tasting was the Thornbridge 2006 St Petersburg Islay cask reserve at 10.2%. This was quite a strange one really, after so long in the bottle the massive peaty malt and phenols of the Islay whiskey had muscled in on the flavour. The stout seemed to have slightly disappeared in terms of the overall taste but was still offering a conciliatory roasted malt smoothness in amongst the huge alcohol present. Its interesting to note that I had the Highland Reserve only a few months ago and that was far more a stout, far better balanced and probably more enjoyable. Maybe over time, the mellower whiskies used provides a better balance. Still an excellent beer to end on though.
My fellow tasters departed through the snow in a taxi soon after and I decided to grab a bit more food and to finish on a beer of my own. The 2009 De Dolle Stille Nacht (12%) was the smallest I could find but was still so massive in flavour that I would probably have been better off sharing it. Its not a subtle beer, hence its an ideal finisher, but it was obvious from some of the other amazing beers we had tried that it lacked their poise and character, not to mention the subtle balance that made them so enjoyable.
So, a great night spent drinking really good quality (with a price to match) beers finally happened. My clear favourite was the Thornbridge Imperial Oatmeal Stout, but The Kernel Imperial Brown, the Alliance and the Fantome Saison were all out of this world. Can't wait to plan my next one for 3 years time!

Wee Beefy

Saturday, 19 January 2013


Good afternoon,

     the title doesn't relate to a rather stomach churning film shown on Jim'll Fix it (although discerning which clips would make you gip nowadays is quite difficult), instead its a nod to the strange tumult of highs and lows I had last night.

I was meeting Fluffy after work, traipsing up to West Street in snow and slippery pavements, with all bathed in off yellow light, and snow forming a frothy head in my hair. I arrived at the Bath Hotel early, and looking like a badly poured Guinness. Luckily, there was beer to drink whilst I waited, and the whole place was coat dryingly warm.

I tried standing at the bar, as if I was in DAda, but to be fair there seems a bit more footfall in the Bath so I retired to the corner next to the radiator and got settled with my pint of the excellent Amber Ales Derbyshire Gold. They also had the Amber Jasmine IPA, but, not exactly surprisingly, this tasted of jasmine.

So when Fluff arrived I had another pint of the Derbyshire Gold, as did he and he got sat next to the lava hot radiator to get dried. I once again had one of their fantastic hot roast pork sarnies (thanks Steph!) and this filled me up perfectly for the night of drinking ahead. The only downside was the dire predictions of upcoming beers - selling 5 of my least favourite Thornbridge beers, including Kipling, Brother rabbit and Puja, it looked likely that the pendulum of popularity would swing back to DAda. These last two weeks have been a great example of soaring and falling fortunes in terms of the beer range at the Bath. Perhaps I was spoilt by Red Willow, Amber and aged Beadecas Well....

We walked to the Hop next, still in the snow, and decided to only stop for a half. There's something I just can't get on with about the Hop. I loved the green hop festival and there is always a mild on the bar, but its so transient - I always feel like I'm filling in ten minutes when I', in there - this time we literally were! Halves of Rudgate Ruby Mild fr me and Ossett Treacle Scott for Fluff, to prepare us against the snowy wind ahead.

Eschewing the charms of the Dev Cat we headed into Henry's past the promising looking frontage of the Brewery proclaiming its imminent opening. Its strange that Henry's never seems to be busy because the beer is fantastic in there, and well priced. I had a pint of sumptuous Dark Star Revelation, whilst Fluff had a half of the same, and a rather earthy Bridestones Chocolate Stout, from a range of about ten. A pub crying out for a session.

Off down to the Sheffield Tap next to be annoyed, disappointed and elated in equal measure. Initially our eyes lit up at the range, Magic Rock casks plus Human Cannonball on Keykeg, a Tiny Rebel beer, and a cask Sierra Nevada beer - Heaven! I had a half of the Cosmic Daze from S.N and a half of the Steel City Hop Cluster from the other night. And this is where it all started to go wrong...

Firstly, the tiny Rebel beer was about 4.5% and yet cost £5.00 (based on the cost two halves - note, this is according to Fluff, I didn't see the price myself). Not only that, it lacked significant noticeable flavour to overcome the carbonation and pointless coldness. It was like a shandy made with half a lager and some sparkling water. And why in the name of Christ was it £5.00 a pint?! Given that Keykeg was its most unsuitable serving style, it was galling enough to pay the infamous extra Keykeg cost at possibly a pound, but it was still £4.00 without! Is it made with gold? Mores the shame we couldn't remember the name of the brew.

The Sierra Nevada meanwhile was ace and lots easier to drink on cask than it usually is on keg or in bottle. However, the Steel City tasted of furniture polish and cucumbers. That is not how that beer should taste I assure you.

I took it back to complain and the lass behind the bar finished my sentence with the word furniture polish - so why on earth was it even on sale? She went to check with the manager if I could have it replaced with drinkable beer, a puzzle in itself, and I had a Rapture instead. To be fair they also took the beer off, but I can't begin to think what had happened to it to make it taste so bad, and however briefly, be on sale.

We cheered ourselves up with halves of Magic Rock Human Cannonball which is amazing, plus a half of the excellent Oakham JHB. The Human Cannonball was a great example of a strong beer that works well when sold on Keykeg. Joyous though this was, it just highlighted how bad the Tiny Rebel beer was.

Off to the Rutland Arms last and they also had Human Cannonball on - but, and I thought I'd never have reason to say this - at a pound more expensive than the Sheffield Tap. I love the Rutland but that's a slap too far! Luckily, they had Magic Rock Dark Arts on cask, so I had a pint of that and Fluff a rather ill advised pint of a Revolutions Christmassy spiced ale. Oh dear. What have you done to your image Revolutions Brew! Spiced ale is almost always unfailingly bad.

Luckily I bought Fluff a half of the Dark Arts, which he didn't finish as is usually the case in the last pub, so I had that, along with another pint of the absolutely excellent beer again. I love Dark Arts, and its a beer that needs to be on cask a bit more often I think. Probably the beer of the night.

So there you go, an up and down beer journey in the snow. A greatly enjoyable if frustrating way to spend Friday night - and what a great excuse for me to cancel my trip to Leeds today. A dry day inside with no costs involved is much needed I think!


Wee Beefy

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Best is the guest?


     following on (slightly) from my previous post, and as promised, here are the details of that microcosm drinking session, and some from earlier.

Whilst these are two separate events its easier to take them in one circular crawl, so for the purposes of this post I started at the Bath Hotel. Arriving at a time when only a few customers were in. I quickly got rid of them (not intentionally, although I had sweated en route, but one hopes they hadn't noticed!?) and soon set about chatting with Ed. He's an easy going likeable chap with a good sense of humour. No twats in suits for the Bath, and all the better for it.
He quickly drew my attention to the whisky barrel aged Beadecas Well from Thornbridge but I spotted the Amber Ales Revolution and had a pint of that. An absolutely fantastic choice. Refreshing, balanced and hoppy, and lasting about 5 minutes. So I had another! I then moved onto the recommendation...
The aged Beadecas was to be honest, stunning. A truly fantastic well rounded, monstrously luscious, creamy, smokey, spirit infused delight in a glass, but tasting stronger than its 5.5 (?)% strength. It certainly slowed me down, being less quaffable than the Amber, but it was a memorable pint. I finished though, on another pint of the Revolution. To me, it being good enough to have over the Red Willow, is high praise indeed. The Heartless remained untouched.
Down ro DAda next and on both my visits I had the same - a pint of the Dark Star Smoked Porter, which to answer a query from T_i_B is less good than the Beadecas (the aged version at least) and a pint of Hophead. Described by Jamie as the clearest beer ever, what wasn't in doubt was its excellent condition, superlative taste, balancing hoppiness, and refreshing bitterness. An understandable inspiration for my article yesterday - I went to a Thornbridge pub, and didn't drink one of their beers. The guests are always excellent in DAda.
My final stop, the first tonight, was Shakespeares. Surrounded by brewing glitterati, including Dave Unpronounceable, I got to choose from a range of excellent and impressive beers. I started with a pint of the Steel City Cluster Bomb, made with German yeast and being 4.9%. An uncharacteristically Teutonic ale based on its hoppy bite, along with a murkiness not helped by the chill haze but it was a very palatable bitter beer. I had my eye next on the Hop Studio Porter and he North Riding Special but alas both these went off as I approached the bar!
Instead I had the excellent Revolutions Vienna cask lager, which had a weirdly spicy after taste but a brilliantly refreshing body and mouthfeel, plus halves of the Shakespeares 1000th different beer, Sheffield NZ Pale Ale 3 (Pacific Jade) and a half of the North Riding Vanilla Stout. The stout was a bit disappointing to be honest, but the Revolutions was another classic, easy to drink but full flavoured and interesting.

 All in all a great couple of nights, which nicely showcased some of Sheffield finest Brewery and Independently owned hostelries, proving that I have every reason to recommend a Thornbridge pub or two, but reminding me that the independents are always going to win in terms of choice.

Wee Beefy

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Jekyll and Hyde brewery


                     Alas Jekyll and Hyde are not the latest craft led, Keykeg embracing, sour experimenting, barrel ageing, southern hemisphere hop adoring microbrewery (and I'm not saying there's anything wrong with any of that Kraftoids), but the moniker does apply to a very well regarded brewery not too far from Sunny Sheff. One who tick many of the above boxes yet seem to have an odd relationship with drinkers here and further afield.

Rather than fanny around with hints and nudges I'll tell you now its Thornbridge.

It occurred to me the other day, reading a number of Golden Pint awards lists, and reviewing my own, that a heck of a lot of bloggers really rate Thornbridge, whereas blogger or not, I have a weird love hate thang going on with their ever changing brew folks. Looking at my top tag subjects, if its not Thornbridge themselves or their beers I'm covering, their pubs certainly feature very heavily. If I visit 4 pubs in any given crawl in Sheffield I will come across Thornbridge in one guise or another. So I must adore them, right?

Well, erm, not really. Because for every thing that Thornbridge does that makes me go "wow" or gives me a satisfied "world is good" feeling, there's equally something annoying, dubious, or icky, like a half chewed sweet found under the settee covered in hair and crumbs. In fact, so opposite are my feelings and experiences, I can't make up my mind if this highlights the scope and size of their business, or simply reflects the fact that not everything one brewery does will be enjoyed by everyone. I suppose it could also be indicative of an unsound mind, but that's between me....

The final prompt to think about this was a trip to two Thornbridge pubs, one of which I drank an astonishingly good Thornbridge beer in. Details of that will come later, but this brief night out is a microcosm of my Thornbridge experience. For every highlight there is a low shadow. Its like the worst most tempestuous marriage ever, the lousiest most frustrating friendship of all time. It looks like this.

I luuuuurve Halcyon. Its possibly the only beer I'll ever drink in whatever format it comes in (although preferably cask) and still really enjoy it. I adore Thorny Goat, and Beadecas Well, Yule and Pollards, plus McConnells, Galaxia, Chiron, Tzara, Evenlode and their whisky cask stouts.

I like the pub staff as well - not quite as weird as it sounds (I hope), but Steph and Ed at the Bath, Jamie James and Ems at DAda, the nice folk at the Tap, which isn't a Thornbridge pub, Adam at the Coach and Horses, even The man of Ash and Kirk Hammet at the Hallamshire House, all seem very affable and importantly knowledgeable people. Beers and pubs thrive with good staff. Therefore it follows that the regularity with which I drink in Dada, The Bath and The Tap must be largely attributed to those who serve me beer there.

And talking of pubs, in breaking news, I really like DAda. Even though its weird, gimmicky, poorly located and uncomfortable. And has stopped selling food. Despite all of this its excellent. And despite my fears, The Bath has seamlessly transferred from Independent to Brewery ownership without losing its identity and charm. Although, arguably its lost a lot of customers....

I also love the Tap, which is not a Thornbridge pub as I mentioned, and, power cuts permitting, I enjoy a visit to the Coach and Horses.

After which it all gets tricky. You see, the excellence of the beer draws me to the Hallamshire House but I have quickly developed an aversion to cobalt grey. The Hallamshire House therefore is a trade off - better beer but worse decor. Another microcosm.

Meanwhile, I think the Scythes is probably OK but its not somewhere I've been more than once since it changed hands, likewise the Stags Head, although I have no specific dislike of either. I have never been to the Blackamoor or Cricketers since Thornbridge (I, know probably didn't) took over. And I really dislike the Greystones.

I also dislike Raven, Jaipur and Kipling on Keykeg, and Puja, General Sherman, Feaerahoarans (that one no-one could pronounce) and Wallonia full stop. And I don't like being ripped off, so it stands that I don't like buying Thornbridge bottles. Although, in keeping with this chalk and cheese theme of contradiction, many of them are truly sensational.

And finally there's the decline in fortunes of the original range. Thornbridge's first beers, or at least those I first tried, were really good. Jaipur was outstanding (still one of the best cask beers I ever tasted), the St Petersburg was delicious, The Lord Marples easy drinking but full of flavour, the Wild Swan was quaffable. Only one of those statements remains true. Ten brewers a year or not (probably not!) Marples and St Petersburg have changed so much as to be unrecognisable shadows, and not in a good way. And only the wet hopped Jaipur I had at the Hallamshire House came close to its superlative forerunner. Mind you, it was really good....

Later arrival Kipling also used to be a delight. Really hoppy, and citrus bitterness abounded, and in not being as night shortening as Jaipur, it was a go to beer. Now its one dimensional and lacking in bite. Its a memory, not a decision. A Thornbridge beer to avoid, along with Brother Rabbit, Ashford, Lumford and Hopton, AKA Red Lion.

So that's my split personality Thornbridge appraisal. I hope I've been fair and balanced in my assessment, but I'd have to quote a dear friend of mine to sum up Thornbridge best - "They produce fantastic beers, but I dunno, there's something not quite right about them". Just think, if they could be judged on beers (erm, excepting the above list!) alone they could rule the world. Of beer.

And then what would I have to complain about?

Wee Beefy

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Red Arrow pub crawl

Hello again,

      Its perhaps not a surprise to regular readers to discover that, having failed to find a closed pub that may not have existed, I consoled myself by visiting several that did. Getting to Stretton on the Red Arrow Derby to Nottingham bus meant I had ample opportunities to sample some cracking pubs - the pain of research!

Stumbling off the train in Chesterfield having had a very refreshing session the night before, I somehow resisted the temptation to visit Coco, but equally, knowing I had 35 minutes to kill before the Red Arrow, it seemed silly not to remind myself why I like pubs enough to go hunting for them in the freezing countryside. The White Swan was a good place to do this, what with it being ace. From an unsurprisingly stellar line up I had two halves, one of Elland Summit from outer space, a 5.5% extra hoppy bitter, and the Otley Oxymoron, a 5.5% Black IPA.  
Both were very well executed hoppy beers but I think the Elland edged it because the Oxymoron was so bitter that I could still taste it half an hour later. Not an ideal start, especially with my body cramping and gently shaking as the toxins started to turn my insides to seaweed and picked off drowsy brain cells one by one.
On to the Red Arrow and it soon became apparent that I didn't know where I was getting off - having over shot my stop and disembarked at Mickley I then walked in the wrong direction (clearly not still drunk from the night before?!) and ended up in Higham!

Luckily, the Crown has recently been taken over and reopened by new owners, originally from Mansfield and now returned from Florida, having, one assumes, tired of the heat and annoying sunshine. From a range of Bombardier and Buxton Spa (both regulars) I had a pint of the guest beer. Bumpmill Brewery Heart of Gold is a very local ale indeed - being brewed about 300 yards from the pub on Bumpmill Lane (website). The H.O.G was a very palatable malty but refreshing beer with a bittersweet flavour that went down alarmingly well.

The Crown seems to have changed its identity and ownership every time I visit and the new incumbents have been in only 3 weeks. They are waiting to reopen the kitchen and have plans for a traditional pub menu. They also regularly take Bumpmill beers, having recently had their Ebony and Ivory stout on. Lets hope they make a go of this excellent old traditional pub.
I had to walk back to where I was to go pub hunting because Derbyshire County Council had ingeniously thought that access to local businesses could be improved by scrapping, or at least altering the route of, the 150 bus. So it was a good 20 minutes walk to the White Bear at the top of Ashover New Road. Sadly there were no signs of life, and it didn't look like they were just closed during the day. This remains a pub I've never visited.
Back on the Red Arrow (eventually) I hopped off in Ripley and went to the Talbot Taphouse. Arriving around 15.00 I found it completely deserted, much to my surprise. Mind you this gave me the chance to chat to the barman, and get a few pics. I started with a pint of the excellent Amber Ales stout, 4.0% and £2.80 a pint. This didn't last long so I moved on to a pint of one of the guest beers, Oakham Preacher, at 4.3%, which had a fantastic hop character and was really refreshing into the bargain - another excellent Oakham beer. I finished on a half of the Amber Ales 6.5% "full flavoured IPA" that did everything it said on the tin, but somehow wasn't quite what I was expecting.
My next stop wasn't really on the Red Arrow route (although I could have caught it for the first bit, but you never know where the blasted thing stops!) and having secured directions from the barman and his mate I set off for a rather long walk. Walking along the main street past the Pear Tree I found the bottom of Pease Hill and walked first to the Beehive. Two beers were on the bar, from Woods and Oakham, and I had a half of their excellent Citra before tiptoeing through the fairy lights in the back garden to visit the Honey Pot.
This surprisingly under promoted gem is a real notch in the pubs belt, selling fruit beers on keg and real ales on cask. From a choice of 3, all at £2.50 a pint, I had a pint of the Blue Monkey Monkey (I couldn't see the pump clip, and was assured that was the beers name),which was a light refreshing beer that went down well, as did the conversation and directions, shared with and provided by the barman and the only other customer. Yep. Just one. Come on Ripley! Pull yer finger out!
My next stop was another walk away, this time to the Thorn Tree at Waingroves. I had heard plenty of people mention this excellent pub and this was my chance to find out what the fuss was about - I wasn't disappointed. From a range of 5 or 6 real ales I had halves of the Red Willow Wreckless, and the Buxton Dark Heights, both of which were excellent (and which along with a much needed pork pie came to £4.20). It was warm, friendly busy and sold excellent beer. I get what the fuss is about!
A long tedious trek back to Ripley followed where I grabbed some snap and headed in the Wetherspoons Red Lion for a quick half of Lymestone Stone Cutter, which was a nice drop at a quid, before getting back on the Red Arrow into Derby. Here I intrepidly set out for venues new - I first managed to find my way, mainly based on directions given in the Honey Pot, to the Peacock on Nottingham Road. Noting that time was getting on and that more food was required I only had a half in here, but it was excellent - Hartshorne Apocalypse 6.2% was a revelation, especially since its so rare that I get to try their beers. A fab range and great atmosphere mark this pub out, as does, in my weird world, the fact that the toilets are virtually outside.
A short wander to the Furnace next (are their two Furnace pubs in Derby?) where the plain unassuming frontage rightly beckoned you to an interior of the same merits, but one housing a bar with a10 handpumps. I tried the two new beers from the new Shiny Brewery based at the pub - their 3.9% Launch Pad and 4.1% Golden Man. Its only early days but I really enjoyed the Launch Pad, even if the stronger beer was a bit less enjoyable. And I loved the fact that the pub smelled strongly of fresh hops. A great new addition to the Derby scene.
I managed to get a bus round to the railway stating to check the train times then waited to be let in the Station for an inevitably gorgeous pint of Bass from the jug. I couldn't linger over it alas, as I had to get my train.
Safely back in Sheffield I went to the Sheffield Tap and found to my delight that a Tiny Rebel beer had made its way over from Wales. I had a pint of their Dirty Stop Out smoked out stout, which was a delicious and nicely balanced beer, along with half a Tempest Emanation pale (ish) ale. Two fantastic beers topped off a day of drinking great beer perfectly, although ,my legs are very stiff today with all that yomping around Ripley and Derby.
Next? Bring on the 21st, when I will be back out South Wingfield/Higham way to try out a new pub and a couple of old favourites.
Wee Beefy

All hail to the Lodge!


    there's been a pleasing upsurge of interest and coverage of the subject of unspoilt pubs recently. Paul Bailey kicked it all off with a post making reference to his Kent pub guide and the subject was covered on this blog here. The linchpin of this developing interest was the list of Classic Basic Unspoilt Pubs of Great Britain.

Rodney Wolf Coe's list only ever featured pubs that sold real ale, and was compiled, it seemed, largely as the result of tips and recommendations from throughout the UK. It got me thinking about 2 notable farmhouse pubs in Derbyshire - The Queen Adelaide at Snelston Common* and the Lodge, near Stretton, which never featured on the list versions I've seen. The problem was, there seemed to be a dearth of info about The Lodge (this info itself came about as a discussion in 2010 between Wee Fatha and a couple of blokes in a pub in Ashover!) so I tried to conduct a bit of research.

As far as me and WF could ascertain, The Lodge was a farmhouse pub, located up a road that soon became a track, near Stretton in Derbyshire. I only ever went there once (assuming I ever did!?) and I'm not even certain when that was. My mind tells me it had a barn door reminiscent of a hatch, and some sort of signage, and beer kegs outside. And that's it.

Frustratingly my visit wasn't even as a drinker - it never opened during the day and we just happened to be passing and wanted to know if I could get a soft drink.

Further uncertainty surrounds the name. Colloquially it was referred to as Bill and Ben's, a haunt for local farmers who'd gather after the work was done late into the night drinking probably keg Mansfield. WF described it as a "Mansfield house" but I think given the location of the pub I'm not so sure. Convinced that it wasn't a proper tied establishment, we tried to work out the pub, such as it was, name, based on a map of the area. There is a Handley Lodge farm in about the right place, linked to a road by a track, and there is another farm further up called Stretton hall farm, WF claims the pub had hall in the name but I think a more likely pub name was the Handley Lodge, shortened simply to "The Lodge". But is any of this true?

I have now received an early copy of the Ramblers Association guide to the fledgling Chesterfied Round Walk. It uses 1980's Ordnance Survey map fragments to assist walkers in interpreting its directions. There is a pub marked off New Road (as WF insisted) but on the A61 side of the railway - where the walk doesn't go. So to locate the pub I need to head off that way and knock on a door or two! Here's what I found.....

Ashover New Road isn't a joy to walk along since large stretches have no pavement. I joined the guides directions at the point the walk joins the road and first started up a bridleway that headed for Handley Lane and Handley Lodge farm. My plan was to also see if there was or had been a pub the other side of the railway, where its marked. Luckily, I bumped into a local couple out walking their dog, and despite my rather fractured picture and poorly sourced info, they knew where Bill and Ben's was. It was 3 miles away. And there had been a pub on the other side of the railway. Cue a walking history lesson!

The couple told me that Bill and Ben's was a farmhouse pub. However, it was called The Press, and is in the Alton and Press area of Ashover, near to Old Tupton and Wingerworth. Bill and Ben it seems have long since passed away, but there was agreement that a new license application was considered or even lodged in the last 5 years or so, possibly by a Mr Bigley. It was also suggested that Bill and Ben were quite old when they were running the pub, and that when it got late they'd retire to bed and leave a tin for the customers to put the money for their beer in.

There are a few candidates in Press, looking at the map, most notably Northedge Hall Farm and the higher of two Press Farm's. This, however, is still based on my farm up a track idea - and now I'm not so sure about that even! I will do a bit more searching and may even twist Wee Fatha's arm to drive out to Press and Alton one day for a neb, but the chances of getting a pic, either now or from the past seems slim.

One final point is that the 1980's Ordnance Survey map which I assumed had placed the PH sign on the wrong side of the railway due to a lack of space, is in fact correct, in that there really was a pub on Highstairs Lane called the Hideaway - now a much extended private house, but having a possibly 17th core, the front of which was the pub.

So, although not scientific, I think I trust local knowledge better than my fragmented memories, so am happy to have some certainty about the location of Bill and Ben's but disappointed that I have still not seen the building. And, the 1980's map also shows a no longer trading pub near Poplar Farm on Holmgate Lane at Henmoor, which is only just off the Chesterfield Round Walk route. Which makes me wonder - have I simply attached the idea of the farmhouse pub I visited being Bill and Ben's, when in fact it was Poplar farm?

There in lies another expedition.....

Wee Beefy

N.B : Nearby was another unusual licensed building, this one surviving until very recently (and one which I managed to visit one summers evening in 2008) , that being the New Napoleon, overlooking Ogston Reservoir. This presumably wasn't always a pub, obvious not least by its unusual interior layout, but also because when Ogston Reservoir flooded the valley, it covered the Ashover Light Railway and a pub, The Napoleons Home. And carrying on through Ashover, on Slack Hill, A632, a farm on one of the two left hand turns (Slack Lane being one, as you head towards Matlock) also used to be a pub. If anyone has any info on any of these pubs I'd love to hear about them.

*Update : I have finally found a picture of the Queen Adelaide (I just discovered that in a Freudian slip I called it the Quiet Woman...) - here's a link on the excellent Lost Pubs Project website .

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Confounding Iain Duncan Smith

Now then,

        recently the 3 main political parties seem to have been simultaneously battling for and railing foolishly  against beer and its place in society. While Chuka Umunna and Greg Mulholland were tweeting about the positive statements made in the parliamentary beer duty debate, Tyson posted here regarding Diane Abbot's ill informed out pourings about pubs and drinking, and lovable out of touch toff Iain Duncan Smith made "an hilarious" joke cum simile when he claimed "Labour wasted money like drunks on a Friday night".

Oh, stop it. The thing is Duncypops, we proles don't, for the most part, have bars selling discounted real ales at work, and so usually end up drinking after we finish toiling, usually on Friday and Saturday nights. And not out of choice but necessity, since we have to be up early for work during the week. So there.
Of course, the only effective way to fight ignorance like this is to prove the Quiet Man wrong. So, I subjected myself to a midweek tipple after work, just to spite him. See how you like this tale of recklessness, Iain Bunkum Smith! (do you see what I did there? I simultaneously implied that what he was saying was bunkum, i.e. rubbish, whilst changing his initials to IBS, also known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. He'd do well to learn from my wordsmithery, am sure you'd agree...)
But I digress.

Myself and Mr P started our night of subtle protest at the University Arms. From a decent range Mr P sensibly had a pint of the lower gravity Acorn Thirst Degree, whilst I had a pint of the Abbeydale Dr Morton's Anti Freeze. Another cracking Dr Morton offering, although one worries that these may soon supersede the core range in terns of market appeal and product desirability.

I also squeezed in a half of Vigilante Brewing Chocolate Strike, which one assumes isn't a euphemism, but is undoubtedly a very nicely balanced chocolate stout, with plenty of bitterness to counteract the unfortunate and unavoidable sweetness. Very nice.

Off next to the Bath Hotel where Steph was holding the reigns, and where Mr P had a pint of Thornbridge Warp and I tried a pint of the excellent Red Willow Heartless (which I'd sampled Saturday) along with the last of the Fathomless oyster stout. The Heartless is an excellent chocolate Stout, better even than the earlier lauded merits of the Vigilante offering. Made with 85% cacoa Colombian chocolate its a hugely tasty and satisfying drink which manages to pack in masses of flavour without becoming cloying.
Harrisons 1854 was our next stop, if nothing else so that Mr P could get to meet Bob, who he figured he may well know or at least know of from his ties with the world of engineering. One pint of Farmers Blonde (alas the Deception wasn't on) for me and a pint of Moonshine for Mr P later and we were clear on many things, including the fact that the beers were on good form, and Mr P did indeed recognise Bob from somewhere. The shrinking world of Sheffield encroaches ever further...
Our final (and my penultimate) stop was at the Red Deer where I can't recall Mr P's choice, but I had a pint of the Caledonian Double Dark. Trying it outside the comfort of its spiritual home at the Church House I am pleased to report that it was once again excellent.
My final stop after Mr P had reached his limit was DAda, where Ems and Annie were on hand to dispense beer and conversation Io a painfully quiet (well, I say painfully, but joyously so for me) venue. I had a pint of the excellent Amber Ales Derbyshire Gold and a half of Chiron to finish off before wending my way home for some food and a bit of telly.
In the end, I concede this exercise has probably had little impact on the life that Iain Duncan Smith lives in his privileged bubble, but I was once again contributing to the Drinkuary campaign. And, in my own small misunderstood way, quietly raising two fingers to the naysayers of wonderful British beer.


Sunday, 6 January 2013

Doing my bit for Drinkuary


     after the melee of Christmas and New Year slaking and the weighty spectre of expectation sitting on the shoulders of all expecting a better year ahead, its been reassuring to know that the reckless merry go round of drinking and general revelry can be continued into January. Not only that, but its all for a good cause!

In response to the sanctimonious imploration by Enjoyment Concern for a "dry January" (surely a more apt meteorological wish given recent events) people, who are real, have come up with the concept of drinkuary. This idea draws a clear correlation between the efforts of Enjoyment Concern and zealots in the health lobby to make people stay off alcohol of any kind for a specific period, with the ongoing decline in the fortune of pubs, the seemingly unstoppable tide of tax rises, and the general spiralling cost of drinking responsibly.

If you forgive the slightly odd misspelling of George Galloway as George Galway, who sounds like he ought to be an Irish folk singer, its an interesting idea, and one which fits in nicely with my intention to continue my normal pre Christmas drinking patterns. Anyone who runs a pub or knows people who run pubs will be aware that January is a write off month - ideally you combine the sales of all of December and January and average them out to make January less of a waste of time. Against which backdrop, the last thing the struggling trade needs is a dearth of custom, so I am pleased to have so far lent my support to the following establishments...

Friday night was Chala's choice so we started in the Church House. Its probably important to clarify that I do actually wish the venue every success; and despite my amusement at its bizarre customer profiling concepts, its still a nice place to have a decent pint of real ale (especially the Caledonian Double Dark, which is fantastic), after work. And that's what we did. Two rounds of Double Dark for me and Birra Moretti for Chala. A pleasant repose.

Off next for a surprise toilet inspired (the need, not the decor) stop off at Popolo's. Despite arriving in time for the drnks offers, nothing beery really caught my eye, at least, nothing in the offer list. So Chala had a half of Staropramen and myself a bottle of Brooklyn Brown. I don't know that I'm really a fan of this beer. It seems oddly sweet and sort of, I dunno, weirdly caramelised. Maybe it was a skunked bottle? Although being refrigerated to near freezing probably does it no favours.

The Rutland Arms on Brown Street was our next destination, for food and beer, and also the opportunity to engage in another Blogosphere meetIRL. After 18 months of hunting, I have finally spotted a SparklePete. A thoroughly nice chap as well. Only 20 more bloggers to meet now....

Drinks wise, Chala tried the Freedom Wheat again and to be fair it was lifeless and even weirder than New Year, so I gamely offered to finish it, and bought Chala half of the very drinkable Freedom Organic lager, which was on top form. I meanwhile ignored the advice of everyone in the know, which was to drink Jarrow Best, and went for pints of Wincle Wassale, Ilkley Mary Christmas and Magic Rock Cannonball, this time to remind myself why its not as good as the Human Cannonball which was amazing when I tried it in the Rutland last year.

There was a slight issue with the Leffe that Chala tried. Its an awkward one to call because realistically, who drinks enough Leffe to know if its right or wrong? Chala was adamant that it was not right, having a cough medicine type flavour and sulphury smell, and did get it swapped. Whilst I have torn loyalties here, I have to agree with young Paultous, who quite sagely pointed out that it definitely wasn't off, and that despite not claiming to be an expert, it tasted nice. An awkward one to call.  Incidentally, and unsurprisingly, the food was excellent. Must eat there more often.

Our final drinks were in the Sheffield Tap, where, after discovering to my surprise that they don't sell a single saison (the silly was out of stock, but its not a good beer in my opinion) I decided to go KeyKeg and Cask and came away with a pint of the excellent Kirkstall Black Band Porter, and a half of the even more excellent Camden Hell(e?)s. Chala meanwhile finally got tp try a bottle of Vedett wheat, which was very much to her taste. An excellent way to finish the evening.

Yesterday was meant to be a day of lost pub research - but a much needed lie in saw to that, and I was out mid afternoon to start some rather more local investigations (Ooer!) at DAda. On the bar were two excellent real ales (4 in total, including the weird new St Petersburg with peated malt or whatever gives it that unfortunate edge), those being Red Willow Directionless and Amber Ales Derbyshire Gold.

The Gold was really refreshing and subtly hopped (but in a way that the beer benefited from) and the Red Willow was an intriguing blend of malts and hops, a fantastic drink but one that defied categorising. It was very very good, so that's what matters.

The Red Deer was my next stop, and I  had a half each of the two guests - Celt Experience Celt Gold and the St Peters Best Bitter. I probably should have had the bitter first because it paled into insignificance against the amazing golden hoppiness of the Celt Experience, a rarely seen but often enjoyed brewery. Good to see both in Sheffield.

Harrisons 1854 was on my route so I popped in for a chat with Barraharri, but alas as the alcohol was mounting up and I'd had no scran I opted for only a half in here - Farmers Blonde, which was on good form, from a range including Best and Abbeydale Moonshine. It was nice to get back in my spot, even if it was only a pit stop.

The nearby Bath Hotel was following DAda's lead and also had some Red Willow on offer. I had a couple of pints of the Fathomless, an excellent oyster stout, and a half of the Heartless from the cask, another extremely quaffable and excellently executed Red Willow beer. It was also my first opportunity to try one of the Bath's sensational hot roast pork sandwiches - well worth the 8 month wait I'd say!

I managed to find a corner to relax in and spent sometime catching up with Steph, who, poor lass, had been working so hard that she imagined me to be much older than I am. I'm being as gracious as I can here, in the face of extreme provocation.... I finished off with a very tasty pint of Thornbridge Chiron before the allure of my home patch called and I headed off up to Crookes.

After securing fuel I met Wee Keefy in the Princess Royal. From a range of about 5 beers we both had the excellent Sheffield Brewing Co Christmas Pudding Porter, a tasty 5.2% dark beer on at a bargain £2.00 a pint. We sat in the far corner near the jukebox whilst a good covers band played some more unusual tunes including Nirvana and System of a Down.

Things were going rapidly downhill next - literally. Me and Wee Keefy were on Bates Street, and finding it a little slippy underfoot, WK suddenly let out out an "aaargh" and slipped sideways off the pavement. Laughing, I said "what bloody footwear have you got on, I've only got these crappy dress shoes" then took one step and fell flat on my arse. Must not gloat...

The Hallamshire House was our final stop and although initially overjoyed to spot Thorny Goat unfortunately it either wasn't that or someone had put bloody chilli in it. Yuk! Luckily they still had Heather Honey stout, and knowing WK has a sweet tooth I bough him a half of that and me an unusual version of Jaipur, which must have been different, because it was absolutely chuffing delicious! We grabbed a seat with friends Jo and Neil and caught up and supped before I made a joyless, frustrating and lengthy trip home, marked out by utterly backward public transport provision.

So, that;s my first campaigning work in the name of Drinkuary, lets hope I can continue to help, ahem,  "them" for the rest of the month.


Wee Beefy.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Clear, but not as mud.


              aside from my exotic purchase of a beer that didn't meet my expectations (as covered in my previous post) I have seen a couple of other bloggers mention strong beers and prices recently - but in contrasting ways. Whilst Steve at the Beer Meisters blog here recorded the prices of Dark Star Imperial Stout in the Hastings area, Timbo at A Swift One made a plea here for 2013 to be a year when prices were fairer, and expressed his frustration at the high price of Keykeg "craft" beer in, "craft beer" establishments. Whatever Craft beer is.... (only joking!)

Given that Steve has seen, albeit locally brewed 10.5% beer on sale on cask for less than £5.00 a pint in two pubs in Sussex, yer know, in the Saaaaarf, where everything is expensive, it seems odd to me that supping in the North I have somehow sleepwalked into a mindset where anything above the idiotic beer duty punishment threshold gets to be acceptably £7.00 a pint. Which throws up a few questions..

Firstly - am I going soft? Wibble. And when the hell did this happen? Could it be that endless sessions in Thornbridge pubs and the Sheffield Tap plus my visits to North Bar and Port Street Beer House and the like has led me to form a skewed picture of how much beer should cost? The Keykeg Arbor Ales beer at 12% was on at below a fiver a pint at the White Swan in Chesterfield as was the Keg Anchor Old Foghorn (what a coup by the way!) at Shakespeares in Sheffield. If the excuse for Keykeg costing more is that the container is single use then why is that not always the case?

Also, why are some brewers forging ahead with putting everything into Keykeg dispense? Where is the justification for supplying locally in Keykegs, and for putting much lower strength beer in them? One of the things about Keykeg as a dispense method is that its usually used for stronger beers, indeed, it pains me to concede that often they are suited better to that dispense (eeeurrgh, that feels icky). But is this a smokescreen? Because take off the alleged 80p difference per pint from cask, and it still ends up being 2 or 3 quid more!

Having taken a much needed breath and sought an oft missing "grip" I can now provide the start of an explanation, if not something as radical as a defence.

We don't know what pricing/purchasing arrangements the pubs in Hastings have with Dark Star. And we don't know for sciencertain that those quoted are correct (sorry Steve - assume every one is as lapse with the detail as I am!). Also, in the Shakespeares example, I don't know if the keg used was a trad or Keykeg - since its an American beer. I readily admit that I have come to associate all exotic none cask dispensed draught beer with Keykeg, and I'm not sure that's very helpful.

The final puzzle is, last year, I virtually popped a lung in apoplectic derision at Thornbridge Bracia selling for £9.60 a pint on cask at the Hallamshire House. Now, a year later, its the same price*, but its on Keykeg. I don't understand!

I know many beer bloggers have had this same disorientating sensation that their "pain barrier" of unacceptable expense has been withered away by a seamless procession of ever rarer, more exclusive and more preposterously expensive ingredient featuring beers from the darlings of UK and world brewing. So I don't expect any sympathy.

What I and all fellow sufferers could really do with is some inside knowledge. A brewer. Or a brewery owner. Or a bar owner. Someone who cares about beer, profit and customer experience (and there are thousands of you lets make that clear) who can honestly explain, counter or confirm any of the above points to me. I promise to share the results with erm, well, this blog. Too long for a tweet, one would hope.

Holding my breath now brewfolk...

Wee Beefy

*Mr Ash - I can't read your chalk board writing. Hence I couldn't work out if a half pint was £4.60 or £4.80. So if £9.60 is wrong, its your fault, basically....