Friday, 26 February 2010

The Brunswick Inn, Derby

The Brunswick Inn is one of my favourite pubs and you can see what I think of it in tomorrow’s DT or here; BTW did you know that the city has a Beer King who also performs poetry readings, he even wears a crown and cloak sometimes, making him look like one of those wrestlers from World of Sport when I was a kid — pubs offer everything don’t they? Beer, conviviality, warmth, food, poetry, the chance to raise money for charities, comfort in which to plunge into the pages of a favourite book, I could go on but I think I’ll go down the pub instead.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A dry Gewutztraminer for me and the missus

To the Victorian Lego of Westminster for the launch of the World’s Biggest Pub Quiz (March 25 for the Family Charity Association, it provides hard-up families with their hols, does a good job, if you can get your boozer to help please do, see here). However, I’m not here with the begging bowl, what I wanted to write about was a pint I had beforehand at St Stephen’s Tavern, close to the Westminster Tube. It’s a Badger pub. I’m not a great fan of their fruit beers, and I often feel they could up the hop rate on their regulars. They’re good people though and I love their Oddfellows Arms in Wimbourne (right), which is straight out of an MR James novel. 

However, I do enjoy Hopping Hare and First Gold (the latter is always a good pre-cinema pint, I have memories of it providing me sustenance, when I went to see Saving Private Ryan when my wife was pregnant cause I thought the first 15 mins might help me cope if she had to have a c-section, which she did and it did, I suppose I should watch The Hurt Locker if I am called onto defuse a bomb). 

However, back to the present, I ordered Tanglefoot, which I have always enjoyed  and found myself comparing it to a dry Gewurtztraminer — there’s a dryness and a grape-like fruitiness which you half expect to topple over into sweetness but doesn’t; this was intriguing and something I hadn’t noted before. I look at my notes from last year’s visit and I didn’t get that (melon/peardrops on the nose, dark gold in colour, nose also spicy, hint of toffee), but if beer is the new wine (which it isn’t of course) then this is from Alsace (or even the Moselle if you really want to stretch things) rather than Mars. And that means I enjoyed it (I sent some tasting notes to a brewer the other day and on receipt he asked ‘but did you enjoy it’. Of course I did.).

Monday, 22 February 2010

Lager of the week — Leeds Brewery’s Leodis

This is a dark lager I discovered at the Leeds Brewery Tap last week. This is very much a space based on the American model, light and airy, modern; upstairs the brew-kit stands behind glass, a theatre of beer. In the glass Leodis is as dark as treacle with crimson highlights and topped with a crown of bone-white foam. The nose has a resiny hop character with wisps of smoke, while there are smoky, bitter and dry notes on the palate with some toffee/treacle whispers joining in with the fun. It’s appetising and refreshing. Here’s a conundrum: is it a Dunkel or a Bohemian dark or is it very much its own man, perhaps a British craft dark lager.  A neat little discovery while the modernity of the Tap (along with the interior of the excellent Northbar, which I also visited) demonstrates even more and more that beer is being taken seriously — and in Leodis’ case the same is true for lager. Neat neat neat.  

Saturday, 20 February 2010

How not to get lost with the Quarrymen

Write up of the Quarryman’s Rest in today’s DT here, a good old Devon pub where a pint of Otter Ale will be appreciated on a day like today (we’ve got snow!), or you might like to go for a walk in the Dales with this man — not only will he wean you off the GPS and learn how to read maps, but he will also find you a good pub in the evening.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

How pubs can sometimes make you go all philosophical

Sitting in the No 2 Smoke Room at the Adelphi in Leeds, the former Tetley’s tap I”m told, a Timmy Taylor in my hand (I couldn’t quite bring myself to order a Tetley’s, it’s not a beer that I’ve ever really enjoyed). Amazed by the well-preserved aspect of the place, the Victoriana on show, the wood panels, the frosted etched glass and the feel that there are rooms everywhere to discover. It’s late afternoon and the sun is streaming in warm and relaxing, encouraging me to linger over my pint (though it’s not the best Landlord I’ve ever had). Outside trees’ branches remain bare and folk scurry about in their overcoats, but here in the pub, unable to see through the frosted glass, I can maintain the illusion that this dreadful winter has ended and spring is here. This is the pub as a creator of an alternative reality, a bastion against the outside world, the weaver of dreams. Pubs can move you away from the mundane things of real life. I don’t get that feeling in CafĂ© Nero, where it’s just a case of loading up on caffeine and hoping that they have free wifi.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Nothing changes when it comes down to wagging fingers at drinkers

Whilst flicking through the Faber Book of Drink, Drinkers and Drinking (great book, get it here), I came across this gem, it sounds like the sort of thing that is scaring us on the telly now, but it dates back to 1975, which shows that there’s nothing new in the media’s tactics regarding drink. It’s written by Martin Amis, when he was seen as a precocious sprog of Kingsley (there is always that tale of the New Statesman running a competition asking for the most preposterous book titles, My Struggle by Martin Amis was one). I’ve cut out a couple of lines but otherwise it’s as printed. It’s also interesting to note the figures for wine consumption, this was obviously the period when people started to think that a bottle of wine was aspirational.

If you drink a bottle of wine a day (or five pints of beer or ten pub whiskies) you’re more or less an alcoholic, according to Tonight’s documentary on drinking (BBC1, Thursday). Over the past five years the consumption of beer has risen by 12%, spirits by 60%, wine by a ‘staggering’ 73%. A bottle of Scotch now costs half what it did in the 1930s. Housewives are boozing more these days; children are boozing more; we all are. I am an alcoholic for instance. You probably are too.
Bestial drunks brawled in a hospital casualty ward; an apologetic Irishman had a Guinness bottle removed from his crown; battered wives told of nightly atrocities; dazed tramps staggered backwards from camera; wrecked liver fizzed in a medic’s discard tray. The point of the programme, apparently, was to show that social drinking and alcoholism are not so sharply differentiated as closet alcoholics like ourselves wish to believe. But the images of impending Yahooism were too garish to convince. As one hard-drinking tot pointed out, ‘I see blokes drinking tons of pints — and drinking really fast — and they’re in the best of ‘elf.’ or as a liver expert more vindictively explained, ‘some of them get away with heavy drinking — that’s the problem.’ The problem? Admonitory documentation of this kind ought to be less scary if they really want to scare anyone.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Lager of the week — Freedom Organic Dark Lager

Not so sure about the presentation, clear glass bottle, 330ml size, beer has an almost cherry red glow to it, pours with a good head, almost off white, beneath which toffee, near-vanilla and even the faintest memory of cherry brandy aromas arise; warming and soothing though not the sort of warming that suggests a big bonfire of the vanities (or bonfire toffee for that matter), more like a hug from someone you love. Soft and sweet on the palate with a bitter and dry finish; some sweetness retained in the finish. There’s also an earthiness that I like, presumably from the hop, which is — well I don’t know and does it matter? I’m getting a Jacob’s Cracker-like crispness and dryness on the palate, which would suggest pairing it with cheese, so I try it with a creamy, salty, sweaty Devon blue, but all it did was vanish totally in its embrace, though a fragrant note I hadn’t noticed before emerged; but it wasn’t hideous, it just didn’t enhance either, so drink alone (or drink with friends). It’s not in a Bohemian dark tradition, neither a Vienna amber one, rather it’s a British craft lager tradition of ‘let’s see what happens when we add crystal and caramalt’ to our pilsner. Good work lads.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Mild mannered beers at SIBA

Last week saw me in Nottingham for judging at the SIBA National Championship — I had plumped for the mild section because I wanted to see what brewers were doing with mild. Judging on the table brought forth comments such as ‘what is mild’ and ‘is this a mild’, as well as the more surreal one of ‘where’s the cream’. This was all well and good, but it did make us wonder what the parameters for mild were. After all we had coffee notes, chocolate ones, as well as hints of sherry and aniseed (plus black pepper according to one judge, which might be fine for a saison but not for a mild). Maybe those who live in mild-drinking sections of the country have a better idea of what mild is, but I, a very late convert to it, think chocolate, coffee, an occasional graininess and a refreshing quality despite its weakness (strong milds are another kettle of mashed malt). Others might disagree. This then moves me to think about beer styles in general (once again). Compared to the American strictures (as well as those that govern the European Beer Star competition), the rules for the milds were pretty loose — sure the beers were all dark chestnut in colour onwards (no light milds or AKs) and they had various elements that constitute a mild, but what about a beer in a mild category that has a fragrant hop character just hovering about on the nose? Is that a mild or does it really matter? I do seem to remember a What’s Brewing letter from ‘Outraged of Oop North’ (or some other faux proletarian address) fulminating at Protz for his tasting notes on Rudgate’s award-winning 2009 mild, part of which included the word fragrant (as in hop). Oh lord.

With the next category I was on the speciality beer section, once again deliberately chosen because I wanted to see what SIBA brewers were doing with this category. A beer that tasted like a raspberry mivvi (with added vanilla) and another that might or might not have had apple didn’t exactly leap out of the glass, put their arms around me and say ‘how’s it going pal’. There was also a beer with somuch fudge on the nose that I could have syphoned it off and opened up a West Country gift shop selling the stuff; the palate, however, like Arsenal in a big game, let me down.The final beer was sensational — its use of a special ingredient was awesome and it romped home as the favourite of our table. I know the name of the brewery and the ingredient used but in the name of fairness I won’t mention it (the winners are announced next month). So if there was a champion speciality beer then this was it. But I do wonder what British brewers are aiming for when they make a speciality beer. Do they have a clue or are they mimicking the beers of Belgium or wherever (anyone for a sorghum beer?), or should we be grateful that experiments are being tried? On a similar speciality beer note, once whilst writing a piece about foreign speciality beers I was dumbfounded to see that Peroni was being touted (and probably still is) in that category — it’s a Euro-lager nothing more and nothing less, to suggest otherwise is to treat the drinking public like idiots (it’s a bit like when so-called cask-conditioned lagers win CAMRA speciality beer categories, but that, as they say, is a topic for another day).
The judging was held at the excellent Canal Inn (see pic), a place where Castle Rock’s Harvest Pale is king for me.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Lager of the week — St Mungo

What on earth is going on? This is a seriously good British (or should I say Scottish?) craft lagered beer. West is inspired by the enviable beer culture of Franconia, but their best seller St Mungo reminds me of a Bohemian Pils — whatever side of the border it falls on it’s a pretty stupendous lager, emanating from the home of Tennant’s, the grandfather and grandmother of cooking lagers. The nose is resiny, I’m thinking good Pilsner Urquell, a bodacious and sensual body with a dry bitter finish, a very dry finish that suggests you might need another (and I bloody will have another). I would contend it’s closer to a Bohemian Pilsner than a Helles, but I would also say this is a very modern lager, and perhaps indicative of the attitude that Franconia has to beer as opposed to the Reinheitsgebot-happy drones of a lot of the German brewing industry (though West do adhere to the Law). It’s fantastic and it’s probably one of the best British craft lagers I have had for ages (I also worship at the feet of Meantime’s Vienna, Pils and Festbier, while Taddington, Cotswold and Freedom, as well as a growing clutch of others, have my vote — and just in case you are interested, this is all part of ongoing research for a feature). West: where have you been all my life?

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Take a drink with a stuffed baboon

If you’re in and about Winchester and fancy a cracking pub stuffed full of curios (including a stuffed baboon, see pic here) then the Black Boy in Winchester is your man, or read what I think of it in today’s DT.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Roll out the barrel for Alastair Simms (not the actor)

Amid the tales of glasses, pubs closing and whatever else gets you down about the beer we love, here’s a positive beer story I’ve written for tomorrow’s DT about the master cooper of Wadworth’s. I’ve also done articles on inn signs and hops for them, and it has a regular pub review every week (as far as I can work out the only one of the broadsheets to do so), so beer has a voice here.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Lager of the week — Nils Oscar God Lager

This is a Swedish beer which has long been a favourite of mine: dark orange-gold in colour, while the nose is soft and sweetish, reminiscent of gently toasted white bread; there’s also a sort of dry biscuit/cracker character on the nose as well, with a restrained citrus orange in the background. A breakfast beer perhaps? Initial impressions in the mouth are of its intense bitterness and a lasting dry finish reminiscent of the breakfast cereal Grape Nuts; or imagine a hay barn in the summer when it hasn’t rained for a while and you can almost taste the dryness in the air. The beer delivers a vigorous piney and resiny palate-scrubbing effect to the palate, there’s also a light bittersweet side; it’s a sexy Marilyn Monroe of a lagered beer, a beer that sways onto the palate expressing big bold flavour colours as well as soft and seductive notes. In other words I like it — should you? I do.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Can the can

On the train back west after a BGBW committee meeting at the sinister headquarters of the BBPA in the open spaces of Vauxhall. As the Secretary of this illustrious organisation I’m the person who takes notes of the gnomic utterances of folk such as Zak Avery and Pete Brown, whom those in the blogworld will know as well as their own mother, as well as the ever cheerful Larry Nelson, who edits the invaluable Brewers’ Guardian, the dapper head of Cask Marque Paul Nunny, and the inscrutable Chairman Tim Hampson. However, this post isn’t about them, it’s about the plastic glass of Tribute that sashays about on the drop-down desk (what else could I call it) in the seat next to me. It’s from a can and is absolutely delicious (and I have matched it with a bag of cheese and onion crisps, which is a match that Garrett Oliver will be not celebrating any day soon). Having enjoyed a canned Steam Engine lager (though Stan Hieronymous tells me he’d had a duff one at their brewpub recently), I’m willing to give decent beers like Tribute a go when they come in a can. This is lovely — floral, aromatic spring cut flowers leavened by a light undercurrent of soft caramel, it helps to put up a sunny wall against the darkness outside. I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between this and a bottled version, though draught might be more of a challenge. More please. How about Proper Job in a can? In the words of the Marxist historian (whose work and utterings were the bane of my first year in college) Christopher Hill, the world is turned upside down. First, canned beer is good, whatever next? Oh I know the pre-meeting pint of Young’s Bitter in the Riverside at Vauxhall had a mouth-zapping, palate snapping bitterness that I don’t recall in the Wandsworth model, and I loved it. The world’s gone mad.

What to swig with jugged hare

The end of the shooting season and what better dish to celebrate it with than jugged hare, a pungent, gamey, earthy dish that my family loathe but I love and descend on from above at least once every winter. And then what beer shall be served alongside? I cracked open a Cantillon lambic, thinking of that old wine and food adage — champagne goes with everything and lambic is close enough to champagne (I have got a five-year-old bottle of Deus cooling in the cellar but I am saving it for a special occasion), so ipso facto crack open a bottle of Cantillon that I have had for at least 12 months. Its effervescence scrubbed the palate clean between mouthfuls and it was sharp and funky; they worked together but it didn’t enhance the dish, so I opened a bottle of Lost Abbey’s Ten Commandments. This was a revelation as the pepper and rosemary spice in the background melded and moulded itself around each mouthful of hare with its coating of a rich sauce slightly sweetened by the addition of homemade rowanberry jelly. If Moses had been around he would have thought ‘bugger the exodus, give me a glass’. And afterwards its old spice mellowness also worked well with the chocolate cake I’d bought half-price from the Co-op en route back from my Sunday lunchtime beers. The chocolate creaminess of the cake and the spice and warming alcohol of the beer got on famously like they’d been pals forever and I toasted the hare.

Monday, 1 February 2010

A night in the pub

The barman says to her ‘he’s a beer expert, you’re a wine expert, you should all get on’. Then goes off to deal with a wanna-be ancient toff who is moaning about 50p added to his bill. It’s gone 10.20pm and I sip on a pint of Vale’s Gravitas, all tropical fruit and soft mellow hop. ‘Not bad is it,’ says her husband who confesses to drink London Pride until ‘it comes out of my ears’. What an unpleasant image. She works for one of the top wine houses and is down for a couple of days. ‘Would you like another drink,’ says a chap to my right. She says: ‘wine is best because it has layers of complexity that beer doesn’t.’ She looks smug and complacent when I counter with words that talk about the carbonation of beer cutting through fatty food, the yin and yang of hops and malt, the sweet and the sour of the lambic, the world of beer beyond London Pride — a good beer but hardly something that is the Bordeaux of beer, unlike Fuller’s’ Golden Pride, which Michael Jackson used to describe as the cognac of beer. After a lot of friendly banter, we end up like the other’s night’s Villa-Gooners match, a draw (I would have been thankful for that result with the Mancs yesterday) — there’s still a lot of work to be done with the wine world though.
The pic is not the pub where the chat took place, but somewhere I went last week and was totally enthralled by.