Sunday, 25 November 2007

50 best beers my arse!

I was looking forward to thumbing through The Information, the glossy that came with yesterday's The Independent. It promised “The 50 best beers: Guy Adams dons his drinking cap to go in search of the perfect pint of ale this Christmas”. 50 best beers my arse!

First up it was nothing to do with the 50 best beers because there were no cask ales amongst them. So perhaps it should have read the 50 best bottled-beers. But no, where were Fullers Vintage Ale, Titanic Stout, Comrade Bill Bartram’s Egalitarian Anti Imperialist Soviet Stout or Trappist Rochefort 10, to name but a few ? So perhaps it should have read 50 best bottled beers that are mainly from supermarkets, with many being rather boring actually. Catchy title ‘eh?

Yes there were some bottle-conditioned beers, yes there were some good choices, but there were an awful lot of also rans in the list. In that all-important NÂș1 slot, supposedly the best was St Peter's India Pale Ale. Presumably winning this coveted position because of its stylish bottle and pretty label. Can't fault St Peter's quality, they produce okay beer, but its dead beer and hardly wow. Thankfully Stella (or whatever the fucking stuff is called these days) did not feature in the list but Hoegaarden Biere Blanche was there and you have to ask. Why?

Come on Independent you can surely do better than that. Next time give the job to someone that knows something about beer and not someone that's wowed by pretty labels. Anyone got any better suggestions for a Top 50?

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Cry God for Harry, England and St Edmund!

"God is a concept by which we measure our pain" thus spake John Lennon in a bygone era. Now I've never really subscribed to the notion of a patron saint, as an atheist I don't really understand the concept. It's even more disturbing when wrapped up in the notion of some kind of national identity/national pride. As Dr Johnson put it "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel". And that's before we get on to the controversial subject of who the English patron saint really should be. Should it be the current incumbent, a geezer hailing from the Lebanon, Turkey, Greece or some such far-flung place, St George the dragon-slayer, or should it be his predecessor St Edmund? The saint that gave his name to the town in which I live. Quite frankly I don't give a bugger. But what I am quite prepared to do is celebrate St Edmund on his day. Especially when there is beer involved. Sort of along the lines of everyone being Irish on St Paddy's day.

I am particularly prepared to forgo my principles because my hostelry of choice, a brew pub now known as the Old Cannon Brewery, has brewed a special winter ale called St Edmund's Head - named after the original pub name where the brewery now stands. It has apparently been brewed to be in tiptop condition to drink on St Edmunds Day, 20th November. Greene King (the other brewery in town, that some of you might have heard of, also recently launched a St Edmunds ale. I've not tried it and I'm not sure I want to. It's served cold and with the option of a head. Think I'd rather perform a self-circumcision with a spoke shave than drink cold beer with a head on it! But it is apparently available at the Dog & Partridge, the pub closest to the brewery. The sort of pub where the clientele might well be attracted to such a beer.

Anyway back to the matter in hand. Today is St Edmunds day, and strangely tonight I found myself in the Old Cannon drinking this fantastic new brew on evening of the launch day. I don't use the word fantastic lightly either. The advertising blurb refers to it as a heady brew and they are not wrong. The colour of black treacle, with a taste to match, this beer is a perfect winter ale. Warming, heart and cockles spring to mind. Weighing in at 4.8%, it needs to be treated with respect when drinking several pints of the stuff. If I had to categorise it I think I'd put it in the Strong Mild section. A velvety, relatively sweet beer with plenty of maltiness, this brew also has a roasted nutty taste, with undertones of cobnut and sackcloth toffee. Didn't Callard & Bowser used to make that? Then comes the hop flavour, from Challenger I am reliably informed, followed on by the slightest of bitter aftertastes. It's almost enough to make you feel proud to be English!

The Old Cannon has never bottled its beer. I asked Richard the brewer several times when we had the beer shop if he would bottle some, but he always declined. For the first time ever they've bottled one of their beers. This one. It's a limited edition run of 1000 bottles and I've got one. It's not fully conditioned yet, needs a couple more days in the warm, then into the cool. My hope is that it will make perfect Christmas drinking. Merry Christmas everybody!

Friday, 5 October 2007

Shepherd Neame - the unacceptable face of real ale advertising

George Orwell once said, “Advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill bucket." This is how I feel about the way that Shepherd Neame advertises. Shepherd Neame brew pretty good beer, but I really do find their advertising very distasteful. , distasteful to the point where I would recommend that you don't drink their beer.

First up are the adverts for Spitfire Ale which mainly concentrate on themes based on racist stereotypes from World War 2. I like to think that Britain is now one of the more successful multi-racial societies in this world. Unfortunately this sort of thing does nothing to encourage harmony only reinforcing the beliefs of xenophobes.


Then there are the adverts for Bishops Finger. They feature, what can best be described as, buxom wenches, making suggestive offers regarding the afore mentioned clerical appendage. Now I'm not a prude, and I'm quite partial to the double entendre, but I do think this sexist and degrading type of approach is most uncalled for. Plus, don't they know that ale is a uni-sex product?


I can hear 'red-blooded’ beer drinkers shouting abuse at the screen right now. Comments like, “political correctness gone mad” etc etc. But I don't care. These sort of things need to be challenged. They affect people's perceptions, sometimes overtly, and sometimes in a subliminal way. They also help to reinforce people's prejudices about beer drinkers as being oaf-ish, uncouth working-class fat blokes. Not that I'd want to suggest there is anything wrong with/some of my best friends are oaf-ish, uncouth, working-class fat blokes. Phew! But if we are to win people over to the joys of beer, we need to move away from the lad-ish association, that in my opinion, this sort of advertising portrays.

I've have complained to the advertising standards authority about a particular Spitfire advert. I'll let you know if and when I hear any more about that. On their website Shepherd Neame claim to have 'values and standards', and whilst you can't say they don't, I think you can quite legitimately question just how low they possibly are!

Come on Shepherd Neame clean up your act.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Ipswich Beer Festival

I lost my beer festival virginity in my hometown of Bury St Edmunds; I think it was in late spring of 1990. And my second beer festival was in September of that year in Ipswich. There was a hiatus for the Bury St Edmunds festival for a few years after that, which means that I've been to more Ipswich beer festivals than any other. This year was their 25th festival and I reckon I've been to at least 15 of them.

The best location for a beer festival is always a corn exchange; traditionally they are large airy buildings, often quite ornate architecturally. Ipswich corn exchange is a fine example of the genre. Unfortunately the main hall is quite dark as they always have the curtains closed and the lights down low, den of iniquity style. But hey who cares as there is enough light to see what you are drinking.

A couple of months back I had a few pints of 'Exmoor Gold', in what I consider to be my 'local' (it's not the nearest pub to me but it's the one I prefer to drink in). I couldn't believe how different it seemed from the Exmoor Gold I had oft imbibed on in the past. My friend, who I mostly drink with in pubs and at festivals, and who for the purposes of writing in this august blog I always refer to as John* agreed with me at the time. Perhaps they'd changed the recipe we thought. I posed the question on the Usenet Real ale user group - no one could offer me any helpful comments. Most suggestions were along the lines of my memory playing tricks on me. Now Exmoor Gold was my first love in terms of golden ales and the one that I judge all others by. I think I would have known if my memory were playing tricks. This previously considered fine ale was on the list for the beer festival, and noticing that it was actually on when I arrived, it just had to be the first beer that I sampled. I was so pleased that it turned out to be the same old Exmoor Gold that I had known and loved man and boy; light golden nectar with the characteristic hamster bedding taste that really makes a quality golden ale. I don't know what it was that I had at my local a few months ago but one thing is for sure, it most certainly was not the very delicious Exmoor Gold.

In many ways with the Exmoor Gold result under my belt I would have been happy to quit the festival there and then, but there was serious beer drinking to be done. Other serious beer drinking I did was as follows:

Sussex from Arundel Brewery 3.7% - a mild sweetish bitter, with a hint of blackberry. With an after-taste that is similar to the after-taste you get when smoking a joint, henceforth known as a dopey after-taste!

IPA from Cain's Brewery 3.5% - I have a lot of respect for the Cain's brewery and their IPA is a fantastic hoppy and flavoursome brew. A really good session ale. A bit weak to be a true IPA, but you can't fault it on a misnomer.

Chiswick from Fullers 3.5% - not quite as earth shatteringly perfect as it was at last year’s Norwich BF but a damned fine sup none the less. A clean hoppy session ale of distinction. I never tire of this beer.

Sussex Best from Harvey's 4.00% - a malty full-bodied hoppy bitter worth making a fuss about!

PG Steam from RCH 3.9% - I just had to try this beer (my initials are PG). It turned out to be my favourite of the festival. A nicely rounded malty, hoppy ale with lashings of hamster bedding. A most excellent and pleasing beverage.

Cornish Jack from Sharps 3.8% - a fruity slightly sweet non-bitter ale with a mild hop taste.

Tamar from Summerskills 3.7% - in isolation you would be happy to drink this in your hostelry of choice, but pitched against such formidable contemporaries this tawny ale with its hints of malt and toffee was okay. Damned with faint praise?

Now you often get foreign beers at British beer festivals, but they are usually of the bottled variety. Ipswich had really gone for it and had around a dozen German cask beers available, with the promise of more on the list. I thought I couldn't leave without at least trying one. I plumped for Andechs Dunkel Weissbier 5.2% a dark sultry beer, velvety non-bitter, wheat floury wheat beer. Yum yum!

With warm grins on our faces we toddled back to the station after a most successful afternoon/early evening's drinking. What a great way to spend an afternoon off work. I recommend it.

*John's real name is John!

This post was first published on A Good Beer Blog