Sunday, 5 December 2010

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away

Up until yesterday I’d only ever had one pint of Milton ale that was any good. Apart from that one exception I’d always found their beer to have an odd tang, a sort of hint of TCP. Never an enjoyable characteristic in an ale. But ever since moving to Norwich I’d been meaning to give The White Lion, a Milton pub a go. Yesterday that ‘giving it a go’ day finally arrived. The Lady and I called in at lunchtime for a libation. The Lady plumped for a half of Milton Pegasus (4.1% ABV), whilst I went for slightly stronger Milton Augustus (5.8% ABV). And, do you know what? We enjoyed what we had. Both beers were in perfect condition and served in true East Anglian stylee. The heathens would have hated it! Unfortunately they weren’t doing food and as The Lady was in need of solids we couldn’t dally for a second drink. The White Lion is a mighty fine drinking establishment and I’ve changed my opinion of Milton ale. I hope I don’t leave it too long before returning.

When we first arrived in the fine city of Norwich I was saddened to see an Adnams pub that had apparently, at the time, not long closed down. The pub in question was called The Vine and a fine looking, small but nicely rounded city centre pub it looked too. It hadn’t been empty for too long when it reopened as, what I thought was a Thai restaurant. I don’t have a problem with Thai food, in fact I find it quite enjoyable, but we had found a really agreeable Thai restaurant in Timberhill, which is sort of our side of the city, and hadn’t yet got around to trying any others. Yesterday saw us on that side of the city, coming from the White Lion and in need of sustenance. We called in. You expect Singha and perhaps Tiger in these sorts of establishments but not much else. Surprisingly The Vine isn’t one of those sorts of establishments. Yes it does serve Singha, but it also has three real ales as well as Erdinger Weiss and three not so common lagers on tap and all imported. Whilst it is a restaurant, particularly upstairs, there is nothing to stop you popping in for a pint, and it has made it into the 2011 Good Beer Guide. I had a couple of pints of Humpty Dumpty Swallowtail and two nicer pints you could not wish for. I was truly gobsmacked. The Vine is a true gem.

Yesterday we struck gold. Norwich is still capable of throwing up nice surprises and I look forward to the next one. I do feel that I’ve still only scratched the surface. I think a little more application is needed. Yesterday was a smiley day; well I had a big grin by the time I’d finished.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Sticky tables

Sticky tables do they irritate anyone else like they irritate me?

Before you've even got to the bar and ordered a pint a good measure of a pub is reveal by the non-adhesive properties of their table tops. It’s a cleanliness thing. If they can't even keep their table tops clean and free from stickiness how good is the rest of the experience going to be? And there really is no excuse for it. I suppose if a pub is busy, having the odd ring on the table from a previous customer, whilst not ideal, is understandable. But when the adhesive is in layers built up over a period of time it really is totally unacceptable. There is no need for it!

I’ll get me coat.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Billy Childish’s Backyard

The weekend before last saw us back in Kent. We stayed at a Premier Inn in Rainham near Gillingham. Our reason for being there was to visit Chatham Dock Yards, and in particular an exhibition of Stanley Spencer paintings. The weekend was to throw up two beer surprises. First was the discovery that nestled in the proverbial bosom of Chatham Dock Yard was a brewery. The Nelson Brewery lives next to a Police Museum and advertises to the world with a sign above a shutter door proclaiming Brewery Tap and a dowdy blue and gold sign with the brewery name. I wandered over to the door. The lights were on but there was no one at home. Shame.

Attached to our hotel was a Beefeater restaurant. Not the most exciting of dining experiences but they are okay, usually. Beefeaters in my experience and my experience tends to be in Kent, usually offer Hobgoblin and Spitfire on cask; two very unexciting brews. On our first night they only had Hobgoblin on. Hobson’s choice, so to speak. So I was quite surprised when it turned out to be drinkable and left me feeling that I could quite happily drink another had time not been an issue. The following night the Shepherd Neame Spitfire was back on so I thought I’d risk it. It was a truly delicious pint. Clearly it was very fresh. In peak condition. The problem with so many brown beers these days is that you could be forgiven for thinking that hops played no part in their brewing. Spitfire normally falls into this category in my experience. The first pint slipped down a treat. A second was a must. If Spitfire was always like that I’d drink it more often. It just goes to show that occasionally a widely distributed and much travelled beer in a corporately cloned pub-grub eatery can exceed expectations. Sometimes two wrongs can make a right!

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Another wedge-end that is rather thin?

The beer blogosphere is littered with posts on pub closures and the many reasons for their decline. I’ve joined in the debate on a number of occasions on here and commenting on other blogs. There are all manner of theories, reasons and excuses for what has brought about the slow death of the pub; some seemingly more plausible than others. But just when you think that lot of the pub can get no worse another possible threat rears its ugly head.

Up and down the land the planning regulations along with listed building status have been used to thwart scheming breweries/pubcos/developers keen to make shed-loads of dosh. Councils of all hues have at times been successfully persuaded to refuse change of use applications or to list pub buildings that were being threatened with re-development. In fact it happened to a pub in our street just before we moved here. But it now looks as if the planning safety net could possibly be whipped away as well.

In a desperate attempt to try and shove a broom-handle up the arse of the corpse that is Free-Schools, and according to this piece, the ConDems are considering relaxing planning rules. “Apparently the lack of available buildings is one of the reasons cited by government for why they're not exactly being knocked over by a rush of organisations looking to set up a new school.” Pubs, amongst other buildings, are a possible contender to aid the fight for an even more unequal society. Now there are some of you who will accuse me of scaremongering and trying to score cheap partisan political points here, and i would be the first to accept that in its latter days the last Labour government didn’t do a great deal to help pubs either. But all I’m trying to highlight here is that pubs are still under threat and yet another hazard is potentially heading the industry's way. Governments just don’t care about pubs!

Man goes into a pub and enjoys a beer

I think I’m starting to snap out of the beer blogging malaise that has afflicted me since my return from holiday at the back-end of September. I’ve been drinking, but haven’t felt inspired to write about anything beer related. I went to the Ipswich Beer Festival in October which was well up to their usual high standard. And, last week I made a point of not bothering to go to the Norwich Beer Festival. I have had quite a few good beers over the last few weeks and a number of mediocre ones as well it has to be said. But hey, it doesn't really matter as who want to read ‘man goes into a pub and enjoys a beer’?

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

When a man is tired of ale he is tired of life!

I’m not sure I could ever be fed up with drinking real ale. But I do have bouts of being fed up with blogging about it, and reading about it. You may have noticed! I’ve just renewed my CAMRA membership for another year and I’m starting to think that I might not bother next time. It’s nice to get the Wetherspoon’s vouchers again although it is a bit of a mixed blessing especially if you have want to use the first quarter’s worth in a month, as I have to. I realise that it’s not compulsory but, hey, everyone likes a bargain, don’t they? I hardly bother to read What’s Brewing or Beer anymore as I find them both rather moribund journals. I really can’t be bothered to go to meetings and I don’t find beer festivals that enjoyable, apart from the odd exception. Is it my age? Am I developing a US style attention span of a gnat? What was I saying?

I’m not saying that I no longer agree with what CAMRA stand for because I still feel that they do a good job as a consumer interest group. It’s just that I don’t feel enthusiastic enough to be part of it anymore.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


Bury St Edmunds
The weekend just past saw me back in Bury St Edmunds. I met a friend for a lunchtime session in the town’s premier real ale pub The Dove. I've blogged about this pub before. The beer quality in this pub is so incredibly good and it’s so frustrating that it wasn’t open when I used to live but ten minutes walk away.

A comment on a previous post reminded me of this. In the days when Stonch ruled as beer blogger supreme there was talk of him and his mates paying a visit to Norwich on a mega pub crawl. Anyone else remember that? Norwich was actually the winner in a poll he ran for readers to dictate where they went. I don’t think that the visit ever took place which is a shame as I feel sure that it would have highlighted how lucky we are in Norwich for both quality and choice when it comes to real ale. It certainly has to be one of the top real ale destinations in the country.

Not to be taken seriously
War Of Words Brewing In Real Ale World
In-fighting within long-time protector of Britain's real ale traditions, the Campaign for Real Ale (CamRa) threatens to break out into war, ...”

Monday, 23 August 2010

Classic - a classic

Norwich is well on the way to having a new brewery. Norwich Bear Brewing has been launch by the people that own The Rose and Ketts Tavern. They have two beers at the moment. Classic a 3.8% session ale, light golden in colour, crisp with a musty hint of hop lemon rind and an acceptable bitter finish that curiously makes you want to have another sip. Classic is a beer that I would go out of my way to drink. This is a beer that's not easy to put down. I was starting to wonder if I’d be able to get out of the pub in a sober state. The answer was to switch to its only current stable mate Legend 4.3% a very fresh brown beer. It is what it is. You can't fault it. Not a wow but I’d happily order it in preference to many others. I look forward to trying the Platinum Blonde 5% when it’s available. It could be argued that The Rose is my real local in terms of distance. There is probably not much between it and a Wetherspoon pub. On our side of the river it is the nearest yet I don’t frequent it that often, choosing instead to walk by and on to the Kings Arms. I’m not 100% clear why. Both do a varied selection of ales with a reasonable changing selection. Beer quality is usually good. Both pubs are clean and comfortable yet the Rose, despite ticking so many boxes, always seems to lack a certain je ne sais quoi that I can't pin down. Now that they are doing their own beer perhaps I’ll have to work a bit harder at getting to love it.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Fleet Beer Festival

My thanks to Daniel Franklin for this report/press release on the recent Fleet Beer Festival:

Fleet's fourth annual beer festival at Ancells Farm Community centre on Saturday was a tremendous success despite the wet weather.

Fleet Lions raised over £3000 profit to help good causes, and nearly 500 people knocked back almost 2000 pints of beer and cider.

The theme for this year's festival was 'A Stone's Throw', and the motto was 'local beers for local people'. There were a tremendously diverse range of beers on offer, including some unusual brews for a real ale festival. Even lager fans had something to tempt their palates, such as Czech Mate from Loddon Brewery - a Czech-style Pilsner that was very well received indeed, selling out in record time. Festival organiser Ken Carter said, "Once again the festival was a huge success, and the 'Stone's Throw' theme proved very popular indeed. Guests felt they were not only having fun supporting local charities, but local businesses as well. I'm really pleased with how it all came off."

For new Lions member Daniel Franklin it was a completely new experience. He said, "Although I've been on the other side of the bar at previous Fleet beer festivals, this was the first time I've been involved in organising it. Ken entrusted me with ordering the beer and acting as bar manager on the day. It was a really busy day, starting early and finishing late at night by the time we'd cleared up the hall, but a lot of fun."

Next year's festival is set to go ahead again on the middle Saturday in August.

Monday, 9 August 2010


I find the concept of a tab in a pub to be a bit ridiculous in this day and age. In fact I had assumed that this anachronistic form of credit had long since expired. But not so. A regular in the pub tonight was keen to settle his. It might be a tradition from bygone times but surely it is about time that it was consigned to the dustbin of history, isn’t it? Now it’s a different thing if you've organised a function in a pub and agreed to pay for the drink that's understandable and is normally settled at the end of the session/party. But a tab for everyday use would seem totally unnecessary. It seems unfair of a punter to expect it and foolhardy of a publican to allow it, but on the other hand it’s quite quant.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

One of my favourites

It’s an ale I’ve written about on a few occasions and it’s an ale that has never disappointed so I’m glad to see that castle Rock Harvest Pale has today been named as CAMRA Champion Beer of Great Britain. Well done Castle Rock.


Three weeks ago saw the Lady and me in Edinburgh. The Lady was there to do something politically unsound but we’ll gloss over that. We’d decided to add a few extra days on and make a little holiday out of it. Having rented a rather nice flat in a stone tenement in West Bow just off the Grassmarket, a pretty useful spot as it turned out, we went forth to sample some of the local culture. This was my first ever trip to the city, but it felt like going home. I found a little bit of time to visit the odd pub or so. Here are three that stood out:

The Canons’ Gait
Despite being on the Royal Mile, this is a wonderful pub and a great use of the apostrophe. Newly decorated and complete with a freshly installed charmingly lofty barman, I was comfortable here. I like pubs that have quotations painted on the walls or around the edge of the ceiling. The Canons’ Gate ticked all the boxes on this front. It is a clean and modern pub that somehow manages to remain traditional. It might best be described by the popular oxymoron of ‘classic modern’. The excellent quality beer is another reason to recommend this fine establishment. Beers consumed were:

  • Scapa Special 4.2% The Highland Brewing Co Ltd - a lush ale is fruity with a hoppy finish and very little bitterness, mouthfuls of cream. Truly wonderful. “One of the nicest beers I’ve ever tasted” – The Lady.

  • Northern Light 4% Orkney – a modicum of bitterness with citrus notes.

Inside the Canons' Gait

The Café Royal Bar
The Café Royal Bar is an outstandingly quant bar from a more genteel age. An age when bright young things called Algernon and Henrietta larked about having a jolly spiffing time. An age when the economically illiterate government of the day plumped for austerity and mass unemployment over Keynesian righteousness, an age that the ConDem knob-heads are hell-bent on mimicking. You half expect Poirot to be sitting sipping whilst sharpening his moustache. Spats, you don’t see many of those worn these days. Upon the walls are tiled pictures depicting romantic scenes of trade and commerce in a way that they’ve never been conducted. U fortunately my photos (as always) don’t do it justice. Whilst the décor is suspended in time the prices have most certainly moved on. A round of drinks in this establishment is quite steep. But I suppose you get what you pay for as the service was excellent and the ale was well looked after. I quaffed a pint of Pivo Estivo 3.9% from Kelburn – a tart lemon marmalade of an ale. Sweet and smooth to begin with but followed up with a tangy finish don’t you know.
Inside the Cafe Royal


The Bow Bar
This bar was my local for the duration being just a couple of floors below our flat. A small one roomed bar with wooden floors, wood panelling, tables and chairs loiter around the perimeter. I especially liked the diddy little tables, thin two-legged affairs with their two legs firmly screwed to the floor. This is very much a locals’ bar as well as catering for the passing tourists.
The bar has an amazing deep red ceiling; promotional mirrors and enamelled advertising signs adorn the walls. Coat hooks are affixed to the edge of the bar and around the top of the wood panelling. This is a bar designed for standing and drinking. If the Bow Bar was my permanent local I would not be an unhappy man
All the cask ale is dispensed by air, something I’ve rarely seen before although I had been warned by the Good Beer Guide prior to entering that this was the case, otherwise it could have been quite disconcerting to be served with something that more resembled a cream-flow nitro-keg rather than a real ale. Eight cask ales appear to be always available with Deuchars IPA, Timothy Taylor Landlord and Stewarts 80/- being permanent fixtures, so I understand. I’m not a big fan of most 80/- beers that I’ve tried but you can’t go to Scotland and not have at least one. So I took the opportunity which in the Bow Bar to have a pint of the Stewarts 80/-. I was pleasantly surprised. This plum-ruby ale was fruity, with no bitterness but a goodly amount of hessian. It could almost be described as sweet, but don’t let that put you off. It is a kind forgiving ale that nobody could dislike.

As I sat drinking in the Bow Bar late on the Tuesday afternoon enjoying the relative calm whilst the Lady was off doing something despicable it all felt close to perfect. Unfortunately the peace was broken by a half a dozen middle-aged female American tourists entering the bar all in search of malt whisky, all wanting something different from their companions and all requiring detailed tasting characteristics before they made their purchase. These were the only tourists that stayed for a drink at this fine bar whilst I was there. A number popped their heads in a then made swift exits, not sure why, but it was definitely their loss.
A couple of other outstanding ales I sampled at my Edinburgh local were:

  • Houston Killetton 3.7% - a superb session ale, but then you’d expect nothing less from Houston. It’s a dark golden ale with a great hop finish and not too unlike a good pint of Greene King IPA but with a creamier body.

  • Ascalon from St Georges Brewery 3.6% wheat beer. It is a bit like a less alcoholic version of Thornbridge Jaipur IPA – a brilliant session alternative and you’d never know that it was a wheat beer.

I like Edinburgh and hope to return sooner rather than later.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Slight concern

The pub I think of as my ‘local’, which incidentally is probably one of the best pubs in Norwich, is losing the present landlord and landlady. I was accused recently by a work colleague of being a ‘glass half full’ ‘glass half empty’ person. She is probably right. So in an effort to change I’m going to greet the news that the tenants are leaving in as positive manner as possible. It is currently a busy wet-lead pub with around a dozen well kept real ales. It is a good local’s pub with what appears to be a regular and loyal clientele. There are two other pubs in close proximity and they are never as popular as the Kings Arms. This pub is a marvellous opportunity for the right person. I suspect Bateman’s know this. It would need to be run by someone that has an affinity with real ale. With the customer base that this pub has it is ready to be taken to an even greater level. With a little work this pub could be a genuine National POTY*contender. If I wasn’t so old and hadn’t already run a beer related business I would think seriously about applying to take it on. I have no doubt though that they will not have trouble finding a suitable candidate.

*POTY = Pub of the year for the uninitiated

Monday, 28 June 2010

Beer and sandwiches? Not on your Nelly.

As some of you will know I’m quite keen on beer and food matching and promoting beer to go with food. Beer is most certainly more versatile than wine when it come to food accompaniment. So I was pleased to see that Adnams had staged a ‘Beer Lunch at the Swan’. The Swan is Adnams flagship hotel in Southwold, although in my opinion the Crown is a more preferable establishment, but nothing wrong with the Swan!

The meal looks to be a little more sophisticated than beer and sandwiches as Fergus’ blog posting attests. Fergus is the Master Brewer at Adnams so no one better to offer up the full SP. My only complaint is why I didn’t I get an invite? Could it be I marked my card with a dire review of EastGreen quite a while back? Possibly doesn’t always pay to be too honest.

We need more breweries and foodie organisations to be doing stuff like this. Beer with food can be a refined and discerning experience. It’s not all about a ruffian with a pie and a pint. Not that there’s anything wrong with pies and pints I might add. I would also like to point out that I’m not ruffianist either – RealAleBlog is an equal opportunities blog.

Friday, 25 June 2010

It’s what beer is for!

While most of you that are further down the food chain have been getting horny over a bunch of over-paid morons kicking around a windbag I’ve been looking forward to this weekend. The arts are the thinking person’s sport and ‘the arts’ are in full swing this weekend in the shape of the Glastonbury Festival. Listening to rock-a-boogie music is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Fact! As pubs are not enlightened enough yet to show good stuff like Glastonbury on their ubiquitous telescreens I decided that the only thing for tonight was to slip up the pub and get my four-pint jug filled with some tasty delight and settle down for a wonderful nights viewing. And, here I am. Bateman’s Summer Swallow for company and watching Glastonbury on BBC3. Delicious!

You Neanderthals don’t know what you are missing, even if it is Florence and the Machine. Am I the only one who thinks that Florence is a very poor imitation of Siouxsie Sioux?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Your good health!

This is bit of an old chestnut which I and many others have blogged on before. But it won’t go away. Hardly a week goes by without some report linking alcohol and health. I like the ones that basically say beer is good for you. But then I would, wouldn’t I. I like them for two reasons, firstly because they counteract the myriad of negative ‘medical influenced’ opinions about the use of alcohol and secondly because reports that say beer is good for you distinguish in a positive way beer from other often more harmful alcoholic beverages. Yesterday this piece of ‘news’ hit the world via the Press Association. It doesn’t tell us anything new; in fact it looks like a mash-up of information and opinions that have been in circulation for a while. Hey, but what’s wrong with a little positive reinforcement?

In the current climate it is so important to separate quality beer and particularly real ale from all other alcohol. The general public need to know that real ale is a quality food product containing pure natural ingredients. It is in no way related to fruit flavoured industrial white spirit or even Euro-fizz. Whilst ale might be our national drink it is still not the official drink of this country. I was reminded of this and struck by a quote attributed to Pete Brown, “an award-winning author”:
"Still, we persist in the myth that somehow beer is an inferior drink to foreign imports such as wine. From Government receptions through to weddings and business occasions, wine rather than beer is served.”
Why should this be? There is far too much snobbery and prejudice applied when it comes to beer. Beer is seen as the drink of the lower classes, the unsophisticated and Neanderthals. It can change but it requires a bit more than a few beer buffs banging on about it. For beer to gain a bit more respectability it needs to be taken up as the serious alternative to wine that it really is by influential people in what might be loosely termed the ‘catering trade’. This is the area where organisations like the Beer Academy, SIBA and even CAMRA need to be lobbying hard. If more restaurants, hotels and catering companies took beer seriously, and offered varied choices along with recommendations for beer to go with food then the profile of beer would rise. Get a few celebrity foodies to champion it and we’d be laughing.

I hope that one day, in this country; beer will become the natural and obvious choice of the toast. “Your good health!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Big Lunch

I received an email from a Sam of an agency called Cake asking if I would give a mention about The Big Lunch. It is an initiative started last year by The Eden Project ( with the aim of introducing people to their neighbours, bringing communities together over an afternoon of fun and a spot of lunch! Last year about 1 million people took part across the country and it’s happening again this year on the 18th of July, here is the link to this year’s site:

“If you’ve ever dreamed of brewing your own beer, then this is the competition for you. The Big Lunch Beer Challenge is looking for the rising stars in home brewing and are inviting home brewers of the UK to create a very special ‘Big Lunch’ beer.

The winning brewer will get the incredible opportunity to work with the Head Brewer at Sharp’s Brewery, Stuart Howe and make a commercial batch of your winning beer – your neighbours will be very impressed!”

If you’d like to find out more about The Big Lunch beer challenge here’s the link

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Mellow yellow

I like gastro pubs!

In principle that is. I don’t like gastro pubs when they serve shite beer. They lose their right to the term ‘gastro’ if they don’t understand that beer is a food stuff that warrants as much care and attention as the cooking and the wine. If turning a pub into a gastro pub means that a pub remains in use as a pub then I’m all for it. It’s when I experience something as in my previous post that I start to worry. Some could do well to learn from true restaurants.

Last night we ate out at Norwich City Football Club. Yellows is one of the two restaurants at the ground run by the catering group owned by St Delia of Norwich*. It’s billed as a New York diner. I’ve never been to the Big Apple, as I believe it’s known, so I have no way of vouching for it’s authentic, but it is a really good restaurant. It is the second time we’ve been there and the food, the service and the cleanliness on both occasions has been first rate. On the first visit I drank Budweiser Budvar. At the time it seemed like the most painless choice. This time I thought I’d just check again to see what different beers might be on offer. 
“What beers do you have please?” I enquire in the hope of something interesting.
“Is that lager or bitter?” the young lady replied.
“Ooh bitter” I say expecting only to be offered keg, but hoping for more.
“We have Wherry”, she offered.
“Oh yes please, I’ll have a pint of Wherry” I say in an enthusiastic manner that seemed to amuse her and quite took me by surprise.
Woodfordes Wherry is the staple of many a pub serving real ale in Norwich, and whilst I do like new beers, I never grow tired of this fine session ale. As an accompaniment to my ale I selected the equally ubiquitous burger and chips. It’s strange how the burger has become respectable. This wasn’t just any old burger it was a succulent, hand-pressed, quality beef, chargrilled burger. But you’d expect nothing less from Delia. The menu stated burger and chunky chips. Well, actually it said fries, but as that’s the language of the tosser I will avoid using it. I have before expressed my undying love for the very thin chip and so asked if they would provide these instead. They were only too happy.Yellows is just such a pleasurable experience where they prove its possible to serve great food in a very charming and courteous manner and serve quality real ale as well, and all at reasonable prices. Pubs take note. You can learn a thing or two from the undisputed queen of British cooking (so to speak).

top totty

*As an East Anglian and a child of the fifties I was raised on Fanny Craddock who was succeeded by Delia Smith. Delia appear regularly on Look East (the local BBC news programme) well before she became a national heroine.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The Acceptable Beer Guide

This subject raises its ugly head in the beer blogosphere every now and again. I’m well aware of the arguments and reasons why things happen the way they do. I’ve sat in on pub selection meetings and I know the fears about not nominating the full allocation of pubs, but surely in this electronic age of automated compilation, editing and publishing a bit more flexibility on the number of entries that branches can submit from year to year could prevail. Couldn’t it?

It was my birthday recently and we had a night away close to the North Norfolk coast in a pub called the Lifeboat Inn at a village called Thornham. Several people had said how good the food was and it is in the current issue of the Good Beer Guide. It had also featured in previous issues. On paper it seemed like a good place for a birthday treat. In reality it was a tad disappointing. Our room, whilst clean, was a bit tired around the edges. It was comfortable in an old pair of slippers sort of way. With the merest hint of an effluvia to match. The staff were on the aloof or disinterested side of surly. But the food was indeed very good. None of these things of course are really the focus of the Good Beer Guide. Soon after arriving we decided to head for the bar for a pre-dinner aperitif. Half of this establishment is a dedicated restaurant with table service and the other half is a tradition pub with plenty of tables and chairs. The Pub Curmudgeon amongst others would hate this pub as there were a couple of bar stools and a couple of small tables in a snug close to the bar but on closer inspection the lounge beyond was full of empty tables, all with reserved signs on them. I didn’t like this either. We sat in the garden for a while but retreated to our room as it started to feel chilly. My pre-dinner pint of Woodfordes Wherry was equally disappointing. It wasn’t off; it hadn’t been hanging around for a long time. In fact I suspect they sell loads of Wherry. Really, it wasn’t bad, but it most certainly wasn’t good either. I think I would describe it as outstandingly underwhelming. It just was, "like Mount Everest is and Marilyn Monroe isn’t”. It was beer in a vacuum, without emotion. Now not everybody gets it right all of the time and so I approached a pint of Nethergate Suffolk County with hope and anticipation, only to be dashed again. Again the beer wasn’t off or old it was just okay. I’m not versed in the mystic arts of cellarmanship so I’m not equipped with the necessary technical vocabulary to explain its mediocrity. I’m also not steeped in the language of Protzian beer philosophy used by guilded* beer writers. I’m just an ordinary bloke what knows a good pint when he’s served one. It was beer without love. Beer ‘cared for’ by an automaton. Beer for eunuchs. I don’t know if it says in the cellar-man’s bible, “thought shall't love thy beer with all thy heart”, but it bloody well should. I bet the standard I experienced that night was how it always is. The food is good and they clearly care about that. It just a shame the same care isn’t taken over their beer. I bet The Lifeboat is in the Good Beer Guide just to make up the numbers.

Good Beer Guide 2010

This pub isn’t an isolated case from CAMRA’s flagship publication. I have had other equally frustrating experiences and I know I’m not alone. In the GBG’s defence I would say that most of the time it yields great results. I just think a bit more QC needs to be applied. I don’t care if it’s a mighty tome one year and a slim volume the next, it would just be nice if the Good Beer Guide could be an compendium of real note. I’d like a ‘Good Beer Guide’ and not an ‘It’ll Do and Good Beer Guide’ please.


Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Nick goes to Brigg Beer Festival

When writing about our meeting at the weekend Paul Bailey mentioned how he’d broken into the world of blogging as a guest blogger on this blog. Well I’m pleased to say that tonight the spotlight is on a new guest, Nick Boldock. Nick has sent this report in about his visit to the Brigg Beer Festival. Enjoy:

Brigg Beer Festival, 2010 (14/05/2010)

By Nick Boldock

The funny thing about beer festivals is that usually, inevitably, you end up drinking halves. Ordinarily this would be anathema to me; I actually believe that evolution has rendered man unable to properly hold a half pint glass, which can mean only one thing – God drinks pints. However, when faced with 34 cask ales (as was the case as we entered Brigg Beer Festival) then quite obviously, you need to get through as many different beers as possible... so halves it was then!

The festival venue was a mid-sized factory unit, coincidentally just across the road from where the local Sergeant’s Brewery used to stand until its closure in 1967. Fortunately, Sergeant’s Brigg Bitter (3.7%) has now been resurrected (and brewed to the original recipe) by the Louth-based Fulstow Brewery. It seemed only right and proper that it should be the first beer of the night to be supped. When in Rome and all that…

Very pleasant it was too, if easy-drinking copper session beers are your tipple of choice. My drinking buddy for the evening (let’s call him Mel, because that’s his name) had started with a similarly sessional beer in the shape of Dorset Brewing Co’s Harbour Master (3.6%), another one easy on the palate, if my brief sampling of Mel’s beer was to be believed.

Next up for me was Coach House Brewery’s Gunpowder Mild (3.8%), a corking black mouthful of berry-tinged roasted malt. Delicious. My companion at this point was looking disapprovingly at a glass of Fullers Seafarers (3.6%) and one taste of it showed me why. A great beer if you like a slight soapy aftertaste to your ale, but let’s be honest… you don’t.

Riverside Brewery’s Major (3.9%) was next into my glass whilst Mel entertained a Wadworth Henry’s Original IPA (3.6%). Both beers were excellent, the Major going down the gullet in no time with a definite “more please” hovering around in the back of my mind… the Wadworth beer, low in strength for an IPA, delivered a lot more flavour than you might expect from a three-six.

Onwards and upwards and it was on to the third Lincolnshire brewery of the evening for me by way of Newby Wyke’s Kingston Topaz (4.2%), an excellent hoppy golden ale with a welcoming citrus tang. Mel was indulging in an old favourite, Rudgate Viking (3.8%) which needs no introduction to the average real ale drinker, but never disappoints either – a reliable stalwart if ever there was one.

I was becoming quite enamoured with Lincolnshire beers by this point so I needed no persuasion to line up the Black Crow Stout (4.5%), from the North Hykeham-based Poachers Brewery, whilst Mel was chugging away on a Derby Brewing Co Admiral’s Choice (4.5%). The Black Crow was the best ale of the night for me – a dark, rich stout with luscious toffee flavours. Gorgeous. I could happily drink it all night. Unfortunately I was enjoying it so much I forgot to steal a gobful of the Admiral’s Choice, but hey, such is life...

Moving swiftly on, and out of Lincolnshire as I hit the Nottingham Brewery Dreadnought (4.5%), a hoppy ruby ale that again I could probably have supped all night, but for the competition. Mel, meanwhile, had gone from Admiral’s Choice to Nelson’s Revenge (4.5%) (by Norfolk brewer Woodforde). We kept moving with a Rebellion Mutiny (4.5%), actually not dissimilar to the Dreadnought as another full-bodied ruby ale. Good stuff once more.

Things floundered slightly with the Milestone Crusader (4.4%) which just wasn’t to my taste at all – I can’t help feeling the slightly odd smell it carried was all too reminiscent of the odour emanating from the gents toilets. Anyway, fortunately my drinking buddy quite liked it so we did a swap and I drank his just-bought Thwaites Lancaster Bomber (4.4%) instead. Lancaster Bomber is one of those beers where you forget how nice it can be, with its subtle caramel tones and deep copper colouring. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

We signed off from the festival with Dictators (4.7%) from the Mexborough-based Concertina Brewery. Well, I did – my companion refused on principal to drink anything brewed in Mexborough. It really is a long story... anyway, it was his loss as it was a very fine beer indeed.

Leaving the festival at its too-early closing time of 11pm, we moved on to local real ale pub The Yarborough Hunt (run by the Tom Wood’s brewery) for a swift night cap or two. Shepherd Neame’s seasonal brew Dragonfire (4.5%) went down a treat, though the Derventio Chariot (4.3%) was, it has to be said, decidedly average.

Not the best pint to finish the night on then, but all the same it capped off what had been a superb night at Brigg Beer Festival – I look forward to returning next year, but one thing I would say to the organisers is… please, please, please can we have some tasting notes next time?


Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Paul the beer blogger I presume?

As fellow beer blogger Paul Bailey has already reported, the lady and I were in Maidstone at the weekend, and on Saturday Paul and I (and Paul's son) met up. Having the local knowledge he had suggested a pub called the Rifle Volunteer, a Goacher’s pub, which I suspect has changed very little in the last thirty or forty years. On draught it offers three cask ales, all Goacher's, and one keg lager Hürlimann Swiss lager brewed by Shepherd Neame, the brewery that owned the Rifle Volunteer prior to them selling it to Goacher's. Anyone heard of Hürlimann? No me neither. The landlord delighted in telling me how under Shepherd Neame several blokes had turned up to change the font on the lager tap to some huge shining monstrosity for the to be sent away with a flee in their ear along with the news that a change wasn’t needed. I liked the landlord, although I suspect some would find him a challenge, but he amused me. A dry humoured cove who gave the impression that he’d been at the pub as long as the lager font and a man who clearly didn’t approve of change. Sadly there are so few time-warp pubs around these days.

Despite me often saying that I consider mild to be a cool weather drink, and Saturday being scorchio, I felt it my duty to start off with their weakest ale available. Discounting the heat it was an enjoyable pint, although I only had the one. After that I went onto the Light Ale which Paul and Matt were already drinking. Goachers Light Ale is a perfect summertime session beer, light as the name suggests in colour and with very little bitterness, so good I had two more. I couldn’t face trying the third ale that the pub had on cask as there was just no way I was going to drink stout in an unseasonal manner. As a result of the good ale and interesting chat tempus well and truly fugited, and our lunchtime drink was over in flash. We said our goodbyes with the suggestion of a re-match in Norfolk. Lunchtime drinking with good company is a damned fine pastime.

Blogging in general is a peculiar pastime and beer blogging in particular often seems like an esoteric minority sport that is undertaken by a few souls spread thinly. It was good to meet my first ‘other beer blogger’. Up until this point for all I knew all ‘other beer bloggers’ might have been computer generated and not real people. I now know I am not alone, human wise. Now how do I convince the rest of you that I’m not really Marvin the Paranoid Android?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Was May mild month?

Well, May has come and gone and I realise that not a drop of mild passed my lips.

Thursday, 27 May 2010


As a Suffolk lad Southwold is a place I’ve been going to long before it became the darling of the colour supplements. We had a need to visit there last Thursday for a little project we are undertaking so we decided to build in lunch and a couple of pints. We thought we’d try our luck at the Harbour Inn, which is surprise surprise an Adnams pub. The Harbour Inn which as you might have suspected is located at one end of Southwold's shabby chic harbour is an unpretentious split level pub. If you’ve never ordered a round by talking to the bar person’s knees then try the front bar. Having been there before we headed towards the back of the pub. Lunch was fish and chips in Adnams beer batter washed down with a couple of pints of Explorer, the golden ale I sang the praises of recently. Beer and food were both first class.

Lunch over we went off to work on our project but before we left for home we made sure that we called into the Adnams shop. Imagine my excitement when in amongst all the goodies I noticed 5 litre casks of Explorer. I couldn’t not buy one. So over last weekend I worked my way through 5 litres of this golden nectar. I was impressed. It tasted just perfect from this little tin can; pub ale in the comfort of your own home. What’s not to like?

My love affair with Adnams Explorer continues.

Feed me. Feed me now.

Whilst, as stated on Tandleman’s blog recently “My blogging is purely selfish as I do it for me. It’s nice if others come along for a gawp and it’s even nicer if they leave comments.” It occurs to me that since I’ve moved the location and the software for this blog, links and feeds to this blog from others now no longer work. If you are one of those kind bloggers that has linked to my blog I would really appreciate it if you could update those links and feeds. Many thanks.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Token gesture

I like Friday evenings. They signal the end of the working week for me and usher in expectations of what the French call ‘le weekend’ (or is it 'la'?). As I alight from my train and leave Norwich station there is a spring in my step. The sun is shining and I feel a pint beckoning. The only pub between me and home is a Spoon’s. But no worries, it serves a purpose and ensures that I don’t dally for longer than the one pint. As I walk towards Riverside my usual ‘beggar’* is sitting on the ground under the covered walkway. He’s an old black* guy who wears a buff, going grey, duffle coat and cowers under a filthy blanket. I give him a quid, as I always do, he blesses my heart. My heart needs blessing. It harbours anger, anger at the extremes of wealth in this country, extremes that anyone with but a modicum of compassion could not fail to question. I’ve tried engaging him in conversation on previous occasions but my lack of communicative skills along with his reticence has meant we haven’t got very far.

I enter The Queen of Iceni and order a pint of Nethergate Lemon Head; a golden ale with a hint of lemon and ginger. I hand the bar man some cash and a Camra 50p off token. He asks to see my Camra membership card. This is a first. I ask if people have been abusing the scheme. Apparently they have. The previous weekend a football fan had allegedly tried to buy a round of drinks with a whole wad of tokens. Subtle or what? The bar man then went on to tell me that the tokens were readily available on the internet, “on sites like eBay”. Whilst not surprised, I felt sad. Regardless of whom the perpetrators are it impacts badly on Camra. You can also apparently purchase pre stamped loyalty cards that entitle you to a free cup of coffee. As I sit enjoying my pint I ponder on life, the universe and tokens. It’s a rum old dog eat dog world out there. Thank goodness for beer!
This is how it was the Friday before last.

*Not sure if all my language is totally pc!?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Pontificating, and genital warts

I love the way you can sit in a pub enjoying a jolly good pint of ale and get some jolly good entertainment for free. Tonight as I supped on Cathedral Ales St Hugh’s quality brown beer I listened to a beer tasting group of half dozen all talking utter bollocks. Their conversation covered history, cooking and a great deal of nonsense about the beers that they were tasting. I’ve no problem with people waxing lyrical about beer, but when they start talking authoritatively about the ales that they are drinking ‘blind’ you just know these people need to get a life. I was fully expecting at any moment for one of them to claim that a particular beer was brewed by a hermaphrodite in a kilt with one brown and one black shoelace. It was that nauseating.

Almost as if I’d reached for the TV remote I managed to turn off the earnest beer tasters and switch to a couple discussing genital warts. Apparently they resemble cauliflowers. I suggest you squirrel that piece of useful info away in case it appears in a pub quiz near you. Or you have a need to break the ice at a party.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

May is golden ale month

Last night when it was all kicking off I was in the pub, dumb, fat, happy and unaware of the change in the political situation. Early evening saw me at the doctor’s surgery for a routine blood pressure check. With my blood pressure fine and the doctor telling me to just keep taking the tablets I celebrate with a burger and chips plus two pints of ale. I apply a modicum of salt to the chips in a reckless attempt to live dangerously.

I know some real ale aficionados shun modern bars or pubs that are given bar-style makeovers but I don’t mind some of them. Nº 12, near Castle Mall (that’s mall that rhymes with pal, and not pronounced maul), Norwich appears to be an ex-pub that has been turned into a bar and restaurant. An ex-pub with a café feel; comfortable, clean but certainly not sterile. The food on offer was not your usual conveyor belt fare but popular ‘home-cooked’ alternatives. And very delicious ‘home-cooked’ food it is too. Real ale is also on offer. Two in fact. I chose not to bother with the Youngs.

Whilst a large proportion of the population were watching one of the losers in the election become first lord of the treasury I was enjoying two of the most wonderful pints of beer I’d had since oh… …um… …the last time I had a wonderful pint of beer.

Adnams Explorer is an ale I have had on numerous past occasions and always enjoyed. It must be almost a year though since I last had any. I don’t remember it being this marvellous. Perhaps my memory is going? Last night this was the most luscious golden ale in all of Christendom. This is the sort of beer that makes you want to strip stark-bollock naked and run through the streets shouting its praises. If it wasn’t unseasonably cold I word have bared all in the name of this fabulous ale. As I put the glass to my nose I breathe in a flowery light hoppy aroma. If Cumulonimbus was Humulus Lupulus clouds would smell like this. This is not a particularly bitter beer. It radiates light malt and hops, hops, hops. I imagine that it must have been brewed using golden barley malted on the heaving breast of a Lynda Bellingham look-a-like, with the purest dew collected from lemon balm leaves by angels, and steeped with a hessian and gossamer hop pillow. An email from Fergus, head brewer at Adnams, tells it how it really is:

"We made some changes to Explorer about 18 months ago to try and develop the aroma a bit more and in the last 6 months we have made a few more tweaks, partly due to moving to the new seasons Columbus hops, which I felt were a bit different so we adjusted the hop grist to use more Chinook and to use the Columbus even later in the boil. I think this has improved it a bit more. We dry hop Explorer, which means that it benefits from a little age but also means that the younger fresher version doesn't have the same pithy hop flavour which it develops with a few weeks in cask and as with any cask beer, how long it's been on will also change how it tastes.
Obviously I think it tastes great at any time of year but the sunshine always brings a new found appreciation of pint of golden beer."

Thanks Fergus. Adnams Explorer is my new favourite beer.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Sing little birdie

I live but a stone’s throw from Norwich City FC ground. From our flat you can see the crowd and most definitely hear the roar, when there is something to roar about. This season they have had plenty to roar about. I'm no football fan, in fact I view most sport with the contempt it deserves; it is art for Neanderthals. Having said that, living here, you can't help being aware that Norwich came top of Division 3 (it’s my age) this season. I've no doubt many people are cashing in on this mini triumph and a local brewer is amongst them. Woodfordes has produced a beer called City at 4.1%. So despite my indifference to the beautiful game I had to try this ale. A beer in honour of the Canaries could not be anything other than a golden ale. And this golden ale is quite light in colour. Think Mongolian donkey wee.

Thankfully it didn't taste of donkey wee. Far from it. This is a first class golden ale. Woodfordes brew bloody good beer at the best of times and this is of that calibre. A flowery scented ale with citrus notes I’m sure you know the sort of thing. Not particularly bitter, in fact a hint of sweetness, this makes for a brilliant quaffing ale; a perfect example of the genre. This enjoyable brew reminded me of something else. It took me a while to think of what it was. St Austell Tribute I finally concluded. With warmer weather here it is most certainly golden ale time. I think I might have to pop back for some more of this nectar in the next day or so. Get it if you can.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Two memorable beers

I didn’t have many beers in the recent JD Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival, I just popped in for the odd pint here and there but I had a couple that were quite memorable.

Just when you think all golden ales are the same along comes one to confuse and amuse. And so it was with Zululand Zulu Blonde 4.5%. According to the festival notes, “this golden beer has a slight honey aroma and a flavour which is predominantly malty… …plus a subtle, underlying bitterness”, and true to life it was. It did exactly what it said on the ‘label’.
Despite it being a warm sunny evening, when you see a beer called Maui Coconut Porter 5% from a Hawaiian brewer you just have to try it. This dark complex beer has hint of vanilla or possibly marshmallow, along with notes of door-mat and boot polish. This is ale you would need to work at. Even though this vile libation was one of the worst I’d tasted in many a live long day I managed, with true British pluck and a stiff upper lip to down every drop. I shall make a point of never ordering this particular brew again.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


”Infamy, infamy they’ve all got it in for me!”

Spammers, hackers and people that steal bandwidth are evil bastards who for some reason don’t like me. As a result of their skulduggery I have effectively lost my previous RealAleBlog and use of my realalenet domain has been suspended.

I must bear some of the responsibility as I was using old software that should have been updated. But I liked it. It was easy to customise and I took the approach that if it wasn’t broken why fix it. Now I’ve decided to “love Big Brother” and switch to Blogger, “warts and all”. If I can extract the posts from the old database then I will transfer them over to this new location. I suspect though that the comments on posts will be lost.

I’m quite sanguine about it all as at the end of the day it is only ephemera. Shit happens, but hey nobody has died, so I shall just carry on here. Normal service will resume as soon as possible.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Today should be a Bank Holiday

Today really should be a bank holiday, but not because of some geezer called George who probably made it no further west than Greece. As an atheist I don't have much truck with patron saints but if I was going to accept the notion of one it would have to be an earlier and slightly more legitimate one, namely St Edmund. No, today should be a national holiday in honour of ace wordsmith and purveyor of quality language, like what he wrote, one William Shakespeare. England has managed to turn out some great Williams in the cultural sphere two bards, one Blake and one Nelson. "What has all this got to do with beer?" I hear you cry. Bear with me, I'm getting there. Today I received this missive from Dave, on behalf of Church End Brewery, and I thought I'd share it with you:

Hope you don't mind me contacting you out the blue here but our local brewery Church End has just released a special edition brew to commemorate William Shakepear's 446th birthday today. 'Shakesbeer' has a blend of four hops and four malts, along with a hint of chocolate, to give it a light brown colour with an ABV of 4.0%.

Church End is offering a pin of the beer to the best 'Shake's Beer' video uploaded to their Facebook page at So if you or any of your fellow aficionados fancy having a go, just check out the sample videos on that page and then upload your own.

Have a great St George's weekend,


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Could you drink 20 pints of ale?

This nonsense blog posting on the Telegraph website suggests that 1 in 10 drinkers are drinking 20 plus pints in an evening. I'm not too bothered about any of the numbers quoted as such because they are they are all so easily challenged. What I find it hard to get my head around is the sheer volume of liquid. For me a heavy night would be four pints. If I wanted to drink twenty pints of beer, or any other drink come to that, I'd have to start at breakfast and go on through to supper (that's real supper by the way, not dinner or tea). Am I a big girl's blouse?

Monday, 19 April 2010

Elitist nonsense

I came upon this discussion forum the other day on the jolly old interweb. It would seem to be a forum predominantly for strange heavy metal types who frequent Castle Donington but occasionally they appear to break free of their 'thrash and monster' yoke to venture into other subjects. It was a discussion about real ale that caught my eye, naturally.

In particular this comment touched a nerve:

"Most young people that drink quality ale tend to be cool, in fact I know of one thats an absolute bloody legend.

However, the older ale drinkers all seem to be fat, arrogant, miserable toessers

I possibly fit into this second category. I certainly don't fit into the first on account of my age and the fact that I've never been cool.

I think the overwhelming message that I take from it is to guard against being a beer snob. Something that I find hard at times and something I need to work at not being.

Are you a beer snob?

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Binge Britain

It would seem damned near impossible to have an informed and reasoned debate about the problems of alcohol in this country. Impossible because the arguments appear polarised between the health-puritans on one side and the conspiracy-theory-freedom-to-drink-oneself-to-death-brigade on the other, whilst the silent majority sit dumb fat and happy with their pint/glass in the middle wondering why moderation isn't the order of the day.

Yesterday, as reported in The Guardian, the health select committee published a long awaited report in which they chastise the government for virtually ignoring Britain's "shocking" rise in binge drinking and alcoholism. Saying that government policies have ranged from "the non-existent to the ineffectual". Those whose main focus is the health of the nation and the cost of providing health care to all are clearly worried, and I suspect with good reason. Whilst data and statistics on the extent of the problem often seem fuzzy and/or contradictory, only a fool would stick their head in the sand, ostrich like, and deny that there is a problem. There is a problem, and you only have to venture out into any urban environment on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday night to see it. No it's not just youthful high spirits, late in the night and into the early hours there are large numbers of people seriously bladdered. Early in the evening you see them congregating in groups, at selected pubs and bars, preparing for the off with shots, alcopops, cheap wine and occasionally pints of Euro-fizz, getting as much 'cheap' booze down their necks in as short a space of time as they can. Of course in many respects this isn't a new phenomenon, we've been here before. The Victorian gin palace culture is a prime example. But what is to be done?

I don't have any answers I'm afraid. But no caring and compassionate individual with a conscience can advocate that we ignore it in the hope that it will go away. Thousands are doing themselves serious harm and the only thing I can think of is education. In reality 'cheep' booze isn't cheap at all, it just happens to be 'subsidised' by us tax payers funding the NHS. Don't get me wrong, I do not favour raising taxes on alcohol or having minimum price levels, but I do think the latter is a strong possibility. Governments of either persuasion are only ever interested in one way of dealing with problems. That's with expediency, and as little cost as possible. I fear the days of 'cheap' alcohol are numbered.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The wings of a Dove

It's a cruel irony that an establishment that is fast becoming Bury St Edmunds' premier real ale pub is only ten minutes walk from where I used to live. The Dove, in Hospital Road, is a pub that I have frequented on and off most of my drinking life. It has always been a Greene King pub, up until recently that is. It is now a free house offering six real ales. Bloody fantastic!

This pub is a 'wet only' affair. No food, unless you want a packet of crisps that is. The opening hours are restricted; opening lunchtimes and evenings of a weekend, and then evenings only during the week. The landlord told us that he is concentrating on East Anglian beers so that he can deal direct with brewers which seems like a jolly good thing to be doing. He is restricted from dealing with certain bigger breweries apparently. This is due to a stipulation by Greene King. But I wouldn't have thought that was a problem, and it certainly didn't appear to be yesterday lunchtime. I met a friend there. We arrived just before opening time. There were five of us waiting. We stayed for most of the lunchtime session and there was a steady stream of customers coming and going, with the pub being respectably full much of the time. Lots of familiar faces along with others I knew. The quality of the beer was most excellent so this pub deserves to do well, and I think it will. It just goes to show that in the right area a wet only pub with well kept beer can draw a crowd.