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.