Thursday, 29 December 2011

Beer is for life and not just for Christmas

The great thing about being known as an ale fan is that when it comes to birthdays and Christmas people thankfully plump for the obvious and buy me beer. You can never have enough beer I find, although there was a time when this perhaps wasn’t the case. Amongst the various beer gifts I was very pleased to receive this mini-cask of Adnams Broadside. I’d forgotten just how delicious and packed full of malty goodness Broadside is. I found out tonight when I opened it. Mmmm. Cheers!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Why, no wifi?

Much has been written and continues to be written about the plight of the British Pub. The current economic climate obviously doesn’t help but the economy doesn’t change the underlying fact that pubs continue to suffer and decline. Some people will blame the price of alcohol in supermarkets, but as I’ve said many times on this and other blogs in the past, “I don’t really buy that argument”. The smart pubs adapt and will survive and thrive. Some very traditional untouched pubs will also survive. Nostalgia and tradition are good selling points. But many pubs in the mediocre middle will continue to struggle and be lost. Of course there is no one magic formula that will secure the future of the pub but I feel sure the answer lies in diversity and quality/attention to detail. One thing that pubs can do if they are not already doing so is to offer free wifi. If I am out on my own I will purposely go for a pub with free wifi, assuming that the quality of the beer is good as well. Even if people only use the wifi for social networking it has to be a good thing. People telling their circle of friends that they are in their local or a specific pub must encourage others to either join them or just go down the pub. There is no such thing as bad advertising. Internet access would be an asset to so many pubs and I have no doubt that it does put bums on seats.

I do acknowledge that there are some pubs that ban mobile phone use along with piped music, TV and gambling machines. These oases of electronic quietness certainly have their own attraction and therefore free wifi would be wholly inappropriate but for many others it would be a useful and welcome addition.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Winter draws on

As some might have gathered from my blog I am avid golden ale drinker. I favour drinking this style of ale most of the year round. Having said that as soon as the weather takes that seasonal chilly dip my thoughts also turn to beers of a darker hue. So generally from say November to March I can also be spotted imbibing of darker brown beers, dark milds and the occasional stout. I have to confess that stout would rarely be my first choice when out drinking but under certain circumstances I would partake. Those circumstances are either ‘it’s the last beer of the evening’, ‘there are no exciting alternatives’ or ‘I’m eating chocolate pudding’. But I do like a nice drop of dark mild.

Recently in a pub in Norwich I came across Winter’s Mild 3.6%. Winter’s is a Norwich brewery and their mild is truly a magnificent pint that epitomises this dark non-bitter genre. It is smoky-nuttiness personified. Imagine if you will a briar pipe lovingly packed with hessian and beechnut husks, ignited, puffed and then billowing out its magic. That’s Winter’s Mild in a nutshell. Well a pint glass actually.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The worst beer festival ever?

Well possibly not, but it is certainly the worst beer festival that I’ve ever attended. I always look forward to the Ipswich Beer Festival; it is I think my favourite beer festival. Well it was. But as of today it is no longer. This year is the 29th and for all the time I’ve known and loved it its home has been the Corn Exchange in the centre of the town, and always at the end of September. This year it has moved. It is now in August and situated on the Ipswich Waterfront. On paper this would seem like a smart move, and in terms of attendees and beer sold I have no doubt that it will be considered a success. But I didn’t like it. It appears to have become part of ‘Ipswich Maritime’ a festival highlighting an up and coming part of Ipswich centred on the quay. A very nice part of the town. But the beer festival was shite.
So what was wrong with it?
Well, where do I begin? The directions/signage to the beer festival were very poor, I had to fight my way through crowds of very dozy fuckwhats milling about aimlessly and whose sole purpose for living was to get in my way. So by the time I found/reached the beer festival I was well cheesed off. The festival location was shoved at the furthest point from the station that it possibly could be on the waterfront. It is now an outdoor event which is very bad news. The emphasis has shifted to eating and entertainment rather than real ale! There were long queues to get glasses and beer cards, and there wasn’t not enough seating that was vacant or near the beer action. When I go to a beer festival all I want is a good selection of quality ale, somewhere to sit and chat and enough quiet to hear yourself think. I don’t want entertainment. I don’t want a family area and I only want one or two food stalls. I can tolerate a t-shirt stall but I don’t want anything else! And I most definitely don’t want to be outside. The amount of shelter that had been provided was well under estimated as when the rain started, late afternoon, the two beer tents filled up to capacity making it hard to  move about. Then there were the toilets. Portable loos are always bad news and unusually portable urinals had been provided, but there were no washing facilities. The lavatorial dark ages. I always travel with antibacterial hand wash gel in case of situations like this, but I suspect many don’t. Expect an outbreak of Montezuma’s Revenge in Gippeswick tomorrow.

On the plus side I had a great chat with a complete stranger about Lundy. This was due to me wearing my Marisco Tavern: Lundy Pub of the Year... Every year since 1868 t-shirt; guaranteed to break the ice at parties. And, by and large the beer was of sound quality. Two particular highlights were Blonde from Saltaire weighing in at 4%, a pale golden ale with subtle hints of vanilla and Juicy Fruit chewing gum, and Native from Whitstable a brown beer with 3.7% of malty sweetness and lashings of hamster bedding. None of the beers that I had were anything less than acceptable but I was so pleased to leave.
If the future format and location remains the same that will have been the last Ipswich Beer Festival that I ever attend.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Dark Star American Pale Ale

The Vine has really got to offer some of the best kept ale in Norwich. The food’s good as well. We sometimes call in of Saturday lunchtime if we are in the city. One such lunch a few weeks ago offered up a new ale to me, Dark Star American Pale Ale 4.7%. I must say I do like what has surely become a genre in its own right and that is the bitter, strong, pale, golden ale. This magnificent specimen with its light colour, initial fruity/vanilla hints, wisps of hop flavour and a bitter marmalade style aftertaste had me supping in double quick time and going back for seconds. This magnificent ale with its fractal character is a pure joy to the taste buds. Try it when you can.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Marisco Tavern, Lundy

When you are the only pub in town with a captive audience you don’t need to try very hard. You could so easily rest on your laurels. But not so The Marisco Tavern, the only pub on Lundy. At the beginning of June we enjoyed a week’s holiday on this isolated island where the pub was but a stone’s throw away from where we were residing; basically through the garden gate and about 25 yards up a slope.

The Marisco Tavern is a pub, a restaurant, and part-time information point and education facility. On Lundy the pub truly is the hub. There were two ‘own label’ ales on hand pump both tip-top quality and both brewed by St Austell; Lundy Experience 3.9% a lightly bittered session ale and Lundy Old Light 4.2% a fruity light coloured malty ale that could well share many similarities with Tribute. The food pretty good as well. Lunches were safe baguette, pie and burger type options but the evening meals were certainly a cut above your average pub grub. I particularly enjoyed the hearty game stew which was made from meat from the island. The portions are generous with the size of the puddings bordering on mildly obscene. The bread and butter pudding weighing in as a major heavyweight. Grande but delicious. A must try.

The walls are adorned with artefacts salvaged from shipwrecks off Lundy. Stone floors and wooden furniture the place is unspoilt and unpretentious. Mobile phones and computers are banned from use in the pub which feels very much in keeping with the island.

Lundy is an idyllic island and the Marisco Tavern is a great pub that I enjoyed having for my local. My favourite bit was that at meal times if we were eating in I could just pop through the garden gate and into the pub, order a pint and bring it back to where we were staying. Heaven.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Norwich City of Ale

The festival starts tomorrow:

Norwich City of Ale is a ten-day celebration of local pubs, breweries and real ale taking place throughout our fine city, from 26th May 2011 until 5th June 2011. The festival is organised by Norwich City of Ale Limited which is a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to promote Norwich, nationally and internationally, as the UK City of Ale.

And why not?It’s a bloody brilliant place for beer; fantastic pubs, fantastic choice and great quality ale. As Dr Johnson might have put it, ‘sir, when a man is tired of drinking in Norwich he is tired of life’. This applies to ladies as well of course.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Canary capers

I’ve mentioned before that although I’m no football fan living so close to Delia’s place means that you just can’t avoid it. Right at the moment Norwich is buzzing with optimism. Well as much optimism as the Con-Dem government of economic half-wits will allow. Norwich City football club have managed to secure a place in League Division One next year so there is much jollity and celebration in Mustard City. Woodforde’s, clearly not wanting to miss a trick, have brewed a beer in their honour. Had a pint the other night, and mighty fine it was too. A summery golden ale, perfect for May, @ 4.1% and answering to the name of ‘Premier Crew’. Can’t think why! I suspect that the recipe used is not a million miles away from last year’s offering.

Here’s what it’s about straight from the horse’s mouth:

To celebrate Norwich City Football Club’s Promotion, Norfolk brewery Woodforde’s has released Premier Crew - a limited edition beer fit for the Premier League! The beer, which will be available in a selection of Norwich pubs from Wednesday 4th May, is a 4.1% ale made from quality Norfolk ingredients and pays tribute to the players, backroom staff and supporters who have collectively achieved back-to-back promotion.

Mike Betts, Director at Woodforde’s, comments: “This is a great result for Paul Lambert and his team! We’re a proud and passionate supporter of Norwich City Football Club and what better way to celebrate the promotion than by creating a patriotic tipple that the whole city can be proud of? We hope supporters enjoy it, especially on Saturday when the team are at home for the last game of the season!”

Chris and Glynis Higgins of the Trafford Arms will be stocking the beer. Chris comments: “Norwich City is a first class club and Woodforde’s is a first class brewery so it’s a salute to teamwork which is what pubs, breweries and customers are all about!”

Premier Crew is the fourth seasonal brew released by Woodforde’s in the past year, and the second with a football-theme, after Game On! which was brewed for the World Cup last spring.

Premier Crew will be available in draught and is available for a limited time only.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Ramble away

A beer for every occasion, and every occasion a beer! This review could well end up sounding like damning with faint praise, but it is not intended to be. I like session ales. Sometimes a man (and no doubt ladies do as well) just wants a thirst slaking beer, rather than savouring and chewing a complex brew of note and strength. I also like to think that I have quite an acute sense of taste. Which is probably why I have found the real ale drinking experience to be such a joy since pubs were rid of the obnoxious tobacco smoke contamination. I’d never heard of the Coach House Brewing Company of Warrington until last night. I called in for a pint on my way home to find that their Farrier Best Bitter 3.9% available. That was the pint for me. And, I was so glad of the choice I had made. I like the term ‘Best Bitter’ it’s not used enough these days. Of course it’s essentially meaningless but even so you sort of knew what you were going to get when ordered it. Farrier Best Bitter is a useful ale. Despite the tag it is not overly bitter. It is hoppy malt water. But hoppy malt water is good. It is pleasing in the mouth, has enough flavour for you to know you are drinking good ale. And, this ale was in good condition. I could have carried on drinking it all evening given the chance. On the strength of this beer (no pun intended) I shall certainly look out for other beers from this brewery.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Festival of The Vine

A couple of weeks ago when we called in at The Vine for lunch I was amazed to see that they were organising a beer festival. Amazed because it is quite a small pub and whilst it is in the Good Beer Guide it is a predominantly food driven pub that you would not expect to host a beer festival. Last night was the first night of their self styled “small but beautifully formed” beer festival so I called in for an early evening pint to check it out. The downstairs bar had indeed been transformed into a mini festival. Tables had been moved out of the way, a stillage had been erected against one of the walls and around a dozen ales were on offer. Not only that but they still had three hand pumps offering their usual fare at the bar. The Vine is just off the market in the heart of the city. Don’t you just marvel at this sort of wonderfulness?

I plumped for a pint of Castle Rock Preservation. Not a bad choice as it turned out. A bit on the brown side taste-wise but with enough character to make it interesting and enjoyable. I suspect that in my eyes Castle Rock is a victim of their own success as they’ve set the bar really high with Harvest Pale. The downstairs of the pub was buzzing with plenty of drinkers, all male save one. There also seemed to be a steady flow of diners heading upstairs. So apart from the initial surprise shown by some as they entered the pub it wasn’t turning their food-driven clientele away. a double plus. I’m not sure if I’ll make it back again this week but I shall try.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Pint of beer 'to break £3 barrier'

So the headline proclaims on this Press Association news item. It is reporting that “The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) said the increase in VAT to 20% would add a further 6p to the cost of a pint of beer, on top of the 26% rise in Beer Tax seen during the past two years.” Of course it is nonsense as, depending on where you are and your chosen tipple, the £3 barrier has been broken for quite some time. But it does highlight the fact that for the pub the future continues to be less than rosy. Today’s VAT rise will hit the pub in two ways, first it raises the price of their wares, but it will also mean that people will have less disposable cash. Pubs will have to fight hard to grab a decent slice of a shrinking cake.