Wednesday 25 July 2012

A new craft beer bar

Unless I'm very much mistaken our latest our latest pub crawl research trip led to me finding a new craft beer bar in an unexpected place. We'd started at the Fuller's brewery, hoping to pick up a bottle of their new stout but it was not to be. Their brewery shop has improved in recent years but expecting it to have all their beers on sale is obviously still asking a bit too much.

Disappointed we wandered along the river to the first pub, The Black Lion. There was a reasonable selection of ales on the hand pumps, but the Tribute we asked for had just gone so we ended up with Thwaites Wainwright. When it came to paying I cursed my usual practice of not looking at the keg fonts as there was no doubt a huge range of rare and exotic craft beers, which who knows, I may even have briefly considered drinking before deciding not to. I assume that was the case anyway as it was £4.20 a pint, which surely shows I was in a craft beer establishment. I blame Brewdog for getting Thwaites to make Punk IPA and turning them all crafty.

Next we wandered on to a rowing boat themed pub whose name escapes me before getting to the Dove. Here we actually found one of Fuller's new beers, Wild River. It's pale and tastes of American hops. Gosh we thought, how exciting.

Then we had a wander to the Sloaney Pony, where I had a Binghams, as I know Chris Bingham and he makes quality beers. Looking at the blackboard I was reminded how much craft keg really costs (up to £4.50 a half). We did try buying that one just to get the full experience but it was off. I was surprised though to see not all of the pricey craft keg beers were exotic imports.

It seems domestic craft keg is nearly as overpriced as the foreign stuff. Now where did I put the contact details of that keykeg bloke...

Then it was time for tapas, though sadly our favourite place has been taken over and Spanish black pudding was no longer on the menu.

After eating we had a very pleasant St Peter's Mild in the Falcon near Clapham Junction before heading home.

We got back in time for a cup of tea, though it didn't stop the lovely Lisa feeling a little poorly the next day. Must have been the lager with the tapas. Don't worry though, we had a fine selection of fried pork products for breakfast, though due to a terrible oversight still no black pudding. Next Sunday we'll be in Glasgow so will probably have fried haggis and fruit cake with our breakfast, but with a bit of luck the elusive blood sausage will also be on the menu.

Tuesday 17 July 2012

The Gomshall Mill

The lovely Lisa and I called in at the Gomshall Mill for a swifty on Sunday. Thought the sign said "free house" I soon clocked it part of the Brunning and Price chain. "This'll be posh" I though. And not just posh, pricey too at £3.90 a bleeding pint.

A cracking looking place though, complete with its own stream that once drove the mill. You can see it through windows in the pub which definitely counts as a special feature.

It is, unsurprisingly, more of a foodie place than a boozer but we're quite tempted to come back for a meal.

Monday 16 July 2012

No f****** lager

Back in March there was an entertaining, if slanted, article about micropubs in the Sunday Times. I promised to write about it as the tight bastards won't let you see it online.

In a remarkable display of slackness it's only now,  four months later, that I'm finally getting round to it. Good job I'm not in the British Guild of Beer Writers or I'd be up before the committee.

Reading about micropubs was a sheer delight. Being mainly into cask beer and traditional pubs I often feel like an old git compared to the hip young neophiles of the blogosphere. But the world of micropubs is so retro it makes me feel like I'm positively at the contemporary cutting edge.

It starts with Martyn Hillier and The Butchers Arms, where the whole micropub thing started. No alcopops, TV, music or food (except for three flavours of crisps) here, but four real ales, often from local microbreweries.

Sounds great doesn't it?

 "I used to do red and white wine but it confused the ladies," Hillier says. "They'd start asking what red wine it was, and I'm not here to sell wine. So now it's just white wine. Simpler that way."

That bit got me raising an eyebrow.

The article moves on to The Just Reproach in Deal, where anyone who's mobile phone rings is fined £1, and even more if they actually answer it. The letters 'NFL' are stenciled on a window near the door - it stands for "No f****** lager"

None of that ecumenical nonsense here. Doesn't it warm the cockles of your heart?

The Just Beer in Newark takes things even further, refusing to sell lemonade as it's "the slippery slope to shandy."

I'd love to visit a micropub, all the ones mentioned look like they'd be a great place for a night out. But I'm not sure I'd want one as a local, they do look a bit pokey.

Friday 13 July 2012

Friday the 13th

Not really an auspicious day for a beer festival. And the fact it was flooded out will probably prove something to the credulous.

I called in at the venue all the same, as I'd heard they'd decided to salvage what they could of the diluvian disaster. There were several SIBA stalwarts there so I could catch up on business, and I was pleased to hear the festival and competition will take place at some point later in the year, though it's too early yet to say exactly where or when.

Seventeen beers will be on over the weekend, and it looks like a good range.

As I was driving, I could only dip my toe in the water, though the situation would have been the same if the full beer festival with over 100 beers had been on. Having said that I still felt the mini-event lacked a little something so I'm looking forward the the re-scheduled main event.

Thursday 12 July 2012

SIBA SE beer festival cancelled



It seems every cloud does have a sliver lining, the latest tweet from SIBA say there's a mini-festival:

"U may have gathered, there's a very scaled down fest in juddians club house, tonbridge.if ur passing pls support the clubs efforts n pop in"

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Land of hops and glory

Last week I went to a trade day about organic beer. Billed as 'Land of hops and glory' there was a series of talks, a look round a hop farm and, I'm pleased to report, some excellent beers to taste.

An added bonus for me was seeing  for the first time in many years James McCrorie, the founder of the Craft Brewing Association (CBA). He's recently passed on the reins of the CBA, a transition that did not go entirely smoothly, but he seemed quite untroubled by it and optimistic about the future.

As well as talks on organic food, farming and brewing there was also one on marketing. Not quite what I was expecting, but I have to say it was fascinating stuff.

I was also delighted that a great, grand, glorious hero of the cask beer revolution, Roger Protz, gave a talk. He seemed passionately in favour of organic beer, which I must admit slightly surprised me. I'd have though an old Trot like him would be more into nationalising the means of production, miltarising labour and massacring rebel sailors.

As it was pissing down it wasn't an ideal day for a farm tour but it was something I couldn't miss. It was by reading about the hops grown on this farm that I heard that Farnham Whitebines are still grown, something that's sparked an obsession of which I've enjoyed every minute. 

Sadly things did not go entirely to plan. The didn't have good records of where all the hops had been planted so weren't entirely sure about where some of the varieties were. The Farnham Whitebines are somewhere in amongst this lot:

So near but yet so far
I'm not sure it really counts as having seen them if my eyes have passed over them but I don't know which ones they actually were.

Being organic, and conditions being so damp, they were having a problem with downy mildew which doesn't bode well for the whitebines. They spray their crops with compost teas, teeming with bacteria and fungi, so a biofilm will form on the plants and competitively exclude pathogens. As a microbiologist this made sense to me, though I missed out on the tour of the lab as I was busy grilling a golding's guru on Early Choice so I don't know the details.  

The farm is also biodynamic, which as a scientist sounded like a right load of bollocks to me, but I do enjoy hearing about other people's wacky beliefs. I also enjoyed hearing about the researches the bloke from Stroud Brewery has done into traditional African beverages, some of which sound like they haven't changed in thousands of years.

I don't know if we'll make any organic beers at work: it's more effort and costs more for the same return, but I am pleased to report that the days of all organic beers tasting rubbish are behind us. There's a wide range of organic ingredients now available and I enjoyed the beers I tried that day from Stroud, Little Valley and Bath Ales.

Thursday 5 July 2012

SABMiller's British brewery

They may have some big brands but they don't have a big brewery. Last week I got to look at their only British brewery, a pilot plant based in Notthingham university.

Three million quid's worth of kit, and it can make up to a thousand litres of beer at a time. That is a very flash microbrewery. It's mainly devoted to trying out new ways of making lager more efficiently. Most of what they produce is destroyed, apparently it would be unethical to give it away to the students (I bet the students wouldn't have any ethical problems with accepting it though!).

The guy at the brewery said the SABMiller headquarters is in London. But as they have this large office building in Woking, I wonder if he meant London like in 'London' Stansted?:

Monday 2 July 2012

The National Brewery Centre

I took the opportunity of a trip to the Midlands to visit the National Brewery Centre in Burton upon Trent. I've been wanting to visit for some time though I did have a nagging fear that it would be a bit rubbish.
As it happens I was pleasantly surprised, both by how much I enjoyed it and how much there is to it. First you go into a room which takes you through the malting and brewing process with displays of the equipment and various things you can start by pushing a button. I avoided the ones that start a speech but was quite taken with the ones that started engines, especially the one that started the screws on a Saladin box.

I was also pleased to see a section of a Burton Union with a detailed explanation. This was needed as even though I had a reasonable idea of what goes on in them they are fiendishly complicated.

Then it was on to the shire horse bit, old beer cars and another old engine. I thought I must be reaching the end by now but in fact there was another three story building to go.

Shiny, shiny

In the middle of the ground floor this had crammed in the new William Worthington's brewery. There were more displays of models and general beery stuff, including a mock old fashioned pub that looks like a prime candidate for Boak and Bailey's museum plan.
"Pint of Burton, please"

The actual bar has some interesting old beer paraphernalia but lacked in atmosphere.

When did Ind Coopoe adopt the red hand logo?
You're give four tokens when you pay your entrance money, but this only entitles you to one half pint or some (presumably very small) tasters. I went for a half of White Shield. It went down easily, being softer than the bottled version, and with a distinct Burton snatch about it.

Then it was back to where I'd started to look round the souvenir shop and peruse the selection of excellent, but over priced, bottled beers on offer.

Sunday 1 July 2012

Another nail in the coffin

...of Farnham hops.

It's a strange thing this history business. I mean let's face it, it's all done and dusted, but I still keep finding new bits. How can it be that you can have new history? But pointless ponderings aside I did find out yet more about Farnham hops yesterday.

I've had a pdf file of an old hop book by George Clinch for some time but not really paid much attention to it as I was unimpressed by the picture of a male Fuggle plant early on. As the Fuggle is a female hop I didn't think this boded well for the book.

The offending image 
But when I finally got round to reading the book it was a riveting read, full of references and even a couple of mentions of Farnham. It was one about hop tax that really caught my eye:

"Hop growing received great encouragement in the year 1862 when the excise duty on hops was abolished. This tax on the produce of hop-gardens amounted to an average annual charge of nearly £7 per acre. It was specially unfair to growers in the Weald of Kent where the yield of hops was large and the value of produce  low; whilst in East and Mid-Kent and in the Farnham district, where higher-priced hops are grown, the burden was comparatively light."

 Encouraging to hop farmers the removal of the tax may have been, but surely it will have helped to erode the competitiveness of Farnham hops and hastened their demise.