Sunday, 2 December 2007

No Pale Imitation

Well, given that Pete Brown has now landed in India - for those of you who haven't been following his epic adventures visit - I thought I would offer some tasting notes on the version of his Calcutta Ale that hasn't made the journey, which I tried at the really rather good Old Ale Festival at the White Horse the other weekend.

The nose is full of clove, banana and marzipan immediately - with a background of subtle caramel tones and a very slight lime zest.

The initial flavours are of a slightly tomatoey/orangey nature with very little discernable maltiness and then, suddenly, up pop some very slight burnt coffee notes followed by a medicinal spike of hop - which I'd hazard will have evened out on Pete's journey - and then you just get this enormously long, dry hop finish which, I have to say, made me feel incredibly hungry!

I could certainly drink more than a couple of pints of this in its
un-sea-soned state (geddit?!) and it is certainly a really brilliant pre-dinner pint to get the old juices flowing.

So congrats Mr Brown, your epic journey has not only been entertaining to follow but has also produced a really very drinkable beer.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Confused & Bemused

Beer sales have slumped to their lowest level since the Great Depression, according to figures released by the British Beer & Pub Association today (November 20, 2007).

But I'm a bit confused and bemused by this announcement and what it's trying to achieve; because, to my mind, all this proclamation is going to generate is stories about beer not being popular any more, which - if we're not careful - could surely just become a self-perpetuating prophesy.

Now the BBPA will doubtless claim that its aim is to highlight the rising costs and sinking sales of its members' products - but it is probably a good idea to remember that a significant number of its members are the big brewers and pub companies, which have a certain brewing and stocking policy that involves a lot of mainstream lager brands...

If you then think about this in light of the recent report written by Pete Brown* on the cask ale market, which showed most of the top-line 5% decline in the cask market comes from the ‘big four’ multi-national brewers, you begin to see a slightly different story emerging.

And if you then notice that these same companies are systematically withdrawing support from their cask brands.... I think you're beginning to get the outline of the picture here.

And now for the colour - independent and local brewers are reporting growth, on average, of 7.5% year-on-year, because they are enthusiastically investing in their brands which have genuine local provenance and are brewed in their country of origin, in many cases just down the road from where they are being drunk.

So why has this story been released? Well we all know that there is the threat of additional taxation on booze and this will undoubtedly be a bad thing for the brewing industry and pub trade - not to mention your pocket and mine - and I don't have a problem with trying to challenge that.

The major problem I DO have is that, once again, the BBPA's doom and gloom approach does nothing more than further damage beer's image by painting it as a product that nobody wants.

What this report seems to say to me, when viewed in light of Pete Brown's findings, is that, actually, fewer people want mass-produced products and that the big brewers are missing out by under-investing in their cask brands.

In fact, I remember very clearly nearly 10 years ago a representative of Bass Brewers saying that nobody wants cask any more because it's too complicated to have a living organism in the cellar and that consumers were 'voting with their throats' by moving to lager and smoothflow products.

And, whilst I am all for the Chancellor taking on board that there have been major increases in costs for nearly all the raw materials required for beer production, I think it's more than a little disingenuous of the big brewers to start crying now when they've held a lager/smoothflow monopoly over people's beer tastes for a good few decades.

Quite simply boys it's someone else's turn to play now so, rather than stamping your feet and taking your ball in, perhaps a look at the way consumers are 'voting with their throat' would do your business some good...

...but maybe that's just too simplistic a view.

*The Intelligent Choice Report on the state of the cask ale market was written by Pete Brown and co-published by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), the Independent Family Brewers of Britain, the Society of Independent Brewers, the Cask Marque Trust and the Why Handpull? group.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Oldies but Goldies at White Horse

The White Horse is holding an old ale festival for the 25th year in a row on November 23 - I'm potentially running a seminar too, could be aimed at getting girls to like beer more so if you've got a wife/girlfriend or mate who needs convincing watch this space for some help!

The event starts on November 23, at 5pm, and runs over three days until the evening of Sunday November 25, with at least 50 beers representing these historic styles from around the world.

Large and small family, regional and microbrewers alike will feature in the White Horse’s festival line-up – with such name as Harveys, Bateman’s and Fullers, Freeminer, Brew Dog and Cottage all being represented.

And, subject to availability, the line up could also be supplemented by some of our innovative brewing cousins from over the water as well as up to 10 European beers and six ciders too.

Other events are planned throughout the weekend, live music on Friday and Saturday night, Morris Dancing from the Leominster Morris on Sunday, and live Jazz to nicely bring the festival to a close on Sunday afternoon. The BBQ will be running all weekend - featuring a hog and buffalo roast – and for those looking for some traditional pub entertainment there will be a variety of bar games like Shove Ha’Penny and Pub Skittles scattered around the pub for everybody’s enjoyment.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

What Beer Buying Sites Do You Rate?

Hiya all,
I'm writing an article for Beers of the World on the world's top beer retail sites - so if you have any suggestions please email me on

I'm only looking for retailing sites not blogs, websites or anything else so please just email with relevant information.

Cheers for all your input.


Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Aussie Rules

Well, I apologise for the gaps in posts - I've been mad busy and should actually be doing some work now, but seeing as it's about 7.30pm I've opted for grabbing a cold one instead!

The lovely Karl at Pierhead sent me some Boag's St George today and, I have to say, it's not a bad lager at all!

A little Tasmanian devil of a beer it's got a nice balance of sweet and bitter and made with local Tasmanian malt; unfortunately I don't know what the hops are but I hazard they might be Pride of Ringwood, they've got that character.

It's a real palette teaser. I've been so intent on working, up until now obviously, that I hadn't realised I was in the least bit hungry, yet this has sparked my mouth into life.

Unfortunately I'm also aware that, despite normally being a bit of an amateur cook, I've got sweet FA in the house with which to rustle up anything decent and my recent undertaking to lose more weight before venturing in front of the TV cameras again is sitting heavy on my conscience, so take out doesn't seem like an option - bugger!

So, another out of the ordinary lager - always a good find in my book because, to be honest, when I'm working and having a cheeky beer I don't want something too exciting because I'll only get distracted!

Try it with a beef rendang - it'll rock... where did I put that pizza menu?!

Monday, 8 October 2007

Feeling the Wood

Wood aged beer, it might not sound too revolutionary given Britain's history of cask conditioned beer.

But a recent event I attended raised a lot of interesting issues and innovations surrounding this subject, and it's a production method I believe will shape a whole new beer category in the UK over the years to come.

Now, interestingly, we are quite far behind the Americans in this - as they already have whole wood-aged beer festivals - but given their existing and thriving wine and bourbon industrythey have a few more old oak containers kicking around not doing much, apart from waiting for some enterprising spark to pick them up and age other booze in them. One of the reasons being that you can only use bourbon barrels once apparently.

But availability of old casks aside, what's really interesting is the difference you can impart into the same beer by the use of different barrels that have had spirit or fortified wine products in them.

This was demonstrated at this seminar, which was kindly hosted by Thornbridge Brewery at the beautiful Thornbridge Hall, not only by Fuller's but by the hosts themselves.

We had a taste of their St Peter's Imperial Russian Stout which had been finished in three different whisky barrels from Speyside (8.8%), the Highland (9.4%) and Islay (10.2%) - I'll avoid naming the whisky brands for now, as I think it's a potentially touchy subject, but suffice to say they were enormous in ABV and flavour, particularly the Islay one, which a bit too TCP for my tastes but the other two were absolutely superb!

Unfortunately I'm being a bit of a tease because Fuller's is having issues with Customs about this issue and Thornbridge may only release a limited number of their aged St Peter's - but if you can get your hands on some then for goodness sake do.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Discounted Beer!

The nice people at are trying to build their beer portfolio, which can only be seen as admirable, and are offering the readers of this blog a 10% discount.

But what can you expect? Well they are the only people to sell Henley-brewed Lovibonds and they were nice enough to send me some bottles.

Henley Gold, the 4.6% wheat beer, is refreshing and sufficiently unusual to appeal to my traditionally wheat beer-hating other half, with lovely banana notes on the nose and a really crisp green apple aftertaste.

I personally loved the Henley Dark, a 4.8% rich porter with lightly smoked notes, which is made with a blend of seven different malted barleys including one smoked with local beech wood from the surrounding hills of the Chilterns. Perfect as the nights close in.

So, for a discounted price on these and some other English ales visit Surf4Wine and enter ENGBEER as your discount code.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Mon Sherry!

Well, I've just spent a week out in Spain, the sherry triangle to be precise, drinking - well, sherry actually!

I know what you're thinking - sherry? This girl's a beer writer! Well actually as you'll see from my previous post that I don't only write about beer - I'm just a professional dipsomaniac...

Anyway, I had the most amazing time and, believe it or not, seriously enjoyed some of the sherries but I really can't get my head around this spitting business that the wine trade indulge in - what a waste of good booze!

On a beer front it was interesting to note that the UK isn't alone in going for the super-chilled lager option - Spain's Cruzcampo has done the same thing, but it works so much better when the temperatures are in the mid-high 20s, which is something we're unlikely to see again this year.

Rather delightfully I did get to drink some Alhambra Reserva 1925 whilst I was out there which I really like. Malt and honey overtones dominate without being too cloying because there's a lovely long bitter hop balance it all out.

The only problem I have with this beer is that until it gets three inches from the end of your nose it just looks like a green bottle because all it has is embossing which, whilst gorgeous from an aesthetic point of view, is total toilet marketing.

So, don't be detered if, when you are looking in the fridge, there appears to be a plain green bottle - give it a whirl.

Although, thinking about it, make sure you ask first whether it's the Alhambra or you might end up drinking a bottle of the local moonshine!

Friday, 14 September 2007

Slightly Off Pissed

Iceland - what a funny country it is. Booze is so expensive it makes Londoners take a sharp intake of breath and, in my experience, they are, as a nation, either gorgeously smiley and friendly or staggeringly rude.

However, Hotel 101 and the Seafood Cellar in Reykjavik are absolutely outstanding and outside the capital - which is surrounded by a frighteningly lunar landscape on one side and a very industrial harbour on another - there are some staggeringly beautiful sights like geysers and amazing waterfalls.

Beer is the most affordable drink out there, at around £5 for a bottle, but all I could find was relatively pedestrian lager - nothing too wrong with it nothing terribly right to be honest. Egils Premium at 5.7% and Viking at 5.6% were okay though.

I was actually there with Martin Miller's Gin which, whilst distilled in this country, is shipped to Iceland to be blended with the water due to its purity, and not only were the PR and brand people lovely so is the product - citrus and fragrant without being 'old ladies perfume' it's the only gin I've ever been able to taste and appreciate neat, good work guys!

A special mention has to go to the funniest man I've met in years however, Andie Jones from Player magazine - I haven't laughed so hard in a long time - mate, you're a legend.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Hooray for Open-Minded Editors

A beer piece, in Sainsbury's Magazine - surely not I hear you cry! Isn't that one for 'the ladies'?

But hats off to Sue Robinson (the editor), she was an instant convert to the beer cause after falling in love with a Meantime Porter and Valharona chocolate dessert match at a lunch I worked on for the English Beef & Lamb Executive and decided to commission the piece as a result of experiencing the amazing qualities of different beers first hand - so thanks for being so open-minded Sue (and for ignoring Ian Botham's continued attempts to feed you wine instead!).

My point behind this post is that too often we beer nerds think that telling people what they want to drink is the way to convert them to the beer cause, but I disagree.

The key for me is education and passion on the subject of beer, not patronisation or fundamentalist attitudes.

For example: I held a tasting last night at the Printer's Devil in Fetter Lane, London for a group of lawyers and their clients at which there was one woman and one man who both said they never drink beer at the beginning of the evening.

By going right back to basics about how alcohol is made, how beer was discovered, dispelling myths about some mainstream brands containing chemicals and giving a bit of a story behind some of the beers, the original beer-avoiders left swearing to experiment more - what more can you ask?

Friday, 31 August 2007

On to Hunt in the Elysian Fields

Michael Jackson, the Beer Hunter, has passed away.

A man of prodigious passion and zest for life, Michael's beer and whisky knowledge was the stuff of legend and I always found him generous to a fault with it.

An outrageous flirt and bon viveur Michael never failed to make me laugh when we met and was always, always threatening to take me out for longest lunch of my life - sadly that never came to pass.

At the age of 65 Michael had crammed more into his years on the planet than most of us could dream of; his breakthrough book, The World Guide to Beer, put beers in their cultural context and really changed the way people looked at this incredible drink.

His show, the Beer Hunter, got him much fame on both sides of the pond and he even appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Michael, and his beer journalist contemporaries in the 70s, worked tirelessly to save British beers at a time when they were spiralling into decline.

So next time you're enjoying a home-grown pint make sure you raise a toast to Michael - because without him you may not have even have got the chance.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Feeling Moved

Moving house, one of the three most stressful things you can do in life apparently so I'm currently panicking that I'm doing something wrong! Apart from the truly terrifying amounts of money fleeing from the bank account I'm relatively calm... which is actually now beginning to worry me - this could be a vicious circle!

Anyway, as the packing has commenced I have not only discovered beers I forgot I had, I've discovered some real doozies - a bottle of Thomas Hardy's and a presentation glass and bottle of Chimay Grand Reserve 2005, which I got when I was in Belgium.

I think perhaps this should be savoured as the moving in drink - and I suppose I'll have to share!

Anyway, the domestic abuse of my long suffering better half aside, the reason for this post is that I've heard a few comments floating around the place recently about the White Horse in Parson's Green, some of them negative.

Now for those of you who aren't aware of this beer mecca in the middle of sloane country it's been the benchmark for all things beer for a number of years, undoubtedly because former manager Mark Dorber carved out an impressive niche in a big pub company and ran the place like a freehouse - offering amazing beers and being incredibly knowledgeable about them all.

Now the new manager Dan, I'll admit, is a mate of mine BUT he is always quick to criticise my work so I'd be equally quick to criticise him if he wasn't doing a good job - but he is! He's doing an outstanding job.

The beers are all immaculately kept, the range has been maintained and his staff are just as well trained. For example, he put every single champion beer he could get his hands on during the week of the GBBF and not one of them that I sampled was in anything less than great condition (and I tried a few!).

What bugs me is that these people seem happy to damage the reputation of a great pub - yet if their bad-mouthing became financially damaging they'd be the first to scream if mainstream brands were put on the bar to make up the losses!

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Beer - it's Your Friend

There are truly crap days that, and I know this makes me sound like the lush I am, can only be solved by having a damn good beer at the end of them.

There's something really very soothing about being able to sit on your own couch, when the other half has gone out to watch the footy, and have a quiet beer.

And this evening I tried, I must admit with a little bit of trepidation, the bottle of Spaten I got sent recently by Wychwood and I have to say it's really very pleasant.

Now, it's never going to set the world alight because it's not outstandingly different from many decent German lagers but there's nothing like finding a cold beer in the fridge that you forgot you had and being able to crack it open when you thought you were going to have go out in the pissing rain (in August!!) just to get one poxy pint.

It's got lovely warm malt flavours and just the right amount of - I'm going to guess here - Saaz hops to balance it out. And at 5.2% has managed to take the edge off it all.

Thanks to the guys at Wychwood, you've just made my day a little less... well, crap really!

Monday, 13 August 2007

A Work of Comedy Genius

There are days when I have to worship at the altar of shameless publicity and today is most definitely one of them - read the below, it's really something - do you reckon they will make customers dress in flat caps and give them the leads of whippets to hold if the press come down for a photocall?!


An unexpected side-effect cost of the ban on smoking in pubs is arising from the break-out of "The Wigan Traipse" - and now staff in a number of the town's bars are asking customers to walk properly.

Smokers desperate for a drag are clocking up around 250 miles a week traipsing from the bar to the designed outdoor smoking area - and now one pub company is beginning to see the ban is wearing a bit thin.

"We've studied this very carefully, and the damage to floors and carpets is all down to walking style," said Tony Callaghan, founder and Managing Director of Wigan-based Yesteryear Pub Company, which has bars across the North West of England.

"You can see reluctance in their body language as they walk out to have a smoke - it's a definite reluctant shuffling traipse, with foot contact on the floor surface probably twice as long as it needs to be compared to if they were walking normally.

"If they walked instead of shuffled, they'd get through their fag and back to their pint a lot sooner.

"If matters don't improve soon, then I fear we may have to be putting up 'walk properly' signs next to the 'no smoking' signs.

"On average, there is a rolling 100 customers smoking outside each bar each day, and they make 20 visits each a day to the outside smoking area, an average return traipse of 32 yards. This equates to around about 250 traipse miles per pub per month."

A month after the smoking ban came into effect in pubs in England, Tony says business levels are unaffected - although there has been a slight change in customer trends.

Yesteryear, which owns the Number Fifteen chain of wine bars, Maloneys cocktail bars and a range of independently branded pubs and bars in the North West says that July sales figures appear to have suffered no impact from the smoking ban.

"We really did not know what to expect. Some of our bars are in real smokers' heartlands - but business levels have remained unchanged. The change in emphasis has been more people coming into bars for food, and a notable increase in family dining.

"The hardcore smokers are obviously nonplussed by it all, but they are accepting the ban with good grace and traipsing outside when they need a drag.

"One or two have admitted that they're cutting down - I suppose there is an upside to cutting down from 60 a day to 50 a day."

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Hands-On with London's Youngest Brewer!

Whatever you’re thinking, stop it! When I say I spent the day ‘hands-on’ with London’s youngest brewer, Tony Lennon, I mean he was kind enough to let me spend the day brewing with him.

Without wishing to tease too much I'm afraid I can't write extensively right now about my day's brewing with Tony at the Florence in Herne Hill, sister pub to the Cock & Hen , because I'm writing an article for a couple of magazines, which I'm sure I'll be able to publish extracts from in the not too distant future.

However, what I will say is how educational it was for me.

Although I know the majority of the theory, and I've been to many different breweries of varying sizes, I've never actually been hands-on with the whole of the brewing process and certainly not on such a micro scale and it's really increased my understanding of the practical side of the process, as opposed to the slightly more 'fluffy' tasting and food matching side.

We were making Bonobo at 4.5%, the darker of the two beers brewed at both the Florence and the Cock & Hen, and my boss for the day seemed pretty pleased with it all so that's good - I'll let you know what it tastes like in 40 days, by which time I should be able to talk more about the day.

Tony - despite the fact he's got the hump with me for calling him a 'lovely lad' in a previous post - was more than a little patient with my occasionally stupid questions and the fact that I was almost certainly more hindrance than help.

And at the risk of sounding like one big advert for Capital Pub Company on this blog at the moment, you really should get down to the Florence. It's a beautiful pub, with a massive garden, lovely airy conservatory, great food, beautiful architecture and original features and an in-house brewery! As just a small taster of what's on offer - they sell Budvar, Aspall, Adnams and, of course, either Weasel or Bonobo.

I will sound a note of caution though and that's if, like me, you have a nutter magnet on your forehead you may find some of the local residents a little disturbing - I had a couple of funny ones - but my personal favourite for the day? The guy who was collecting and smoking 'recycled' cigarettes about two feet away from me (fortunately on the other side of some railings) who proceeded to growl at me for about five minutes much to the amusement of the other patrons!

But PLEASE don't let this put you off - this kind of stuff happens to me all the time - it really is the most lovely pub and even worth a trip to Herne Hill for!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

It's Great to be British and Love Beer!

The GBBF went with a swing yesterday, or a sway in my case, and I'm delighted to say a mild won! I love mild, I think it's an amazing beer style and I hope that Hobson's Mild winning will get more people to understand that it's just the best post-work or lunchtime pint ever!

I've had the great pleasure of drinking Hobson's Mild and it's a lowly 3.2% but packed with nuttiness and just a tickle of hops - it's wonderful.

I was judging the speciality section and the head and shoulders winner of that was Nethergate's Umbel Magna - and for those of you who read my last entry YES I got the fruit beers (I think it's a girl thing - they see bird and think fruit beer!). For the full results visit

Down on the floor however I tried some cracking beers - Hall & Woodhouse's new brew Pickled Partridge went down well and they were asking for feedback, I thought a bit more pickle in the partridge to be honest, by that I mean a bit more spice, but it's shaping up to be a good addition to the portfolio, which has been long overdue a darker beer.

I thought the Otley O1 was extremely good, it won bronze in the golden ales category, and Buster from Breconshire's beers were spot on again, keep an eye out for his Py II Welsh Pale Ale - it's going to be a corker.

Wasn't so sure about the Hophead Extra (5.8%) though - I thought it had too much caramel, which overwhelmed the usually clean and light aspect that the Dark Star's normal Hophead has, although I've got a sneaking suspicion that it needed a few more days conditioning in the barrel, it felt a bit green.

Overall the event was excellent and the smoking ban has made it a more pleasant place to be if I'm honest, less litter and grubbiness.

Then it was on to the fabulous Cock & Hen in Fulham (which to be honest I shouldn't have done as I was a little bit happy by this point) and the wonderful hospitality of Phil and the extremely pleasant company of Tony the brewer. Lovely lad, 27 years old, mechanic turned brewer - couldn't be happier I don't think!

If you haven't been to this gem of a pub yet then make the effort - Tony's beer are shaping up nicely, if somewhat bizarrely named particularly Bonobo - for those of you who don't know Bonobo apes are also our closest genetic relatives and are extremely promiscuous; engaging in group and homosexual sex as well masturbation so they're pretty happy most of the time!!

Rumour has it that the female bar staff probably aren't going to be too chuffed with the next name however - I'll leave you to find out what it is for yourself when you visit this cracking addition to the area.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Strength of Will - or Lack Thereof

What is it that makes you go out and drink too much the Sunday before you know you've got a big week coming up?

What is this masochistic tendency in some of us (and most definitely me) that surfaces at this time? Answers on a postcard please...

Anyway, as you may be able to tell I'm feeling a bit fraglie this morning but am very excited about the week ahead as the Great British Beer Festival has arrived!

I'm delighted to say I'm judging tomorrow, please god don't let it be fruit beers again, but before that I'm organising a drinks reception on behalf of the Guild at the White Horse in Parson's Green in memory of John White - so hopefully that should be a good bash although I'm not sure how well it will set me up for judging the next morning or meeting the various mates I'm supposed to throughout the day!!!!!!

But the point of this blog is not to bemoan my liver's fate but to talk about beer and I'm delighted to say that I've got a new one to talk about having tried it recently and that's Titan Ale from Watch City Brewing - it's a hop monster and a half with wonderful zingy citrus notes that goes down far too easily on a summer's day - and at 6% it is one to watch out for!

Trust me, this is one legendary beer.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Food for Thought

I've been doing a few bits and pieces on beer and food for trade magazine the Publican and the lovely food editor and mate of mine John Porter kindly agreed that I could reproduce them here - I hope they provide some inspiration or at least get the old juices flowing!

Golden Ales
Light and hoppy, best served quite chilled and unfeasibly refreshing - golden ales are my summer drink, they are like liquid sunshine. And because of this they complement summer food beautifully - particularly when it comes to kitsch classics; lemon, honey & mustard drumsticks straight from the BBQ, Coronation chicken and prawn cocktail all go fantastically with these golden glories - but there is also so much more scope for them food-wise than this rather unimmaginative stuff.

I think golden ales are the ideal aperitif - I often like to serve them super-chilled in a champagne glass as their intensely hoppy nature gets the palette going beautifully - especially such hop monsters as the legendary HopBack Summer Lightning or the lesser-known, but equally fabulous, Beowulf Mercian Shine.

Or, if you want to pair them with some exciting food, how about a sumptuous John Dory stuffed with aromatic rosemary, garlic and lime and roasted until the skin is crispy and flesh is flaky and to round off a meal how about knocking up a classic key lime pie? Golden ales with their blaring hops and tingly carbonation will be more than equipped to cope with this lusty finish to a fine meal.

Wheat Beers
My first experience of a wheat beer was when it was served to a sceptical me about 10 years ago with sushi, at the time another first, and I haven't looked back since; so with the summer approaching and, at the time of writing, the England cricket team doing well your attention could turn to al fresco dining and light refreshment in the form of the filtered wheat beers like Sierra Nevada's Crystal Wheat.

The clearer wheat beers can be deliciously refreshing and citrus and to match them I still don't think you can't beat pan-Asian cuisine such as with sushi, sashimi or a vibrant Thai salmon salad with a tongue-tingling sweet/sour/salty/spicy dressing, with crunchy slivers of carrot, beansprouts, sugar snap peas and pea shoots.

But if we're looking at the colder days - such as the recent test at Headingley where I could be found freezing various extremities off - I would opt for the deeper, sweeter, heartier hefe with something like a slow-cooked shoulder of pork in milk.

This Italian favourite - which is flavoured with cinnamon, sage, rosemary, garlic and lemon peel - should be served with the crispiest of saute potatoes and a big helping of curly kale.

The aromatics in the pork will really complement the clove and orange characteristics of most hefes whilst the honest, earthy flavours of the potatoes and kale will dampen the often overwhelmingly sweet bubblegum notes in hefes and stop it from becoming too cloying.

Russian Imperial, English Milk or Irish Dry - stout is truly a marvel of brewing alchemy, its deep ruby depths yielding the most amazing array of flavours and aromas from gentle caramel to gooey molasses.

There is an array of stout-friendly dishes which spring instantly to mind – beef & stout suet pie, deep rich mutton stews and, of course, sausages & colcannon – but I think its unsung partner is Cajun food. Forget your overly creamy draught or canned Guinness and pop a bottle of Original in the fridge and, while you’re getting your marinade ready for those ribs, sacrifice some of your drinking pleasure for the ultimate caramelised crust on your meat when you whack it on the barbecue or griddle pan.

For the chocoholics why not serve Sam Smith’s Imperial Stout with a cardamom-infused 70 per cent cocoa pot and see how it makes the spice in both the beer and the dessert sing. And when it comes to English milk stout, such as Mackeson’s, don’t think of using anything else in your Christmas puds – they will never be as dark or rich.

Best Bitter
My desert island match for best bitter is a simple beef sarnie - I know it's neither exotic, nor glamorous, but it's just so satisfying. Sinking your teeth into a mixture of cold rare beef and fresh granary bread - topped with salty butter and the thinnest layer of strong horseradish - is just one of life's great pleasures.

It's the sumptuous meaty flavour of the beef, the nuttiness of the bread and the spiciness of the horseradish all combining so perfectly with the biscuity aroma of the malt and the aromatic bitterness of the hops. and, the best bit is, the gentle carbonation of the beer cleanses your palate so you can enjoy it all over again - what's not to love?

Monday, 16 July 2007

Extremely Interesting

I like Samuel Adams.

I like that the company totally debunks the myth that all American beers are more akin to gnat's piss than anything else.

And I am definitely very enamoured of their 'extreme beers'.

I was judging at an international beer competition the other week and the very last beer of the day was immediately identifiable as a Sam Adams offering - and if you're wondering why I say that it's because, in my experience of beer, no one else is mental enough to brew something that strong!

Called Utopias (I later identified due to its distinctness and by talking about it to fellow anoraks!) it turns out the version I tried was a mere 24% ABV, although they have achieved 25%ABV in 2005.

More akin to an olorosso sherry than anything else it is filled with vanilla, sherry and oak notes and is brewed with five different malts and six different hops.

It is then aged in a blend of scotch, bourbon, port and cognac casks for up to ten months using a pair of proprietary yeast strains developed by the brewery.

Rather entertainingly you will find on the Sam Adams website that it can't be sold in 14 different states in the US - and if it's anything like the Triple Bock they've brewed before (think molasses and Marmite meets Imperial porter) it can't be exported to the UK either because they can't always guarantee the ABV - so do keep a careful eye out for it when you are Stateside and treat this baby with respect!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Honesty in Politics?!

There's been a lot of noise recently about the Tory Party's new 'beer tax' proposals, which I find interesting in light of the fact that the Government has also already announced a review into pricing in both the on and the off trade.

But what scares me the most is that they are taking advice, as is the European Union, from an organisation that was set up by, and still has tremendously strong links, to the Temperance Movement.

The Institute of Alcohol Studies, which you will hear and see quoted widely, is mainly funded by the Alliance House Foundation - the new name for the UK Temperance Alliance.

Now, before I go any further I'd like to say I've got no problem with the Temperance Movement, their views are perfectly valid and their values are impeccable, they were set up at a time when the UK was descending into chaos due to the consumption of gin and, to a lesser extent, beer.

What I do have a problem with, however, is the Institute of Alcohol Studies being represented as an impartial scientific body - that's just totally disingenuous.

And it's amazing that this is continually the case, not trying to blow my trumpet but I successfully challenged a BBC producer on NewsWatch about presenting the IAS as an impartial body without informing the viewers that they were Temperance Movement funded and yet people still aren't challenging this!

I have no problem with the Government, or prospective Governments, attempting to tackle the drinking issues this country has but let's get real - by taking the advice of a self-interested body we aren't tackling the problem, we are becoming part of someone else's agenda.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Sad Loss to Beer Writing

Shocked doesn't even begin to describe how I feel after receiving a phone call this morning to say that John White, a fellow committee member of the British Guild of Beer Writers, has passed away.

John was undoubtedly one of my favourite people in the Guild; an unassuming guy with a prodigious knowledge of German and Belgian beers - as well as British brews - he always had a huge smile and a self-deprecating & funny story for me every time we met.

Whether it was telling me how he fell in a river after trying to gamely jump across stepping stones or shouting out in the middle of a full pub 'I saw you in bed the other morning' (which I should caveat with an explanation - what he meant to say is he saw me on TV early one Saturday morning whilst having a lie-in!).

And whilst we all may have gently taken the rip out of him on a regular basis about his worrying attachment to his GPS, we all rang him when we wanted to know where a decent pub might be - no matter how far flung the location.

He was clearly a very happy man and his devotion to wife, Joyce, was absolutely unquestionable with never a conversation going by without John mentioning her name at least five times with enormous amounts of affection.

But for me, the most admirable part of John's character was how open he was with his amassed knowledge. To John the things he had learnt on his journeys were not to be hoarded like a miser but to be shared with everyone - whether it was via a phone call or by visiting his website

I'll miss you John and so will the beer and brewing community.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Bad Week for Brewing

George Bateman was one of the most vibrant men in brewing and it was with great sadness that I heard of his passing from cancer.

I only had the privelege of meeting him once but he was courteous and interested in my views on beer, it's great loss to the industry.

And here's hoping that Dave Wickett at the Kelham Island Brewery manages to stay afloat following recent flooding in the north of England.

Talking to the British Guild of Beer Writers' newsletter Dave said: "The water started to flood the car park at 3pm, I told the staff to secure and abandon the brewery at around 4pm. Half an hour later the Don burst its banks and the whole area was flooded.

"This morning we have noticed that a couple of conditioning tanks on tall legs in the room at the back may have not gone under water so we might have a little bit of beer left but otherwise it's a big setback."

Dave makes one of my favourite beers, if not THE favourite, Pale Rider - and I would implore fellow beer fans to support Kelham Island by buying their beers when they start brewing again.

Monday, 18 June 2007

Having a Good Knight at the Cricket!

Despite the illustrious Sir Ian Botham's insistence that wine is the best drink in the world, (congratulations by the way Beefy), I don't think you can beat a pint whilst watching the men in white and I'm pleased to say there's a new book out that combines these two subjects beautifully.

The Beer Lover's Guide to Cricket by Roger Protz, the guy who compiles the Good Beer Guide amongst many other things (see links), is not only hugely fascinating if you are interested in cricket it also provides a great guide to getting decent beer in and around cricket grounds in the UK.

Starting with a detailed history of the Bat & Ball in Hambledon, the birthplace of the modern game, the author details the background of the game and includes notable and amusing anecdotes throughout - including this gem of bawdy humour:

"A minute records that at one dinner the toasts were for:

The Queen's Mother
The King
Hambledon Club
To the Immortal Memory of Madge
The President

"Madge was the nickname given to the small wicket made up of two stumps. By extension it was also a vulgar term for a woman's private parts. What fun the members must have had when the shape of the wicket changed and Madge was infiltrated by a third stump."

The wags! But this is a beer blog after all and I'd love to just make this one point - why, oh why, are all these real ale brands investing in cricket advertising if you can't get a pint of the damn stuff when you're at most of the grounds' public bars? Smoothflow sucks, give us the decent beer please!

P.S. Congratulations to the two Neils of BarWizards on their stonking performance on Britain's Got Talent - as they are great mates of mine I personally think they stole the show, but then I'm biased! For some of the most entertaining bartending you'll ever see click here and if you want to contact the boys visit: and tell them you saw it here!

Friday, 15 June 2007

Chilly Reception

Right, this 'serve everything over ice' shit has got to stop!

It was bad enough when I was at an event recently that the first thing I got greeted with was a red 'bowl' of Piper Heidsieck champagne, with rapidly melting ice sloshing around in it, and the legend 'piscine' around the outside (wtf?) - but now one of my favourite breweries is at it as well!

I love Fuller's - I think Discovery is a cracking summer beer, the Vintage Ale is a work of art, the Porter is dark delight and the Golden Ale is a beer I can sit and savour for hours - but what the hell are their marketing people thinking by suggesting Honey Dew should be served over ice with lime?!

Unlike some of the fundamentalists out there I think it's a good thing ales are being served a little bit more chilled these days - because at the end of the day that's what consumers want and, if that's what they want, it's no use bitching and moaning it's not how it should be served - but this is just taking the so-called Magner's effect waaaaay to far.

In fact, I'm thinking about hunting down the bastard who started this 'over ice' business and having a word in their shell-like - who's with me?!

Friday, 8 June 2007

Healthy Interest

I was a bit depressed by something I read today - according to a new bit of research by Datamonitor beer is considered 'old-fashioned' by many consumers to whom "the appeal of a beer belly is apparently diminishing".

Well, apart from the fact that no one wants to look like the person who ate all the pies, there's no real startling insight there - but what depressed/annoyed me is that the beer belly is pretty much total bollocks - no really!

Beer has had a bad rap over the past few years but research done at the University of London has shown that moderate beer drinkers are no more prone to developing a paunch than anyone else, being overweight is actually more a combination of taking insufficient exercise and too much fatty food - for example did you know that a packet of peanuts contains over three times the calories of a pint of beer?

In fact, whilst we’re on the subject of calories, a half pint of 4%ABV beer (roughly 280ml) weighs in at a mere 95 calories; contrast this with 131 calories in a 125 ml glass of sparkling wine, 136 calories in a half pint of soft drink, or the 220 calories of a 330ml Bacardi Breezer and beer is already looking good.

Ally this low calorie count with the fact that researchers at Harvard in America have shown that it is moderate alcohol consumption that protects against heart disease, be it red wine or beer, and the case for beer keeps building.

And contrary to popular misconception - that mainstream beers are somehow chemically created - all lagers, ales, milds and stouts basically share the same brewing process and all natural ingredients, malted grains, hops, water and yeast.

The carbohydrate in beer is mainly polysaccharide i.e. dextrins and dietary fibre, in fact a pint of beer can contain a significant proportion of the recommended intake of dietary fibre.

Thus, in nutritional terms, beer is fat free, low in free sugar, a source of protein and dietary fibre and rich in B vitamins - as well as generally being low in alcohol compared with other alcoholic drinks.

Moderate consumption is the key though, so don’t feel too bad about popping out for a quick pint every so often because it’s doing great things for your heart – and soul.

Monday, 30 April 2007

Feeling Fruity?

It would seem the description of Timmermans Peche in my Rake's Progress post got lots of people's juices flowing and I've been asked for more advice on fruit beers, so here goes.

Fruit beers fall broadly into two categories: those that are lambic-based and those that aren't. This divide also allows me to explain the term lambic, which was another question someone asked me - see, there is a pinch of thought behind this blogging business, I promise you.

The lambic style of brewing is just plain weird - seriously, when you first hear about it you check the calendar to make sure it's not an April Fool - because it's basically done by magic.

All right, maybe not magic but you can understand how, historically, people thought it was. Basically there are areas all over the world where natural wild yeast flourishes (no one is exactly sure why though) and if you leave the basic beer porridge out in the open it will spontaneously ferment and, hey presto, beer appears!

The thing is, it produces pretty sour beer (which I like but then I liked those super sour jaw breakers and cola bottles when I was kid too) but it makes it the ideal base to be sweetened up with fruit.

Great examples of this style are the Lindeman's fruit beers, which I personally prefer over the BelleVue.

Other fruit beers outside the lambic category range from the Yorkshire offering of Sam Smith's Organic Cherry Beer and bizarre Belgians - which include the smoothie-esque Fruli and super-sweet Floris Passion, Apple or Fraise.

Personally I like Liefman's as they aren't too sweet - the Kriek (cherry) version is perfect with venison carpaccio, dark chocolate desserts or even with pork. The Frambozen (raspberry) is definitely more a dessert beast, but also goes quite well with duck in port sauce as it cuts through the unctuous nature of the meat. You can get both these beers in most big supermarkets or your local off licence.

The Sam Smith's Cherry Beer is an honest to goodness cherry pop - you wouldn't have the first clue that it was alcoholic but, don't be fooled, it weighs in at 5.2% and can put you on your bum if you disrespect it!

Fruli, at 4.1%, is a wheat beer with a massive amount of strawberry puree in it, in fact so much that it's unrecognisable as a beer and tastes more like a smoothie - perfect for non-beer drinkers really.

The Floris beers are flavoured with syrups, which comes through in the quite sugary mouthfeel and, to my mind, slightly chemical flavour but they do have a huge following none the less.

So, hopefully, this brief romp through the more commonly available beers will inspire you next time you're feeling fruity!

Friday, 27 April 2007

Rake's Progress

I thought my first beery post should be about some dear friends of mine and their amazing bar, - The Rake in Borough Market. But before you think this is all a bit nepotistic I'd like to point out that readers of the Observer agree with me too and have just voted it the second best bar in the country.

If you've never been to Borough Market and you like food then you are seriously missing out - stunningly fresh red mullet from Appleby's, Mrs King's pork & stilton pie, Ginger Pig's prune & brandy sausages, Sillfield Farm's wild boar chorizo, samphire from Turnips and Secrett's Farm asparagus are just some of the fantastic purchases I have made recently, all of which have been wolfed down pretty darn quick!

However, I digress - the point of this blog is beer after all!

Now I won't deny there are lots of good beer pubs around Borough but the Rake stands head and shoulders above all of them, with over 130 different bottled beers in the fridges alone.

The lads who own it, the divine Rich & Mike, also run a beer stall on the market, called Utobeer, as well as a wholesale business, which means they can get some unusual and 'unattainable' offerings like Thomas Hardy's Ale in cask!

For those of you who haven't sampled Thomas Hardy's get ready for the taste experience of your life! More akin to a fortified wine like madeira than anything else, this brew is just phenomenal - weighing in at a pokey 11.7% it is absolute packed to the gills with chocolate, tobacco and liquorice flavours and is only offered in third pint measures!

Normally only available in bottles, which are individually numbered, it's brewed by O'Hanlon's in Devon and has a quote from the great man himself on the front:

"It was of the most beautiful colour, that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset."

And when it comes to describing the appearance of this beer I couldn't put it better myself!

But it's not just overly-strong beers these guys stock here there really is something for everyone. If you're not normally a beer fan then give the Mongozo coconut or banana beer a whirl.

Not only can you drink this fairtrade brew with a clear conscience, they are also organic and brewed with the superfood quoina, which apparently is an Incan custom. The coconut one in particular is a real hit with a mate of mine who swore blind he wouldn't drink any beer ever, no argument (that didn't wash with me however), and now he drinks pretty much nothing else! The other bonus is that both these beers are gentle on the strength front with the coconut coming in at just 3.5% and the banana at 4.5%.

There's also normally at least one or two different English ales on draught, which are always slightly on the chilled side which I'm a fan of, as well as a selection of world beers like good old Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Not pale at all but definitely deliciously fruity and spicy - it's 5.6% though so do be careful, it can catch up with you all at once, I speak from experience!

Chouffe's distinctive branding, dodgy garden gnomes, can often be found on the bar along with other Belgian brews like Timmerman's Peach, which is a 4% lambic beer (for lambic read sour) that is surprisingly sweet with strong peach flavours (no surprise there) but also apricot notes, which stop it being too floral, but personally I find one glass more than enough.

If you are feeling like just having a lager the Veltins on draught is good, and in the fridge you may be able to find that gem Brooklyn lager - which I think is divine. Not particularly hard to get now I first tasted Brooklyn lager about four years ago and was as taken then with its darker than average looks and sumptuous caramel tones.

If you happen to fall in love with this place too then please leave my introductory fee (a pint) under the name of Melissa with the staff - they'll know who it is!

14 Winchester Walk, London, SE1 9AG, United Kingdom
Tel: 020 7407 0557
Nearest tube: London Bridge

The Birth of a Beer Blog

The best ideas always arrive once you've had a drink, or so they say, but in this case it's true. So thank you Stephen for the suggestion, and here it is - A Girl's Guide to Beer.

I'm lucky enough to get paid for my beer journalism - I drink beer, I write about it, I get paid - groovy huh? But not enough girls, or guys for that matter, get to experience beer in the same way, which is why I'm hoping to share some of my adventures in brewing with anyone who's interested, and maybe change the minds of those who think they aren't!

Over the course of this blog I hope to be able to make your leisure time more fun - that's it... that's all I want to do.

I say this because for me beer is about enjoyment. It shouldn't be about hard work and lots of poncey terminology (although I can do that if you realllllly want me to) beer should simply enhance your life - whether you are out with friends, relaxing alone, eating a meal or trying to forget a shit day and having a pint, half or bottle should just make all of that simpler, better or nicer.

Some of what you see here will have been published elsewhere and there will be some links to other sites I think are great pubs, restaurants, off licences or resources.

All that's left to say now is - cheers!