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.