Monday 22 February 2010

One for the US Readership

I know some of the readership is from the States, so I'd just ask you to take the time to read the below and support this excellent cause - cheers!

Pints for Prostates is offering beer lovers a chance to fight prostate cancer and win a dream trip for two to the largest craft beer event in the United States, the Brewers Association Great American Beer Festival℠. The GABF will be held in Denver from Sept. 16-19, 2010.

The winner and a guest will get a chance to sample beers from an estimated 450 breweries serving more than 2,100 brews at the GABF. They will also receive tickets to one of the top gourmet beer events in the nation: The Denver Rare Beer Tasting II, along with visits to great craft breweries and special access to insider beer events.

The trip includes:

-- Round Trip Airfare for Two to Denver (from anywhere in the continental U.S.)
-- Three Night Hotel Stay at a Convenient Downtown Location (Double Occupancy)
-- Two Tickets for Three Sessions at the Great American Beer Festival (;Thurs./Fri./Sat. Nights)
-- Two Tickets to the Denver Rare Beer Tasting II (Friday 1-4 p.m.)
-- Hosted Pub Crawl with Rick Lyke, Beer Writer and Pints for Prostates Founder
-- Special Access to Insider Beer Events to Meet Brewers and Taste Limited Release Beers
-- Gift Cards for Lunch & Dinner at Denver Brewpubs & Beer Bars

The total estimated value of the trip is $2,500. The winner will be selected on Aug. 21, 2010.

Tickets will be available where legal at beer festivals and other events for a $10 donation or three for a $25 donation. If you cannot get to one of our events, you can still enter. Mail a check made out to "Pints for Prostates Inc." for the number of tickets you would like, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope so we can send back your ticket stub(s) to: Pints for Prostates/GABF, 12673 Overlook Mountain Dr., Charlotte, N.C. 28216-6726.  You must be at least 21 years old to enter and to take the trip.

All proceeds benefit the Pints for Prostates (; campaign, which supports programs to fight prostate cancer and help men and their families battling the disease. More information about the trip is available by email at

Thank you for your continued support of the Pints for Prostates campaign. Please feel free to invite your Facebook friends to join the group and to post your "My favorite beer is...." message to help spread the word. The more men we reach, the more lives will be saved.

Breconshire Coming to Borough - Woo Hoo!

lovebeer@borough is welcoming Breconshire Brewery’s Buster Grant to its special Sunday beer 
tasting sessions, to coincide with its neighbour the Rake’s Welsh beer festival on February 28

Justin ‘Buster’ Grant from Breconshire Brewery will be showcasing his award-winning beer range and talking about the history of brewing in his adopted country, as well as showcasing some of his rare whisky barrel-aged beer Ysbrid y Draig.

The beers on show will be:
·         Cribyn – shines like the pale Winter sun and as refreshing as a Spring breeze
·         Golden Valley – this former Champion Beer of Wales is the perfectly balanced bitter
·         Rambler’s Ruin – the name says it all, this dark amber ale is so drinkable it can catch you out!
·         Winter Beacon – a rare flower this beer, a light winter ale that still satisfies those cold month spice cravings
·         Night Beacon – a deeply moorish bottle-conditioned stout with a lightly smoked character, a true heart warmer for any time of the year
·         Ysbrid y Draig – the release of this whisky-aged limited-edition beer is one of beer writer Melissa Cole’s favourite events of the year, fruity, vinous and sweetness is off-set by the softest of spirit finishes

There are just 30 tickets available in total for just £15 for the two tasting sessions at 1pm and 3.30pm and are available from the Rake bar or by calling 020 7379 9461.

*this post is for my beer tasting business*

Sunday 21 February 2010

LBC - London's Beer Conversation!

I have just spent a jolly pleasant hour talking & drinking beer with Tom Parker-Bowles on his LBC show and it sounds like he had a good time too.

I like Tom, he's one of life's good guys, and is really passionate about all things food & drink and especially great beer - I hope to be invited on again in the not too distant future.

Anyway, my shameless cry for more work and media profile aside, I do have to say a very public thank you to all the breweries who busted a gut to get beer down for the show in very short order and I'm sorry to some of them who didn't make it on - in my eyes getting through seven beers in an hour long show wasn't a difficult plan.

Sadly, I failed to account for the fact that it wasn't just me & Tom drinking ourselves into a happy state!

So, firstly, the beers that made it on were Breconshire's divine Winter Beacon, Sharp's Chalky's Bite (such a great food beer) and ever-refreshing Thornbridge Kipling.

However, that meant four didn't so, as a small thank you to those breweries who delivered beer & didn't get it on I would like to suggest that if you haven't tried the below beers before, or perhaps haven't revisited them in a while, please do so - I wouldn't have chosen them if they weren't, to my mind, enduring classics:

Moorhouse's Black Cat Mild 3.4% - always punches above its weight; coffee & dark chocolate foundation are caressed by dried sour cherry overtones and a meltingly soft caramel finish, divine!

Fuller's London Porter 5.4% - brewed with more than a passing nod to the Porter recipes of yesteryear after a great deal of research, this is currently RateBeer's favourite Porter and mine too. Rich and chocolately but with just enough astringency from the chocolate malt and Fuggles hops to keep it from being cloying.

Meantime IPA 7.5% - A leviathan of a beer in both its ABV and the way it woke British brewing out of its IPA torpor and, I would hazard, one of the most influential beers of the past decade. Grapefruit, marzipan, pine and caramel are just some of the flavours that vie for your attention - for an orgy of sensory overload throw some blue cheese on chicory and prepare to be utterly blown away.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16-year-old 8% - my respect and admiration for this beer (and its brewer Stuart Cail) is well documented but let me say this again; try the Ola Dubh range, try it, try it, try it! But drink it from a brandy balloon with some food first time round, it softens the shock of woody, whisky, burnt, chocolate, coffee, ozone and olorosso flavours coming at you from all sides and heightens the pleasure!

Also, well done to Cherie Spriggs of NieTimber vineyard for picking up the illustrious prize of Champion Worldwide Sparkling Wine at a competition in Italy recently - she was up against the big guns and pulled in the prize for the finest bubbly offering - nice to see. 

Saturday 20 February 2010

Glorious Goose

There are times when you just have to treat yourself and this evening is one of them.

I've had my niece for three days and I have to say she has been an absolute dream - utterly sweet, considerate and darling with a creative side that is deeply endearing.

But after a really long day and a pretty lengthy gig on LBC coming up I just felt like spoiling myself, so I decided to crack open one of my Orval-inspired 2008 Goose Island Matildas and boy, am I feeling treated.

The nose is a cornupcopia of soft citrus, barley sugar, slight obvious alcohol and a little soft creaminess, with an almost ephemeral spicy note one the end and just when you think that the nose is heavenly then you taste it - wow!

The immediate hit is orange marmalade but then the subtleties start creeping in; the first hit is where you find out where that ephemeral spiciness is coming  from, and it's a really warming szechuan pepper, then the fresher overtones start to arrive which stop this becoming too cloyingly marmalade sweet.

These little fresh spikes consist of that metallic hit of curly parsley, the smell of thyme being crushed between your fingers and the merest hint of spearmint.

Bring this all together with a grapefruit sherbet sharpness and a final bitter, bitter chocolate end and I have to say that this is one of the most refined, exciting, complex and elegant beers I've had in a very, very long time.

Oh, and did I say beer singular - I'm afraid since I started typing this it's become beers, plural!

If you're interested I'll be on LBC from 4-5pm on Sunday February 21 - online and on air!

Friday 19 February 2010

A Smart Idea for the Future

I like this idea of a virtual beer festival from, I think it's cool, I'm sorry I'm a bit late in posting it but it's something to keep an eye on in the future.

Clarification on lovebeer@borough/the Rake

It's been raised that the BrewDog tasting at the Rake is somehow in contravention to my article and I can understand how some confusion has arisen so I'd like to just clarify the situation re: the Rake and lovebeer@borough.

The Rake is not my business and I have nothing to do with the BrewDog tasting and nor will I be attending.

lovebeer@borough is the business I have an interest in and it has nothing to do with this event, despite the event going on in the space that people normally associate with lovebeer@borough, it is merely a room above the Rake where we hold our events.

The Rake bar is owned by Mike Hill & Richard Dinwoodie and run by Glyn Roberts - and whilst we collaborate on lovebeer@borough I have no right to tell them what to do with their business and my opinions are not theirs and vice versa.

Hope this clears these questions up and sorry for any confusion.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Retaliatory Salvo - Sigh!

Well, it would appear that the other side of this super-strong beer debate, Schorschbräu, has now accused BrewDog of cheating - it's nice to see we're all grown-ups in this industry!

Wednesday 17 February 2010

Sink this Silliness

I've finally gotten around to watching the Sink the Bismarck video, apparently when I was trying to catch it yesterday it was down and being re-edited, but I can't see how it could have been much worse.

Sorry lads, I like you personally and have taken quite a bit of flack about not blogging or writing about your increasingly erratic, headline-grabbing tactics because I really wanted you to succeed and thought that perhaps quietly communicating privately with you would be a more civilised route to take.

So, I was thrilled when TNP's labelling was so elegantly worded, which seemed to echo the approach I suggested to James, and that the beer was so good - but I know I'm not alone in feeling let down by your latest stunt because it's just not acceptable.

It's morally and socially unpardonable to think it's okay to use an event where nearly 2,000 people died to get back at rival brewers, just because they made a stronger beer than you - in fact, as I type that and see it in black & white I have actually cringed, I hope you have too.

And saying that it's named after the film is no excuse either. What would you say if a company run by Afghans or Iraqis called a soft drink 'IED - it'll blow your mind!', would you think that was funny, or amusing, or entertaining?

Because that's also about as sensitive as using the words Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles - the first verse of the national anthem that was banned along with the sexist second verse because it recalled the reign of the Nazis!

Frankly, I'd like to see you get back to concentrating on exciting, interesting and groundbreaking sessionable drinking beers because, to be honest, the last three 77 lagers I had were diacetyl bombs and the last 5am Saint was distinctly oxidised.

Monday 15 February 2010

East Meets West - it's Grrrrreat!

As yesterday was Chinese New Year, which ushered in the year of the tiger, and tomorrow is Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day as it's known to many, I thought it was the ideal mid-way point to post this recipe.

Hope you enjoy!

Sticky Duck Pancakes
Serves 4 as a main with garlic & ginger pak choi & noodles or 8 as a starter
Rather than using shop-bought Chinese pancakes, why not try this? The batter, duck and garnish part of this dish can be prepared the day before so all you need to do is make the pancakes & re-heat the duck; it’s a great sharing dish for people to dig into.

If you want to serve this as you would get it in a Chinese restaurant, then prepare strips of cucumber & spring onion with hoi sin sauce. For a bit of difference though, why not try julienned French breakfast radish & finely shredded Chinese leaf with plum sauce or a mix of shredded wild garlic & watercress with a five spice cherry compote?

For the Duck:
Four large duck legs
3 tbsp Chinese five spice
1 whole star anise
4 tbsp soy sauce
2 onions, quartered
Half pint of milk stout or other dark, sweet beer like Mann's
Half pint of water
2tbsps Lyle’s Golden syrup

  1. Heat your oven to 190degreesC 
  2. Put the onions & star anise in the base of a baking tray which will fit all your duck legs
  3. Rub the five spice powder into the duck legs, arrange on onions and place in oven for an hour
  4. 50 minutes into cooking, put beer and Lyle’s Golden Syrup into a saucepan, whisk together and reduce until it coats back of a spoon
  5.  After duck has been cooking for an hour drain off the fat and add reduced sauce to the bottom of the baking dish then turn the oven down to 160degreesC
  6. Cook for another 20 minutes, basting the legs every five minutes for first 15 – skin should look varnished
  7.  Leave to rest somewhere warm – don’t cover or the skin won't go crispy
  8. Shred the duck just before serving

Pancakes (makes 16)
600ml Asian lager
4 medium eggs
250g plain flour
50g melted butter
2 tsp soy sauce

1.       Pour beer and eggs into a jug - beat well
2.       Place flour into a bowl and make hollow in centre
3.       Gradually pour the egg and beer mixture into the centre of the flour, whisking just in the centre as you pour
4.       As you pour more steadily, keep whisking so you pull in all of the flour from the outside of the bowl – this means you shouldn’t get any lumps
5.       Once all the flour is incorporated, whisk melted butter into the batter, cover with cling film and place in the fridge
6.       When you are ready to cook your pancakes take it from the fridge, add a tbsp of soy sauce and whisk into the mix before – cook as instructed in previous post

To Serve:
1.       Shred the meat from three of the legs and then only half shred the final leg before arranging on a warm sharing platter, the bone adds a little theatre to the dish. Put pancakes in a bamboo steamer separated by sheets of greaseproof paper and place in middle of table with the duck.
    3.       Serve with sauce and garnishes

    Friday 12 February 2010

    Flipping 'Eck! Beer Pancakes?!

    I don't want to panic you but Pancake Day (Shrove Tuesday) approaches and I for one don't want lemon & sugar on mine!

    I recently did some recipe development for Lyle's Golden Syrup and came up with a fun beer pancake recipe, hope you enjoy!

    Beer Pancakes with Cheese & Sweet Bacon

    Pancakes (makes 4 in a 10”/25cm pan):
    300ml standard bitter (e.g. London Pride or Black Sheep)
    2 medium eggs
    125g plain flour
    25g melted butter

    Filling (per pancake):
    Handful of extra mature Cheddar, or other salty cheese
    One rasher of good quality thick-cut smoked bacon
    1tbsp Lyle’s Golden Syrup, warmed
    Wholegrain mustard
    Salad leaves for garnish

    Method for Pancakes:
    1. Pour ale and eggs into a jug - beat well
    2. Place flour into a bowl and make hollow in centre
    3. Gradually pour the egg and beer mixture into the centre of the flour, whisking just in the centre as you pour
    4. As you pour more steadily, keep whisking so you pull in all of the flour from the outside of the bowl – this means you shouldn’t get any lumps
    5. Once all the flour is incorporated, whisk melted butter into the batter, cover with cling film and place in the fridge
    6. Use a non-stick frying pan for best results 
    7. Heat frying pan on a medium heat until there’s a slight haze coming from it
    8. Add a sliver of butter and let it melt, moving the pan around so it covers the base of the pan
    9. Tip any excess butter from pan into a small bowl for the next pancake
    10. Whisk the batter once more before using it
    11. Ladle some batter into the pan – twisting the pan as you go so that it covers the bottom of the pan  – and put in enough batter to cover the bottom of the pan to about the thickness of a pound coin, these will need to be a tiny bit thicker than your average pancake 
    12. Place the pan back onto the heat and leave to cook for 1-2 minutes
    13. To check if pancake is ready to be turned, loosen the edges with a spatula then give it a little shake – it should come loose and move in the pan
    14. The pancake should be opaque on top and a light golden brown colour underneath
    15. If you’re feeling brave, grab the handle with both hands and move away from the hob slightly. Drop the pan down and quickly flip it back up again, using your wrists to flip the pan – the pancake should rise out of the pan and turn over
    16. If you’re not feeling brave, use a fish slice to flip the pancake over, making sure the slice goes all the way under the pancake before you turn it 
    17. Place back on heat, cook for another minute and slide onto warm plate 
    18. Keep in a warm place, repeat until you have desired amount
    Method for Filling:
    1.       Brush one side of your bacon rashers with warmed Lyle’s Golden Syrup (tip: lightly grease your brush or knife with groundnut oil to stop it sticking to utensil), cook under grill, brushing other side upon turning (you can substitute with sweet-cure bacon if you have it)
    2.       When bacon is cooked on both sides and nicely caramelised cut into chunks and place on a pancake that’s been smeared with mustard, cover with the cheese, place back under grill until cheese melted but not runny
    3.       Roll pancake and cut in half
    4.       Garnish with salad and serve

    Thursday 11 February 2010

    Reasons to be Cheerful - 1, 2, 30

    It's always quite something to meet one founding father of a movement, but when five of them get together in a room you've got something quite special, and I felt quite privileged to have just watched the video on Sierra Nevada's new website to commemorate its 30th year - but I probably would have given at least a limb to have been a fly on the wall for it.

    Around one table were Fritz Maytag of Anchor, founder of the Brewer's Association Charlie Papazian, beer writer extraordinaire Fred Eckhardt and the man credited with being the US's first microbrewer Jack McAuliffe (formerly of New Albion) alongside Sierra's founder Ken Grossman to celebrate the brewery's 30th anniversary.

    Most of you who read this blog will know of Sierra Nevada and its immensely drinkable beers and how, in my opinion, it is one of the three most influential American craft brands in the UK to enthuse people about beers from America (alongside Anchor and Goose Island).

    And the reason I wanted to bring this notable anniversary to people's attention is because, not only have I always loved the beers, I've always loved the story behind it, which has always seemed to me to be a mixture of hippy heart-following and finely-honed business acumen, coinciding to create this amazing brand.

    The immense pride in what they make, and how they make it, permeates through not only every sip of their sublime beers but in all of their communications and the striking nature of their branding.

    Whilst I sadly haven't met Ken, meeting his brother Steve on several occasions has always left me with the distinct impression that it's felt internally that Sierra Nevada doesn't just have a responsibility to its owners, employees and bottom line to succeed, but that it, as a successful brand, owes something to the craft beer scene & local communities too.

    Which is something the special Sierra Nevada 30 website reinforces-  from the collaborative brewing efforts to the charitable donations - but one of the most notable parts for me is definitely the video that was shot of these pillars of the craft brewing community.

    But it also depresses me in a way, it's something I feel is very much missing from the UK beer scene but hope it's something that will grow in time.

    Monday 8 February 2010

    D'em Bones!

    Well, well, there's been another study that beer in moderation is good for you, and the top news is they have found that beer using quality ingredients, not adjuncts like corn or rice, are the ones that offer the most benefit.

    This isn't a surprise to most of us who drink good beer (because when you have to spend an evening on rubbish beer you know all about it in the morning, that's got to be a good clue) but it's always nice to have it validated and it's yet another rallying cry for those who advocate drinking less but better in the face of all the horrendous anti-alcohol lobbying that's been going on recently.

    But anyway, that aside, I reckon I could have saved them a whole world of bother as I must be an excellent example of how drinking beer is good for you.

    I have to admit that exercise has sadly gone by the wayside in the last few months but the acquisition of a bike and look at a picture in the Publican this week has put new emphasis on my need to lose weight - however, I also went to the quacks the other day and, as they only see me once every other year, he decided I needed things like blood pressure etc checked and everything is spot on! My blood pressure is 120/79 and when I had a cholesterol test done a few months ago it was so low they checked it three times to make sure they weren't getting a faulty reading!

    So, by this rationale, I reckon I've got a skeleton like Wolverine - or was it just a shabby excuse for putting a picture of Hugh Jackman on my blog? Personally, it's a win-win!

    Thursday 4 February 2010

    Walking on Broken Glass

    There are lies, damn lies and statistics (as I'm sure you're aware) but even by the Government's standards this is a doozy!

    You may have seen the story today about the new 'safe' pint glasses and that it would help significantly curb the 87,000 injuries caused by attacks involving glass.

    What interests me is that when they first announced this scheme it was with a figure of 5,500 - which I commented on at the time - and now it's leapt to 283 injuries a day! Hmmmm, how does this happen one asks?

    Well, I've found out.

    According to a Home Office spokesperson the latest figure was arrived at by the simple expedient of taking the total figure of ALL violent crime from the British Crime Survey 2007-08 and then finding how much of that total figure involved glasses or bottles, which was 4%, and arriving at the number of 87,000.

    But, and this is the significant point here, we are talking about ALL violent crime involving a bottle or glass - not just those incidents that took place in a pub which the Home Office said when this initiative was launched was actually 5,500 people injured a year.

    So, even though the Home Office Press Office admitted that the figures aren't all about pubs it's already out there that if you think glass attacks you think pint glass and if you think pint glass you think what? The answer for the lobotomised is the pub!

    And if the number first used when announcing this initiative is the true figure then it makes sense that 81,500 attacks involving bottles & glass don't take place in a pub... which begs this question - why are we spending taxpayers money on redesigning the pint glass?

    My god, how much harder is the Government looking to make life on pubs? And this is even before you start talking about the inevitable additional cost of this glassware, which is almost certain to become mandatory!

    Also, do attacks with pint glasses really cost the NHS an estimated £2.7 billion each year? No, again, that's the cost of total glass and bottle-related violence and, if I'm correct in my guess, pub-related glass attacks represent just 6% of that figure.

    Would we not be better placed spending money on figuring out why people are hurling bottles and glasses at each other in the street and at home? Rather than designing a piece of glassware responsible for just 6% of the problem?

    Anyway, I am trying to delve deeper into these figures, and am making some headway on this, but in the meantime here's some food for thought.

    If a large part of this initiative is driven by cost to the NHS then I think I've found a way to help the Government out by looking at some other statistics seeing as they're so keen on them and I've come up with a plan.

    You see, there are lots of other much larger 'drains' on the health service's resources and I've identified some of them courtesy of the RoSPA home and leisure safety statistics*:

    • 2,873 people injured themselves on clothes baskets
    • 5,807 injured themselves on an outside or wheelie bin
    • 30,044 injured themselves injured themselves in the bath or due to the water in it
    • 1,385 people sustained injuries in the home from balloons (580 outside of the home)
    • 10,782 people injured out of home with hockey sticks (just 56 in-home mind you!)
    • 12,003 people injured due to socks, stockings or tights in home (that's a lot of autoerotic asphyxiation accidents) OR the 1,721 who were injured out of home by the same
    • And don't even get me started on the evils of the running shoe - with 77,309 people in-home and a whopping 222,078 people injuring themselves through this death-trap style of footwear out of home!!!!!!!

    So, I think the Government should be investing in klutz-sensor clothes baskets and bio-metric recognition for wheelie bins first of all.

    Then perhaps they could fund research into how to make a bath from marshmallows or how we can secretly euthanise those stupid enough to be injured so badly by balloons that they need to go to hospital and, of course, ban hockey.

    Of course, I think a highly expensive PR campaign is in order to encourage the female of the species (and cross-dressers) to reinstate the Blitz mentality, start staining our legs with teabags and drawing seams up the back with eyebrow pencils in order to stamp out the scourge of stocking-related slip-ups.

    And, my personal favourite, shoot all joggers, power walkers, runners and young people on sight to rid the world of the evils of sneakers.

    In fact, if the current Government is anything to go by, this could be the basis for an electable political manifesto!!!
    Who's with me?!

    *(I am waiting on more recent figures from RoSPA as these are from 2002, I can't wait, I swear it could chart whether the country's collective IQ is dipping!)

    Tuesday 2 February 2010

    It's Not Just Beer...

    I know, I know, I could have done better with the headline because you probably guessed what's coming but I couldn't help myself - sorry!

    So, into what this post is about and it's good news for those of you popping into the posher end of the supermarket category and it's that the new M&S beer range is really very good!

    If you've been into Marks & Sparks recently, you will have noticed a slight change in their brand values, it's no longer M&S only, they have judiciously selected partner brands and allowed things like magazines and newspapers to creep in - but also managed not to become too busy and vulgar at the same time, which is a good trick to pull off one feels.

    But, all that retail analysis aside, the best news, my fellow beer lover,s is that they have extended this fine logic to their beer range, and recruited some of the best brewers in the country to give their beer range genuine provenance and, to be honest, better quality.

    Now, I must admit to not having managed to work my way through the lot of them yet but I will say, straight off the bat, if you're looking to crack open a few cold ones whilst chilling with an M&S ready-meal or with a  few mates watching the sport then look no further than their Czech lager at 5%.

    I have to say that, outside of the mighty beautiful Pivo-loving country itself, I haven't had such a crisp, clean execution of a damn good lager! It's bright, zingy and finishes off with a fabulous zing of Zatec hop. Brewed at the historic Pivovar Regent, founded in Bohemia in 1379, I cannot see a social occasion or quiet evening in where I wouldn't be happy to drink this beer - marvellous stuff guys, marvellous.

    I decided to then move onto the beers that weren't bottle conditioned, as it seemed a good curve on which to travel and cracked open the Lincolnshire Bitter from Batemans at 4.8%, which is (as you would expect) a bloody good British bitter. I was actually gearing up for a roast beef lunch as I opened this one and I did regret that it wouldn't be around for the leftovers, there's nothing finer in my book than a rare roast beef sandwich on malted bread with a punch of hot horseradish and a handful of peppery watercress and a slightly chilled British bitter at its side - sigh!

    Anyway, nutty and full or toasty bread overtones, ending with an earthy bitter kick it was just what I wanted from what I heard someone call a 'beery beer' the other day!!

    Next I stole some of the other half's Adnams Southwold Winter Beer (4%), it has a rich, plummy spiced nature to it with a hint of bitter chocolate that was very nice but a little rich before dinner, probably should have been served with the sticky toffee pudding we were having for dessert and then came my first low point in the range.

    The Staffordshire IPA from Marston's at 5.5% is truly awful - sorry, hate to be that blunt, but it is. From the labelling that bangs on about hop being a natural preservative and then the ingredients listing an E-number (which I'm pretty sure is harmless seaweed extract carageen, but still...) to the dull nose and initial taste that is then suddenly totally over-ridden by a ridiculous level of Burtonised water that delivers a very harsh and prickly hop burn from the middle of the tongue right down the back of the throat.

    And it's not the first time I've experienced this with Marston's contract brewing either, I got exactly the same horrid experience from the bottled MorrisseyFox blonde beer and I'm really sorry I've had to experience it again.

    And so, given that it was now time to serve dinner, I was a little wary about my next move but decided it was time to get a backbone and try another one, so I opted for a bottle-conditioned Scottish Ale from Cairngorm and was really impressed. It uses some botanicals, which I believe include ginger and thistle, which sits really well as a food companion when you are having something that is relatively simple.*

    All-in-all so far I'm really impressed with this range so far and will keep you up-to-date as I go through them a bit more.

    *I have also tried the Scottish by itself and still found it eminently drinkable, a good herbal floral note that doesn't get in the way of the beer's refreshing qualities really appealed to me - I found it an excellent sipping beer at a family occasion, enough to dull the pain without totally anaesthetising! (Just kidding Cole/Arnold contingent - love you all!!!!)