Meet The Brewer

The Alex in Derby has occasional 'Meet The Brewer' nights, where a local brewer gives an informal talk about the beers he brews whilst the regulars try a sample.

This week, Bruce Wilkinson (top left of the picture) of Burton Bridge popped by to tell us about some of his beers.

Fours beers were on offer: Bridge Bitter, Golden Delicious, Xthirsty8 and Top Dog Stout. Bruce explained which malts and hops were used for each beer and described how they contribute to the flavour and aroma.

Half-pint samples were freely available for each beer, as the picture shows!

A really interesting evening, always good to hear about how beers come into being and the challenges that modern craft brewers face.

What's more, it was all free! Major congratulations to the landlord, Johnathan Hales, for laying on this event. Looking forward to many more!!


Ramblings: Derby to Belper

A gentle walk on what seems to be the first vaguely sunny and dry Sunday of this summer.

The walk from Derby to Belper is about eight miles and forms part of the Derwent Valley Heritage Way. It's one of my favourite walks; easy going terrain, plenty of variety (woodland, river meadow, pasture land, urban) and - funnily enough - a few good pubs along the way.

The first pub I pass on the way out of Derby is the Abbey at Darley Abbey.

As it was only 10:30, the pub was closed. As I rarely to the walk in the opposite direction, I don't usually pass when it's open. It's a Sam Smiths pub, so cheap and cheerful. Personally, I think it's underdeveloped and could make itself more appealing to villagers and tourists alike.

The route wends it way onward, along the river (the banks thick with dragonflies), over the railway and into Little Eaton. A couple of pubs here, but it's still too early. The village's prize-winning butcher, Barry Fitch, doesn't open on Sundays so no pork pie to eat en route today.

Over the hill, drop back down to the river at Duffield, ignoring The Bridge pub as it's only a few more miles before the first stop of the day.

The Holly Bush at Makeney is just superb and will probably feature at some point as one of my Pubs to Love. Doofus boy here didn't take a photo, knowing he's got loads of them already... and promptly forgot to upload one. Gah!

Lots of little rooms, flagstone floors, low beams, open fires... you get the picture anyway.

A pint of Bradfield Farmers Blonde and a pork pie made for an ample enough lunch. The Reluctant Scoop Percentage was 20% - a guest beer that I can't remember the name of now - but the weather was such that a decent blonde was required. Coz you can't beat getting your lips round a fruity blonde on the wall in the pub car park, fnarr fnarr...

A short skip, hop and stumble up and over the hill into Belper, where the walk ends right outside the Cross Keys.

A great Batemans pub, where Colin the landlord puts on an array of guest beers. Some months, the guests will all be from one particular brewery, giving you the chance to try a range of beers that you wouldn't otherwise see.

A pint of Batemans Salem Porter was swiftly dispatched, followed by several pints of XXXB whilst watching the European GP.

Then it's a wobble downhill, trying to resist the temptation of fishcake and chips at George's Tradition, to take the bus back to Derby.

A few miles walked, a few good beers imbibed. An excellent ramble!


Fest of fun: Derby, July 2007

Being able to have a lie-in, taking the bus to and from, bagging the best seat, spending more time there. Ah, the joys of hometown beer festivals :)

Derby CAMRA hold their festivals in the Assembly Rooms, a pug-ugly building with a fairly chaotic layout inside as well.

But the upside is that there's usually plenty of room; most beer in the (air conditioned) Great Hall, more rotating beers (on handpull) in the Darwin Suite and plenty of places to sit down (just not in the Great Hall itself).

I managed four sessions this year:

Wednesday evening: a few glasses (third-pints!) with my drum teacher Andi Evans of Endorphin Rush. A quiet session in the Darwin Suite, where the twelve handpumped beers were reason enough to not go trekking off to the Great Hall.

Beer of the session had to be Brewdog Punk IPA, a great fruity feel with biting bitterness. Brewdog are making some of the most exciting UK cask beers at the moment, so it's always a pleasure to sample them.

Thursday lunch: A session with these two dodgy-looking geezers:

Mark (on the left) runs a great beer blog and Neil interrupts his drinking on occasion to present his radio show under the moniker of DJ Monarch.

Both are stalwarts of RateBeer, the, um, beer rating website of which we three (and Andi) are all members.

We set up camp in the Darwin Suite, with frequent forays out to the Great Hall (just as long as the band weren't murdering their instruments at the time). Plenty of Scottish beer was had (a theme for the fest this year).

My beer of the session was Inveralmond Sunburst, a superb gold and grassy ale that I first sampled at Worcester Beer Festival last year.

Friday lunch: A meet-up with some of the regulars from the Alexandra and the Brunswick.

Plenty of beer on the table and a good chinwag made for an entertaining session. Douglas, Ray, Dave, John, Bernie, Mitch, Brian and Andi all enjoyed lashings of local and Scottish ales along with piles of home-made sarnies.

Beer of the session is a close call, so I'll make two awards: best cask beer was Flash from Leatherbritches and best bottle was the ever-wonderful Oerbier from Belgian brewers De Dolle (and what a fantastic website they have as well).

With the festival closing at four, there was time for Andi and I to have a swift couple up at the Flowerpot before heading off.

Saturday lunch: Just time for a few quick beers before I went shopping on the market. More Brewdog, of course; this time the Peroxide Punk. Like 'Punk IPA lite', it's got plenty of flavour but not the mule-kick bitterness. But beer of the short session had to be Heather Ales Ebulum. Fermented with elderberries, it's a fantastically smooth ale with some lovely roasty notes.

Overall, a good festival. Major plus points have to be the third-pint glasses, the cask Scottish beer and not having to cram the drinking into one afternoon. Let down slightly by the early kick-out each day, but if CAMRA members are happy to get in for free but not volunteer to work a shift, what can you expect? Guilty as charged, m'lud!


Pubs to Love: The Alex, Derby

Really a B&B nowadays, the Alexandra Hotel has a longstanding tradition of championing real ale and was the birthplace of Derby CAMRA.

Currently in the safe hands of Johnathan "For The Use Of" Hales, the Alex is a Castle Rock pub with an interesting range of UK cask guests and (unusually for Derby) a wide selection of bottled and draught continental beers.

So then - why a Pub I Love?

The RS percentage: Around the 30% mark for UK cask. Just enough to tempt me - as long as Harvest Pale or Jaipur isn't on.

Noise-o-meter: Can be a little too quiet, particularly mid-afternoon, with just the sound of local radio and traffic jams to keep you company. But that's OK as background for crosswords and Su Duko.

Niffy? Not at all - enough ventilation to keep it breezy in the summer, a nice fug of smoke from the wood-burning fire in the winter.

Bog off? Clean enough, but it's the little things; the towel is hung on a window opener, no coat hook in the cubicle...

FTL... At least ten seconds further away from the railway station than the Brunswick. So that makes it 1:10 to the railway station and about five minutes from the main bus stops. Unless you catch a bus back into the centre from outside the Brunswick, which is, er, ten seconds away...

ESP: It's probably Johnathan. Where else will you hear "A pint for the consuming of, change for the use of and your very good health" whenever you're served a drink? He's fantastically phlegmatic and has a wonderful philosophy that can be applied to every topic of conversation in the pub; "It's all bollocks".

Overall: Re-assuring. Solid, dependable beers, solid, dependable landlord.


Pubs to Love: The Brunswick, Derby

The Brunswick Inn, affectionately known as the 'Brunny', is a wonderful, cheese wedge shaped building built to serve the railway workers in the nineteenth century. Fell on hard, derelict times before conservation measures in the 1970's brought it back to its former glory. It features several rooms, flagstoned floors, a bijou beer garden... and their own beers. Which is, of course, why I'm here :)

So, how does the Brunny rate? (for a quick reminder of the rating system, see the first Pub to Love blog here)

The RS percentage: today, it's less than ten percent. But, that's no bad thing, as invariably, I'm here to drink their own beer. Indeed, it would be rude not to. Particularly their White Feather.

Noise-o-meter: Apart from Si the barman with his gurning voice, it's ticking over nicely. No music, all the braying businessmen are in the other room playing darts and chucking chilli down their ties. Comfortable.

Niffy? The odd whiff of chilli (ruddy good stuff here); apart from that, it's a clean place, all doors open to give the place a good airing.

Bog off? The sink's still cracked so you can never tell if someone's wet themselves or just left the tap running, but it's OK.

FTL... The Brunny is literally a minute's walk from Derby railway station.

ESP: Has to be there own beers. Even though Trevor Harris, longstanding brewer and landlord, left to cross the city and start another brewery, Graham and James are doing an outstanding job of brewing the old favourites and adding great new brews as well. And Everards, the Brunnies owners, often get their staff and invited guests over to try a hand at brewing.

Overall: Enticing. I'll always want just another White Feather and a chip butty. With cheese and chilli. The butty, that is, not the beer. Although perhaps I could ask Graham to tinker with a recipe or two...


Pubs to Love:The Wellington, Brum

First stop on my way back from Walsall was to a pub that's rapidly established itself as a key player in the real ale scene - The Wellington in Birmingham.

And there's the rather splendid bar. Much more attractive than the outside which is fairly anonymous amongst the offices in this neck of the city.

I suppose I should come up with some convincing reasons why it's a Pub to Love. So, I've made up an arbitary scoring system.

1) The RS percentage: Out of the cask ales available, how many scoops are there for me? Does the beer range force me into a reluctant scoop, i.e. a tricky decision to drink what I really like or chance my luck on a new brew/brewer? Too many of my faves and I'll drink them all the session; too many scoops and I'll drink as many as possible and neglect my faves. I'm looking for a fifty-fifty split to make that scoop decision really reluctant.

2) The Noise-o-meter: Inoffensive background music and light chat will score well for a 'quiet' session. General hub-bub and matey chat will go down well for a 'louder' session.

Points deducted for braying businessmen (double deduction if braying is induced by drinking extra-cold nitro-swill 'lager'), boring tickers ("..well, I remember when Old Unobtainable was 5.6% and was a completely different beer, served fresh from the cask at the Itch & Crotch .."), and speech-driven radio programmes ("this morning's phone-in is on cystitis. Have you got it? Do you want it? Give us a call on...")

Points added for: playing my favourite music if that's what I want to listen to, restraint amongst groups of talkers not to end up shouting of the top of each other.

3) The Niffy Factor. With smoking now banned, other niffs persist. Open windows for a fresh breeze is good, exhaust fumes from the bus stop outside is bad. Hot beef cob aroma wafting around, excellent. Stinking chip fat, bogus. Wet dogs / wet tickers - gerrem out!

4) Bog off? Bolts on bog doors. No pools of piss on bog floors. Soap is good. Soap dispensers are better. Paper towels are useful - beer towel hanging on a nail notso.

5) First turn left by the station. I'm using public transport, so close to the railway / bus station is a huge positive. So, when the train / bus is late, there's time for a swift pint. Extra bonus points awarded for great pubs actually built into the station.

6) ESP. Or, Extra-Special Pub. What makes this place just a little different?

So then; the results for the Welly:

RS %: 65% scoops on this visit. The Welly gets through so many beers that this percentage can change before your very eyes (try it yourself, their beer list is broadcast online)

Noise-o-meter: Like a rough sea breaking onto a pebble beach; noisy in waves. But that's OK for a peak lunchtime visit.

Niffy?: Very much so. Sweaty business types and a few minging tickers. I never thought the Welly was that smoky, but it was obviously enough to cover up the other odours. It lacks ventilation; could become really ripe if the summer finally gets going.

Bog off: Clean, well provided for. They're just The Smallest Gents Pub Bogs In The World Ever (Probably)

1st turn left: About five minutes walk from New Street rail station, just off the main drag through Brum. Ideally placed for a flying visit.

ESP? Being able to take your own food in, anything from a sarnie up to a running buffet. Takeaways can be delivered to the pub - the pub provide plates and cutlery.

Overall: Delicious. Slightly ripe round the edges, but pubs are only just finding out how the smoking ban impacts in these ways. A must-stop-at pub if you're in the city - or even if you have half an hour at New Street to change trains


Ale Near Rail

I travel a fair deal by train. Because I don't drink and drive and, indeed, I don't drive: never had a lesson, never had the inclination.

So I get to hang around on station platforms waiting for late trains. So I get to know where the nearest decent pubs are. So I have them on a list (I have a little list...)

Lots of websites will tell you how to find a pub that is close to a railway station. This guide is all about quality - good beers (local, guests, bottles, continentals), good food if you're hungry, less than five minutes from the station and that all-important 'comfy' factor - no booming music, old soaks, lager louts, screaming kids etc. Somewhere to have a civil pint at a civil price.

This list will grow depending on where my travels take me. It's always going to have a Midlands bias as that's where I live.


My home town. A swift drink or five for me on the way home, depending on how tortuous the rail journey has been.

The Brunswick - Turn right out of the station, follow the terraced row and the 'Brunnie' is the last building on the left. Brews it own beer, several guest beers, proper cider, great value lunchtime food, several rooms plus patio. Stalwart of the real ale scene in Derby.


The VAT and Fiddle - Out through the main exit, turn left to get out onto the road, keep left along the station front, cross over at the lights and bear right. The pub is down a sloping road on your right hand side. The Castle Rock tap, guest beers, continental bottles, good food.


The Victoria - Another Tynemill pub, next to the Nottingham-bound platform of the station. No direct access from this platform nowadays so take the path that runs parallel to the Derby/London bound platform and use the footbridge. Good range of beers (always a dark one), excellent food, large patio area.


The Devonshire Arms - Turn right out of the station, follow the round down and round, pub is a few minutes walk on the right hand side in the shadow of the Coors brewery plant. Burton Bridge Brewery pub so always a choice of their beers plus a guest or two.

(I'll have to work out the directions to the Coopers Arms which is closer and well worth the visit)


The Wellington - Exit New Street via the Victoria Square footbridge. Out of the station, cross straight over the road via the crossing and head up the hill, keeping left onto a pedestrianised stretch. Turn right onto New Street then immediate left onto Bennetts Hill. The Wellington is near the top of the hill on the right hand side - no pub sign so look for the name on the window.

It's a good five minutes to get here so treat yourself to the best beer range around. Rare and unusual beers abound; look up at the large screen TV to see what's being served at the moment and then order by the number shown! Beers change regularly, such is the demand. You can expect rarer/popular beers to sell out in one day.

No food so bring your own - posh sarnie shop just a bit lower down. Cutlery and plates provided - you can even bring a takeway meal in.

Proper cider, continental bottles... at least it's downhill back to the station!

Note for less mobile - if you use the lifts at New Street station you'll end up at least another five minutes further away as they are on the other side of the station. You can still make it there; go up to the Pallisades shopping centre, exit onto New Street, turn left and look out for Boots and Bella Pasta on the left - Bennetts Hill is then on your right.


West Riding Licensed Refreshment Rooms - On the Manchester-bound platform of the station. So you can't get any closer! Tim Taylor's beers, Anglo-Dutch beers always feature, food served (though in truth I usually grab a butty from the shop on the station, excellent stuff like corned beef & beetroot).


The Scarbrough - Out of the main station exit, head for the 'tower' where a flight of stairs takes you down to street level. The pub is opposite (but you might want to use the pedestrian crossing). If you can't use the stairs, just follow the road round to the right from the station. Up to six guests, can be noisy but it's good beer and close by. The station concourse also has a Wetherspoons which, er, is a Spoons but does keep some decent beer.


The Dragon Inn - Turn left out of the station. Pub is a few minutes up the road on the left. Good half-dozen beers, informative blackboard with beer tasting notes (and banned topics of conversation). Proper cider served. Great food (particularly the hot baguettes). Long pub with suntrap patio and no-smoking area.


The Star - Turn left of the station into Station Approach, take the first road on your left (Church Street) and follow it around, the pub is on the right hand side of the road. Open all day, several cask beers, chock full of proper cider and perry, continental bottles... traditional pub food, great atmosphere, cosy feel with a warm welcome. If you find yourself stranded in the apocalyptic concrete hell of Guildford, get on the train for a few minutes and come here for a proper drink.


Ramblings: Walsall

Off to the heart of the Black Country this week. Beer was incidental; I was collecting my Dad's birthday present (if you're reading, Dad, then get back to work!)

Never been there before, so it's always fun to find out some decent pubs and enjoy some local beer.

Armed with my usual scruffy notes out of the Good Beer Guide, scribbled onto a poorly-photocopied map, I set out to find the first pub on my list, Arbor Lights.

With a Cask Marque plaque outside, I knew what I would get - cold beer. And the pint of Summer Lightning was indeed on the chilly side. Still, it was still a damn fine pint. Everyone else here seemed to be drinking coffee... but it was only 10:15 in the morning.

Arbor Lights is a good-looking place, inside and out; it has that smart bar-diner feel, smooth tunes in the background, comfy sofas, large street-facing windows. The beers were fine; oversized brass beer dispensers for Leffe as well as the chilled lager swill and a selection of real ales (the aforementioned Lightning, Adnams and one other that I, er, can't quite remember)

Suitably refreshed, it was a short walk back across town to the next pub. On the way, I looked through the window of a fading back-street boozer and spied some interesting pump clips; Allgates, Acorn, E&S.... I noted the place as a possible stop on the way back to the train later.

So, over to the Lyndon House Hotel.

In through the main hotel entrance, you turn left into what I now know is the Lyndon Bar. The woman behind the bar was happy to serve me, but pointed out that they didn't actually open for another six minutes. Ah, it must have been the open door to the bar that confused me...

Anyway, the bar itself is pleasant, albeit in that slightly forced 'Olde England' way; lots of china plates, hanging brass, exposed brick, stained glass etc. Regional radio provided the background music.

But I'm here for the beer; they have three main beers and three guests. Always on are Abbot, Theakstons Best and Highgate Dark Mild - it was the latter that I was particularly keen on trying.

And it was excellent; deep dark fruits in there, enough body for a mild, a creamy feel with just that right hint of sourness to make you smack your lips.

With the Global Star group buying out Highgate recently, it looks like their beers may reach a wider - and deserving - audience.

Just enough time for another here - in fact, another Highgate's beer, Davenport IPA. And what a beauty; full of fat pineapple flavours and a perfumed nose. In fact, I almost began to wonder if it was a little too full-flavoured, a bit artificial? Nah, it's a good, well-bodied, full-tasting beer It's not really an IPA of course, but let's leave that rant for another posting...

With time against me, I legged it back to the pub I'd spied pumpclips in before. This was the Victoria, a no-nonsense boozer of the woodchip and formica fraternity. Some interesting beers on offer including potential scoops by Acorn and E&S. But.... I'm the Reluctant Scooper so I plumped for Allgates Bright Blade, one of my favourites.

And, by gum, it was rank. Warm, sweet... you could have passed it off as a bad farmhouse cider. Served in a warm Carling glass. Without a smile. It sounded from the stream of telephone calls he took that the licensee had a number of problems to contend with after returning from his holidays.... it has to be said that the beers clearly suffering too.

Beating a retreat back to the railway station, I arrived just in time to spring gazelle-like onto a Birmingham-bound train. With the score at one good, two great, one minging, the Walsall beer quality average wasn't too bad. Even my scoop count stood at 50%. Plenty of chances to up those percentages, though, on the journey home, which will force me into three of my favourite pubs. More of which will follow in the next post.


Confessions of a Reluctant Scooper

I like beer.

I like to travel to beer festivals and/or pubs to try beers from new breweries. Or beers I haven't tried before from breweries I know. I keep notes on the beers I drink. I give them a rating. Sometimes that rating makes it onto ratebeer. I keep tabs on what beers are around by reading scoopgen. I buy bottled beers from around the world; I swap bottles with other people, I bottle beer to take away from festivals and enjoy the next day.

So, it looks like I'm a scooper.

But.... I can visit a beer festival and only drink beers I've had before, ignoring dozens of beers that I've yet to try. I live in one of England's finest cities for scooping - Derby - but don't feel compelled to go out scooping even once a week. I'll always drink the beers I love at my local and won't even worry about missing out on a scoop that's on at the same time. I'm happy to sit at home with a bottle of acceptable continental lager on a hot day, rather than traipse across the country in the hope of scooping some Throxheards Old Unobtainable.

I'm a reluctant scooper. This blog will plaster its fat size nines across the fine line that weaves between ignorant alcohol consumption and borderline autistic ticking.

The pubs I drink in - and why you should as well. The over-rated beers, the hidden gems. All the fun of the festivals. Some photos, some gossip, plenty of over-opinionated twaddle.

It all comes down to making that decision: You can only drink one more beer today. You cannot bottle any and take it away. You have a choice of two beers.

One is one of your all-time favourites.
One is a new scoop.

Which one do you drink?

95% of the time, my answer would be: the first one.